It’s hard for me to put into words what I experienced playing This Strange Realm of Mine. Developer Doomster Entertainment has created a weird and wonderful experience that, while not necessarily one of the most fun games I’ve played recently, is certainly one of the most interesting.
I think to say This Strange Realm of Mine is an experience is a far more accurate description. Players are dropped into a weird world that they quickly discover is the afterlife. Throughout your time playing you will encounter a variety of characters, as you journey to different locations all completely different in scope and aesthetic.
Visually the game is reminiscent of Doom’s graphics, as you’ll be playing – for the most part – from a first-person perspective through 3D levels with 2D textures and sprites. Although some look rather simple compared to others, the visual style and weird clash of settings make for some truly bizarre moments where I often found myself scratching my head about what I was looking at. Whether that’s the objective Doomster Entertainment wanted, I don’t know, but it certainly made for some interesting looking gameplay at least. The soundtrack only added to this weird mish-mash, with original music that was incredibly varied with different sounds and ambience that mostly worked with the level they were attached to with a nice variety of styles.But what really drives the experience is the narrative, which I can honestly say was the most interesting and confusing part of my whole experience. While exploring your afterlife you will be faced with questions that can become incredibly philosophical as the game takes you through its rather short story. You’ll explore themes such as the existence of God, what is free will and a slew of others, each of these explored or represented in some way within each level with characters you meet and objectives all fitting into the overall theme of the level, some more subtlety than others.
With each of these new levels, gameplay changes drastically. As does the visuals, one minute I was using a gun and shooting weird creatures, the next I’m in a 2D platformer exploring a cave. Having all of these different gameplay mechanics was a nice surprise, but I generally failed to see why. It’s not that they didn’t work or played badly, I just didn’t see why it was necessary given the focus of the game — if you want to call it that — was its narrative, which even then can be very confusing.
So much of my time was spent thinking about what the different characters were saying, like Ulrich — who acts as a sort of guide throughout your experience. Ulrich often spouted some incredibly complex ideas and theories at you between levels, things that I just ended up finding confusing or irritating to be frank. New characters you meet are experiencing different troubles or hurdles that can be related to real-life situations, linking to themes and topics the game puts forward that you discuss with them in your safe haven, a hub-like area where you have a chance to interact with these characters you pick up along the way.
Each conversation you have with characters will reinforce the topics they represent, with views and interactions becoming more refined each time you chat between levels. However, I found It all to be a bit preachy at times as certain topics seemed to be focused on more than others, like the existence of god, and poetry is consistently used during loading screens and written throughout levels. It all felt a little too artsy from my perspective.
But I think that’s part of what makes it This Strange Realm of Mine unique, it’s all about perspective.
The primary narrative, as mentioned before, sees you exploring your afterlife, but different people interpret death in a variety of ways; and I think that This Strange Realm of Mine in its own way, whether it meant to or not, is a perfect metaphor for that. I found certain moments to be very preachy, I didn’t necessarily agree with what the game or character was saying or honestly didn’t fully understand what it was trying to say. On the other hand, some moments were incredibly poignant, making me think a bit more about the subject being discussed and its broader meaning. I don’t know if this was the aim, it is a very unique experience, one that in its own way encourages different perspectives.
I’ll admit that I didn’t necessarily enjoy playing This Strange Realm of Mine, but I certainly didn’t find it boring. It’s not game in that old-fashioned, traditional sense, as its more of a visual experience. Sure, it has its gameplay and sees you doing things like firing a gun, but it’s definitely not the main focus.
Maybe I’m wrong, it’s perfectly reasonable to say I could be misinterpreting the game’s message and completely missing the point. But after playing the game, I feel like it’s a far more open-ended, interactive experience than when I started; one that I doubt I’ll forget anytime soon.