When Vivi falls asleep on a busy train after a long day, she wakes up on what is seemingly the same train – but it’s on a very different journey, with a very specific type of passenger…
What Comes After (already available on PC and Mac, releasing on Nintendo Switch 1st April 2021) is a very brief experience, but it tells a deeply affecting and poignant story. Though I was able to finish the journey in a little over an hour, I suspect that the weighty subject matter it covers is going to stay with me for a long time.
Interactivity is limited – you’ll essentially walk left or right through the train and press a button to initiate conversation with the next passenger you reach, with no options within the conversation itself – but this allows the developers to tell their story as intended. Despite the weight of the subject matter – it’s all about life, death, love and regret; though this may seem spoilery, it’s nothing you won’t read in the game’s blurb – it’s presented artfully and with a light touch.
Another detail that really struck me was the look of the passengers – and Vivi – in the ‘real’ world, as they’re all wearing face masks. It’s either going to date What Comes After as a game from a very specific time period – our plague year, perhaps – or be heralded as one of the first games to truly represent our new, more hygiene-conscious way of life, though of course it could be that face masks become less prevalent in the coming years.
There were a number of passengers on the train whose very appearance, let alone the conversations I had with them, hit me like a punch in the gut (they’re not all human, either). Their brief exchanges with Vivi – who herself has a lonely existence and is far too hard on herself – are wonderfully written and very emotional. Despite the minimal animation, even Vivi’s nervous, awkward gait gives clues as to how much she’s hurting, mentally. It’s a neat touch that makes you feel real empathy for her.
Ultimately, What Comes After is a thankfully uplifting experience (with a wonderful closing song) and it certainly feels unique. It’s an experience that has no barriers – there’s no complicated controls to learn and no way of failing – which means that it’s accessible by just about anyone, with a message that really resonates in the current mentally challenging, draining situation we find ourselves in, globally. Though it won’t be to everyone’s tastes – and, be warned, there are mild references to suicide and self-harm – if you get on that train, you’ll have an experience that’ll linger in your mind for quite some time.
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