It’s 1481, the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, and you, the son of a nobleman, are now being lead through the streets with a deer skull on your head, accused of being the son of Satan. You’re led to a dark cell, imprisoned next to a hog who sinned by eating its owner, a monk who had taken communion. The two of you will share similar fates of being tortured to death for your sins against God, so the executioner says. Due to the accusation of witchcraft, your father has already disowned you; You have lost everything, including your name. All hope is lost… until you notice a rope drop from the grates of your cell.
With the right tools and cover, you just might be able to survive this.
The opening scenario of Yesterday Origins is very bold but encouragingly intriguing to any, like me, who are unfamiliar with Pendulo Studio (Runaway series) and, more specifically, their 2012 title, Yesterday. This installment, like the first, promises a dark, mature adventure through classic point and click mechanics. You play as the titular John Yesterday who is cursed with being able to regenerate back to life after dying, but not after losing all memory of his past. Origins, as the title suggests, focuses on the events leading up to this curse, doing so by switching between the past and the present via flashbacks or dreams. This pacing helps keep the story interesting, with each chapter feeding you more and more plot as you eagerly await each timeline to converge. To move to the next chapter, though, you must play the game.
Like most point and click adventures, Yesterday Origins requires the player to be creative and observant. Many clues from items, people, and John’s own thoughts can elude to solutions as obvious as using ink with a paintbrush, or as subtle as knowing why your arm is different from that of a soldier’s (you’ll get what I mean if you play the game). Because these clues are so important, you’ll need to pay attention to what you see, interact with everyone and everything, and examine each object you come across. As you find more items, you’ll also uncover an element of Origins that I found particularly enjoyable: ideas. Ideas in Origins are thoughts or motives that John may wonder or be searching for. For instance: one scenario gives the idea of a thief, due to stolen goods. Once you find your suspect, you’ll need to link that idea to any key evidence to prove you have the right person. I truly enjoyed this mechanic, as it forces the player to create rational thoughts rather than combine every item with every interactable object until you brute force a solution. Yes, you may need to combine these items to solve the puzzle, but if your character doesn’t know why they’re doing so, why would they do it? Of course, the idea system doesn’t apply to every exchange, but it is still something that certainly helps distinguish Origins from other point and clicks.
The art of Origins is another differentiating aspect that I appreciated.
Characters are lively and comic-like in nature, but not portrayed in a way that detracts or distracts from the story. Everything feels somewhat like a caricature of reality, which comes across as playful and effervescent in bright, outdoorsy areas, and dark and creepy in seemingly desolate, dimly-lit sections. Colors are vibrant and do well to depict locals and emotions, never shown as washed out. Along with the obvious thought that went into art and color, the sounds and music of Origins are beautifully arranged. Many sound effects are accurate and well recorded, helping add to the immersion of going between the 15th century and the present. The soundtrack is varied and easy to listen to, an extremely important detail to tend to when creating a title in this genre. Many tracks can become repetitive, especially if you get stuck on a puzzle, but Origins helps prevent this from occurring by adding variation to the melodies, and by stopping and starting the music at different intervals. In this way, the player is left to his or her own thoughts without being bothered by a continuous wall of sound.
Despite all the praise I like to give a title of such caliber, not everything is perfect in the world of John Yesterday. Most point and clicks are straightforward affairs, encouraging mouse and keyboard play as the primary way to interact. For some reason, though, Yesterday Origins prefers you to use a controller at the outset, but if you use a controller, clickable spots are only viewable when you’re close to them, and only accessible when you’re facing them. Unfortunately, if you move to face an area, once you stop your character keeps shuffling their feet until they’re back in a regular standing stance. From a design point, this looks to be an appealing, more natural animation, but in practice, it becomes frustrating when your character’s shuffle pushes you out of line of sight from the area you’re needing to reach, making you wander in circles until you’re at the perfect angle to select the point of interest.
Thankfully, there aren’t many times that this really becomes a problem, and it’s something you can avoid altogether if you move to mouse and keyboard, but as the “preferred” way to play, this is something that shouldn’t happen easily. Besides this, puzzle difficulty was another occasional issue. While not a regular occurrence, I became stuck on one particular puzzle that had a solution that I thought to be… unconventional. It wasn’t wrong, I just thought there were better solutions that didn’t seem to be so backward or convoluted.
Aside from these two complaints, my experience with Yesterday Origins as a whole was wonderfully enjoyable, to say the least. Interesting characters living in curious locales, all interacting throughout different time periods help Yesterday Origins tell a mature story full of compelling twists and copious amounts of dark humor. Thought provoking puzzles add to the appeal, mixing great gameplay with great storytelling. Pendulo Studios is back!