RiME – A Spiritually Symbolic, Analytic Review
RiME is a unique game. It’s production equally unique, it was originally titled Echoes of the Siren and green-lit by Microsoft, till the software company later rejected its funding. Sony then picked up the slack and Echoes was announced at GamesCom 2013. It wasn’t until last year Tequila Works reacquired the rights to the intellectual property and re-imagined Echoes of the Siren as RiME.
The game takes obvious influence from the likes of other famous indie titles–Journey, Abzù, and even The Last Guardian (you can find my review for that here), for instance–but creates a deep, emotional narrative uniquely its own. It is beautiful. It is heartbreaking. That said, let’s jump right in.
RiME begins with the protagonist, an unnamed young boy, shipwrecked on an island. A great storm rocked and wracked his ship, washing the boy ashore.
The island is rife with beauty and mystery. We have no idea where we are, what we must do, but the island invites exploration. And in that exploration, players can find a myriad of collectibles, from toys, to outfits, and other items relating to the boy and his story. During my first playthrough, I only managed to find one of each collectible, but those I did unearth told me more about the narrative. While not essentially original, they were nevertheless an intriguing facet of RiME‘s symbolic storytelling.
Eventually, we guide the boy towards the massive white tower, with the help of the Fox. Players free the Fox from his statuesque prison by solving the very first puzzle.
The Fox appears when the boy has the highest potential of losing his way. The Fox holds a special symbolism. Spiritually, foxes represent and are associated with physical or mental responsiveness, and increased awareness; they are cunning, seeing through deception; the ability to find your way around, to be swift in tricky situations, and affinity with nocturnal activities and dream work.
It is said that: “when the fox appears in you life as spirit animal, it encourages action and quick, swift moves. You may be called to take action in a way that shows your adaptability and ability to move quickly through obstacles and resistance. Being inspired by a fox totem, you can work at developing the sharpness of your mental skills: Analytical intelligence, power of deduction, observation can come into play more powerfully in how you deal with daily matters or bigger projects. The spirit of the fox may also imply that you are sharpening your physical alertness and responsiveness” (Harris, E. 2017 Fox Spirit Animal retrieved from Spirit Animal).
These attributes directly describe the Fox in RiME. The boy is forced to adapt to his surroundings, both physically and mentally, which the Fox represents. More than that, the Fox is the boy’s protector, for a very real, emotional reason (more on this later).
The Fox guides the boy and subsequently, us players, through the island, visiting bountiful grasslands and forests, arid deserts, even a dark city ravaged by torrential rain. These lands are also symbolic.
As you may have deduced by now, RiME is a narrative told through symbolism. Nearly everything in the game is symbolic. Even the narrative is a symbol. That said, one of the most frequently utilized is day and night. Beyond the day/night cycle as a gameplay element, light and shadow play a large role in the game’s visual and symbolic storytelling.
Day and night. Light and shadow. Equal and opposite reactions. These are significant attributes in this story. A majority of the puzzling mechanics play off this duality and while they do not necessarily require the player to analyze their meaning as it ties with the narrative, they are absolutely essential to its symbolism.
These day and night puzzles typically involve the boy pushing a brass sphere around an orbit, essentially effecting time of day. Players then must puzzle through, utilizing shadow from either sun or moon to further travel the path. This may seem like a simple puzzle, just for a puzzle’s sake, but each time the boy comes across a day/night puzzle, it represents something much deeper and much more emotional to the bigger picture. It’s this subtle duality that sets RiME apart from its puzzle-platformer brethren.
So Fox helps the boy advance the through the narrative and at this time, we’ve passed through lush forests and deserts each with their own puzzles unique to their level design. We marched through a kind of aqueduct. We finally reach the rainy city, which more (or less, depending on your empathy and perspective) resembles a war-torn shanty town than anything else. This is where we finally figure out what’s going on.
BEWARE! SPOILERS ARE ALL THAT FOLLOWS!
After finishing the puzzle in the rainy city, we move to what looks like one of the boy’s memories. It’s sepia-toned. We walk through his bedroom door and through the hall to his father, whose head is buried in his hands. The image fades and now we watch his father walk back to the room, the boy’s cape in hand. His world is in color.
The father sits down on an empty bed, next to a stuffed animal. A fox. He looks from fox to cape (another symbolic gesture) and loosens his grip. The cape embarks upon the wind like bird on the wing and disappears from view.
This is where epiphany strikes. This is where my mouth drops. I’ve just realized what has occurred. The entire narrative…the whole game has been the visualization of the father’s travels through the five stages of grief. Each area represents a stage; grasslands and forests – denial, desert – anger, caves and tunnels – bargaining, rainy city – depression, and finally, this last cutscene represents acceptance. The Fox, a totem that reminds the father of his son, also represents the father’s journey and guidance through these stages.
In come the tears. I feel an almost desolate feeling. This game has explored the five stages of grief in the most artistically beautiful, interactive way possible and I can’t recall another that does so with such reverence to the very real emotions we all feel at some point in our lives. The narrative execution, all through symbolism, is some of the best–albeit sad–I’ve experienced. As a writer, we put countless stock into symbolism. And RiME would not have had such an impact without it. For that, I give RiME a