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illumine Review

illumine – to enlighten someone spiritually or intellectually.

When I first fired up illumine, I didn’t consider the connection between its title and its gameplay. At face value, this is a simple game with a minimalistic style in which the player controls letters and navigates the world, trying to avoid enemy AI while collecting as many books as possible. If you die, you’re reborn in a procedurally generated level.

Despite its aesthetics, illumine falls into the roguelike genre. What sets it apart from the rest is the incredible spiritual journey the player goes through. Launch it and you’re greeted with white words against a black screen, welcoming you and asking for your name. It then drops you into the game, with nothing else than instructions for basic controls. I one-hundred percent recommend going into illumine uninformed, as I did. Its purpose and meaning demands it. Which makes it hard to review, right?

illumine's most redeeming and charming feature is spirituality.

Very few games have that as a main theme; the most famous example I can think of is Journey. illumine is different, though. It focuses its “story” on Buddhist teachings and ideas. The player is forced into a constant cycle of life and death, and with each passing life, they grow wiser.

Don't judge a book by its cover.

Minimalism is deceiving: there’s an immense amount of depth that’s hard to describe and can only be experienced. How you play and interact with the world affects how it generates in your next lives. Each affects your karma, which grants benefits if you raise it high enough. I’d give tips on how to raise karma from the start, but exploring blindly and figuring it out on your own is the point of the game. Sorry, no spoilers.

I'll tell you this much, though. Scattered across the world are books which make a distinct noise and send out a pulse of light. Collect enough of them, and the intensity rises as more enemies and obstacles present themselves. Books are also useful to control the universe. Gather enough of them again, and you can choose what season you start om, as well as how fast or slow you can go.

The sound is one of the most important parts of the game, almost to the point of being an antagonist itself.

As you travel through, you’ll come to discover that it's directly affected by your actions and movements. The closer you get to an enemy, the louder they become. It's invasive. The closer you get to books, the louder they become. You’ll come to depend on the game's audio to know whether or not it’s safe to proceed; it can trick you though – sometimes you won’t hear an enemy until it’s far too late.


The Verdict

I only scratched the surface of illumine, but I can easily say that it’s changed me.

It’s made me look at life in a different light, and, it made it better. A big statement, right? Well, the experience is hard to put into words. It’s spiritual, it's personal. Some might mock it while others struggle to grasp the full concept, which is okay. Perhaps you first have to believe in Buddhism, or reincarnation and karma in general, in order to feel its impact. Then you’ll have to be able to think about your purpose, which is something that is constantly questioned throughout, and not fall into some existential depression.

After accumulating enough knowledge, you unlock tips to help you beat it - that is, you gather enough good karma to end your cycle of rebirth, entering into a state in which you’ve been enlightened spiritually and physically.

Sound familiar?

If you can handle all of that, then go buy illumine. $5.99 on Steam. Give it a shot. You won’t regret it.

Susana Valdes
Written by
Sunday, 09 October 2016 00:00
Published in Strategy



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Susana came into the gaming world a bit late in her life, but it hasn't stopped her from completely immersing in it. A die hard fan of the Assassin's Creed series, she hopes to broaden her horizons and fall in love with different gaming genres. She enjoys otome games (Japanese dating sims directed towards girls) and visual novels; she constantly fights to have Japanese games localized in the US. When she isn't playing games, she's usually reading a book or working as a freelance writer. She was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where she hates the nightlife as much as it hates her.

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