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Played in 2023
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An impeccable game on all fronts, but that soundtrack really is the X factor and a beautiful time capsule for that era of electronic music. Such memorable, atmospheric themes, and the way in which some are expanded upon as the game progresses is just sublime. When Phendrana Drifts Depths hits for the first time...
A truly interesting and unexpected follow up to Hyper Light Drifter that has glimmers of being just as special, if only it didn't manage to get in its own way. This comes through narratively and mechanically, where seemingly every written word further drains the mystique inherent in the stunningly rendered pastel cloudscape Heart Machine have assembled; one that feels so wonderfully smooth to glide through, soaring over its clouds, grinding rails across its aerial landscapes... until it suddenly doesn't, and your momentum breaks at the most jarring of times. Ambitious game for sure, and you can feel that shine through in its best moments, but as a package it falls just short of cohering into something more.
I would have already a mark for this game if it managed only to carry over the stellar writing, music and vibe of In Other Waters, but I wasn't expecting to be so drawn into that gameplay loop! The small risks involved with moment to moment decisions add tension without overwhelming, and really lend a lived-in quality to the experience. Really had me going "is this an all-timer?" for a while, but there is a point where all the urgency that propels you through a smattering of wonderful, well-considered character stories is sapped and the game slows to a crawl. Freeing yourself of the slow dread the game has built is incredibly liberating, at first, but the feeling quickly morphs into one of malaise. It's only a small blemish, all the more noticeable because aside from that.. this thing goes full blast.