On October 3, 2022, Malaysia-based indie game studio, RB Wolf Games reached out to us to share the happy news of their debut game finally being launched after two years in the works.
Called “Once Again”, the game follows a story-rich narrative, portrayed in a 2D visual novel style and inspired by a real-life story.
According to the team, one of the game’s main protagonists is based on the creator’s relative, a young woman who had always wanted to be a mother.
When she finally got pregnant after years of trying, she found herself afflicted by Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM).
Despite fighting symptoms including persistent swelling, decreased blood flow, and irregular heartbeats, she tragically passed away just two months after her daughter was born.
“Touched by the fragility of life demonstrated by the pandemic, we ideated and created Once Again—a game about saying goodbye,” the team said.
Graciously given the opportunity to check out the full game on Steam, here’s my review of this short and sweet game.
It starts with a story
If you had a chance to go back in time and meet someone, who would you choose?
The game follows the story of Sia, a young boy who’s never really known his mother. Based on contextual clues throughout the game and, of course, its inspiration, one can assume that she had passed away when he was still very young.
Bored and lonely during summer, he begins thinking of his mother, only able to recall her face through a single picture kept in his wallet.
The day we start off on is also his birthday, and as the heat lulls him into an afternoon nap, he later awakens to see a slice of birthday cake with a lit candle by his monitor, its screen wishing him Happy Birthday and prompting him to make a wish.
So, make a wish, he does, and he’s suddenly travelled back in time, meeting a young woman who he later realises is his mother.
They begin to connect over her interest in photography, but alas, it isn’t long before he returns to his present life after taking a nap again.
At first, everything he experienced seems to be just a dream, but a souvenir he brought home from his time with his mother convinces him that it was all actually real.
Summer after summer on only his birthday, he would experience the same time travel, and his relationship with his mother would continue to develop.
They were both living in their own timelines that ran parallel to one another, their lives converging only on his special day, during which he would collect more memories of her to keep.
Eventually, he reaches a point in her timeline where she’s pregnant with him, and that was undoubtedly the climax of the game.
Without giving too much away, that was when the concept of the game being about saying goodbye truly hit me.
Though Sia had never met his mother in his own timeline, he was given several chances to go back and say a proper goodbye, something that many of us who’ve lost (or never met) a loved one might wish we could do.
This made me think, if I were in his place, would I want to go back and grow more attached to someone while knowing that I still must say goodbye someday, or would I rather just continue living only with the memory of them?
It’s a hard question to answer, and one that makes you dig deep into your own psyche.
Building an atmosphere with visuals & audio
Every frame of the game is lovingly hand-drawn in a simple manga style. Some scenes are black and white with bold shadows, others taking on a more sketched look and filled with vibrant colours.
It’s a game that is fluid in style and motion, small imperfections only adding to its charm. Using colours and sound effects, it brings to mind hot summers with the buzzing of cicadas cutting through the still air.
Atmospherically, it reminded me of the types of summers you’d see in slice-of-life anime shows, and this set the tone for the casual and laidback gameplay throughout.
At intervals, calm music (that I would consider to be of the lo-fi genre) would play, and to my pleasant surprise, I learnt that these were original tracks.
The first time I heard the “main” track play, I ended up pausing my progression just to listen fully to the music for fear that clicking to the next page would end it.
Mechanics that were surprisingly simple yet immersive
When I first started the game, I had no idea of what to expect when it came to mechanics. In the early parts, it seemed more like a game that played itself, with text-like monologues and dialogues filling me in on the story at their own pace.
Then the game introduced a clickable element, which you would use to progress in certain parts.
Though in the beginning there was a coloured ring that would guide you to click on something, you’re later left to your own devices, and at times, I ended up clicking haphazardly everywhere to trigger progress.
Later on, there was a click-and-drag mechanic that was put into certain story elements, such as the adjustment of a photography camera’s focus and exposure, to turn the hands of time which changes the way the sky looks for photos, and more.
There’s no voice acting throughout the game, just blissful music, up until the end of it all. Reserved just for the resolution of the game, the gentle voice of Sia’s mother reads out the contents of the letter she left him when he was younger.
A promising debut game
Overall, Once Again follows a slow, subtle pace where you’re allowed to take the time to just observe the visuals and enjoy the music.
If anything, I felt like perhaps the game could have developed the player’s affection and attachment to the main character a little more.
I ended up feeling like I never really knew who Sia was beyond those single days of summer, what his general family life was like, how he interacted with the rest of his environment, etc.
Thus, I didn’t have too much of an emotional stake in what happened between him and his mother, although I did tear up at certain parts (what can I say, I’m a family woman through and through).
I did like that the game never exaggerated or forced things for the sake of making the story extra sad though. In the end, it was more bittersweet than anything else.
And, though I might not relate to the main character much, I could still imagine feeling the same way, wishing I had had more time with a loved one before they’re gone.
This being RB Wolf Games’ debut is a promising sign for the indie studio, and their dedication to polishing the game did not go unnoticed.
They’re currently one of 15 Malaysian finalists for the SEA Game Awards 2022, and we wish them all the best when the winners are announced at LEVEL UP KL on October 7, 2022.
Featured Image Credit: RB Wolf Games