An Ico for the new age, RiME’s emphasis on the destination instead of the journey is its greatest flaw.
Even before I witnessed its emotional conclusion where all my big questions were answered, my heartstrings were being tugged over and over again during the ten hours I spent playing RiME. Its mysteries consistently pull you forward, encouraging you to complete one puzzle after another, in order to understand what this boy is doing in this strange place. Still, it doesn’t take much reflection upon RiME’s completion to understand that this dangling carrot is little more than a subtle method to pad gameplay time. When all is said and done, RiME is a one-off type of game no matter how you look at it, and what’s worse, it mistakenly emphasizes the destination far more than it does the journey.
There is no dialogue in RiME, and the only sounds you hear are the nature around you, the perfectly produced soundtrack, and RiME’s shouts and humming. RiME, who I assume is the titular character, wakes up on a desert island with no direction as to what to do – something gamers like you and I should be used to be now. All we know is that there’s an intimidating tower looming nearby, and that it must be as good a place to start as any. As RiME clumsily saunters along the beach and cliffsides, we soon understand that the developers went for a “less is more” concept. RiME can run, jump, shout, grab things, and not much else. It all controls well enough, although spaces with fixed camera angles and especially the excessive climbing sections tend to contest that claim. Despite having no combat at all, RiME will immediately feel familiar to fans of Ico and games of that nature.
RiME is a graphically gorgeous game. Taking hints from the visuals of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, sprucing them up for a more mature look, and focusing more on beiges and reds than greens and blues, the artistry is top-notch in RiME. It is a shame, though, that there is so much graphical slowdown. The intended emotional impact of many of RiME’s meaningful moments, or simply running from one point to another, is often ruined by the framerate dipping suddenly. It is too obvious not to notice, and despite some patching efforts by the developer, it still takes place quite often. This is especially frustrating because RiME is nice to look at, and the developer’s plans were clearly to make sure you get to do just that as often as possible—wide open promenades with ancient sculptures that have eroded over time, high towers surrounded by all the island’s scenery, long bridges that RiME must cross as the camera zooms waaay, way out so the graphics can really strut their stuff—the game wants you to be in awe, and there are certainly those moments, but there is no denying that the framerate severely diminishes many of them.
This island is much bigger than you would first guess and is separated into areas that are vastly different from one another. If you take a long break from RiME before returning, don’t be surprised if you’re at a loss as to where to go next. Thankfully, there is a mysterious fox that will subtly direct you along the correct path after an extended amount of time. These areas don’t really get harder as the game progresses, but their distinctive qualities are worth mentioning. Sure, there is a swimming area that lasts way too long, but it still feels part of the greater whole.
It doesn’t take long to see how similar RiME is to Ico. It takes place in a mysterious setting, and in order to advance further you must solve a variety of puzzles. The comparisons are inevitable, although RiME is undoubtedly a much easier game to get through. When you complete a puzzle, you get a nice visual treat of watching a new area open. Chances are, that next area will reward you with yet another puzzle. Brief cutscenes give little information on what’s to come (and on what came before). There is a lot of running back and forth, and quite a bit of climbing too (I see you, Uncharted). You’ll get turned around quite a bit, and often might find yourself frustrated at the game’s lack of direction. I remember all this from my Ico days.
But of course, RiME is its own game. Puzzles are usually less mechanical and instead lean heavily on manipulating light and shadow, among other things. They are very creative, and once again they always look very cool. There was one that sticks in my mind where RiME would literally cycle between night and day, which mesmerized me as I worked on it. RiME’s voice plays a huge role in many puzzles too (it gets its own button), which was sort of nifty at first but by the end of the game felt like a silly novelty. Whenever I got stuck with a puzzle, the solution would be right in front of me and I would kick myself for not seeing it earlier. In terms of difficulty, RiME’s puzzles are by and large on the easier side. Although you might get confused occasionally, it is likely not because the puzzle itself is a challenge, but more because you aren’t seeing something in the vicinity like a hallway or a movable object. Sadly, although they are probably the most prominent aspect of RiME’s gameplay, upon finishing the game I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were just there for the sake of being there and held little importance in relation to RiME’s most important feature, which is its story.
And remember, all of this is presented without any dialogue. For the most part, this presentation is well executed. I definitely felt a sense of loneliness while I played RiME, and it did a great job of immersing me in this beautiful yet odd world. Intense emotional sensations are ever-present: during the puzzles, while wandering around, during cutscenes, or even just stopping for a moment to take everything in. The mystery of it all is what keeps you moving forward, and that hooded figure – so close, yet so far – will captivate you in ways that no dialogue ever could.
During RiME’s final moments, a rush of emotions flooded over me: sadness, confusion, isolation, even some fear. All the answers I was seeking hit me like a ton of bricks as I witnessed that last cutscene before the credits rolled, and I was floored. Later that day, I looked up “RiME ending meaning,” and came across some interesting opinions. For anyone who beats RiME, I strongly suggest going into the “Chapter Select” on the main menu to get some more context for everything.
Still, while the big questions were answered, there are feelings I can’t shake now that some time has passed. Despite its powerful ending, RiME fails to make valid connections between the plot and our character’s activities on the island. Calling the puzzles metaphors for the layers of storyline is a huge stretch, so they, and the other exploratory requirements on the island, feel meaningless. The ending is emotional, sure, but why did we have to do all this work to see it? What was the point of doing all this work? In what compelling ways does it lead up to and tie into this ending? These questions do not have answers. Despite some cool hidden collectables to find, the lack of meaning in RiME’s gameplay, completely removes any replay value for me.
I don’t like knocking this game, as the developers clearly wanted RiME to be an unforgettable journey that will be played for generations. But the fact remains that it, again, focuses too much on the destination, and not enough on the journey – which is, let’s be honest, rather easy and repetitive. Its hefty price tag ($30) and short length (10 hours, give or take) don’t do it many favors, either. While I am glad to have played RiME, I didn’t enjoy it nearly enough to want to return. When I factor in the trivial ties between gameplay and story, I know that RiME is a one-and-done type of game.