A Buffet and The Obra Dinn

In 2007, or thereabouts, the wife and I had a very memorable dinner in Okinawa. It was a buffet with several counters, each serving different types of local food. Lots of fresh fish, fruit, pork and other good stuff. You'd walk up with your plate, hand it to the man, he'd fill it, you'd clear it. Rinse and repeat.

You are probably familiar with how a buffet works.

It was a two-hour course that also included beer, which ensured that I was shit-faced by the end, but pleasantly so. The dinner was a little pricey, but it was very much worth it, as every mouthful was a delightful mish-mash of new and familiar flavours. It was the perfect start to a wonderful weekend away.

This blog post is about video games, I promise.

We went back the next year and it was nowhere near as good. The selection had been reduced and what they had didn't taste the same. Or maybe it did, and we had just unreasonably inflated the original experience and set our expectations impossibly high. We were desperate to relive that first time, but we should've left it alone.

Some VIDEO GAMES are like that too. They make you feel a certain way the first time around. You can enjoy subsequent playthroughs, but they'll never quite please you in the same way. I'm thinking about Flower and Journey; Rez Infinite's Area X and What Remains of Edith Finch. But right now, I'm thinking about The Return of the Obra Dinn.

I needed a game for a long, unexpected flight late last month, and I opted for Obra Dinn on the Switch. It struck me as a fitting choice - a game about a perilous transcontinental journey, played in the midst of a perilous transcontinental journey. OK maybe not all that perilous, though the on-board food was of questionable quality. I ended up zombie-ing my way through the flight, and then had my hands full during the trip, so I didn't play anywhere near as much as I'd hoped. Instead, I ploughed through much of it in the days after returning to Japan, through a haze of jet lag and exhaustion.

I have never experienced anything quite like The Return of the Obra Dinn. I liked it so much, that I'm struggling for the words to do it justice. Taking the piss out of games is a joyous experience, one where the words come easy, but waxing poetic about something that I loved, that's much harder. I was taken aback, and am still in the aback position as I write this. Maybe the words will come at a later date, after I've had more time to digest? The setting, the look, the vocal performances, the scattered order of events, the central premise, the supreme satisfaction of correctly guessing a set of identities and fates; the way that everything unravels organically, or at least feels like it does. What's a better word than "good"?

Like, "really good"?

As the final credits rolled, I was overcome with a sadness that I rarely feel at the close of a game. I was sad that it had ended, sure, but at the heart of that sorrow was the realization and acceptance that The Return of The Obra Dinn is an experience not to be repeated. Its nature ensures that I will never play it again.

Just like that initial buffet, The Return of The Obra Dinn is now history. And I won't soon forget it.


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