If you must blink, do it now
-Kubo and The Two Strings 2016
Here’s a game that requires you to devote all of your attention to it. Your thumbs need to be fused to the joysticks. Your eyes must closely track your character, leaving no time to blink. It’s painful at times, and I have definitely strained my eyes on more than one occasion. Yet I find myself watching my character do a victory pose afterwards Triumphant over the enemy, I perform my own victory pose as I grasp for the bottle of eye drops.
I’ve been playing Hyper Light Drifter to hunt down achievements. It’s definitely a game that’s different from the others I played. It is ruthlessly difficult. You have perfect your mastery of the controls or risk death. I often die because I forget the time lags in between certain actions.
Nevertheless, the lessons are hard-earned. Mastery is needed over every aspect of the game. In order to do that, you have to focus. This is what Hyper Light Drifter requires of you, your attention. It’s a quality that should be emphasized more. With it, a game goes from a game to an immersive experience.
A Game of
Few No Words
Here’s how the game starts. The game opens up with a cut-scene, showing you the devastated world of the Drifter, your character. Gigantic robots rise up from the mist as it cuts away to a sea filled with bodies. Another cut happens and you stand on a platform ready to fight with your sword in hand. You are captured by black vines and suddenly the dream ends. Welcome to the waking world.
No explanations are provided. No hand-holding is allowed. You are thrust into the game with one mission, destroy an unknown evil. Not much motivation for what you’re about to do, but it’s not necessary. The Drifter has motivation to finish the job, it saves the world. They have the tools to do it, but only if you master them.
From the very beginning of the game, you are asked to follow along as the Drifter accomplishes their mission. Maybe you’ll resolve the mysteries along the way as you hack down waves of enemies. All it requires is a little bit of effort, well a whole lot of effort, to see your goals to the end. Enemies will give you no peace as they come in waves of 10 to fend off your 5 HP Drifter. Expect to fail and expect to be angry. The frustration is part of the package.
At a certain point, my only motive was to push down the feeling of dissatisfaction at myself. It felt almost wrong to leave the challenge alone; I needed to overcome. More than anything, I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. And so, I readied myself for the encounter again.
Letting Anger Be A Part of The Experience
I had to take a breather midway through the encounter on the right. I was playing through New Game+, which made the game harder by cutting your HP in half. Fun times.
I must have died 50 times before I got it. Each time I restarted, I felt my eyebrows furrow and the corners of my mouth pull themselves down into a grimace. I was fuming. I flung small remarks about the game’s design to my smudgy screen. My hands gripped the controller so hard that my palms reddened.
Finally it ended, one strike and the encounter was over. Even then, it was almost through sheer stroke of luck. One of the bullets had missed me at the exact moment I needed. Success. My legs unfurled itself as I let out a great sigh of relief. It was over.
This is the moment I’ve grown to love, when a game expects nothing less but perseverance from you in the face of impossibility. There was no way I would have survived unless I forced my eyes open. There was no way I would have kept playing unless I was angry. In my last post, I talked about how games illicit emotions from the player through music. It can happen through game play as well.
All in all. Hyper Light Drifter is exemplary of a game that forces you to be invested in its world. The anger of failure, the curiosity of the world, the joy of victory. Those moments are small in a game, but they add up. They keep you on your toes. You, as a player, become a part of the world. So get angry. Get frustrated, whatever keeps you focused next time you play.
I promise. Emotional investment in a game truly does transport you. Just never blink.