This here is part two of my little rundown of the best games of Q1 2019. The Stillness of the Wind was my first pick, and – big surprise – my second pick is yet another premium narrative-focused title. I swear I’ll mix it up for the next one.
Photographs, a narrative-focused puzzler from the ‘You Must Build a Boat’ team, spans five vignettes that outwardly appear wildly different. Among them, there’s the story of a young, budding diver; a mage who aims to use her magic to prevent tragedies; and an alchemist who, together with his daughter, studies and creates cures.
You’re given a brief introduction to each one, before their lives slowly and inevitably take a turn for the worse. It’s presented through deliberately upbeat pixel art, appearing perfectly untroubled to those lucky enough not to know otherwise.
What might perhaps broaden this one’s appeal over something like Florence is that Photographs can resemble a fairly straight puzzle game. And, thankfully, its puzzles are shocking good, serving up a fair challenge while mirroring and enhancing the narrative arc of each vignette. It’s a rare example of gameplay and narrative existing in harmony and coalescing toward, in this case, several devastating, illuminating tragedies.
Of course, narrative-driven titles needn’t include traditional forms of gameplay out of some obligation to an archaic video game checklist, but Photographs is proof that you absolutely can have it both ways.
It’s also smart in its portrayal of how our hardest decisions, whether they turn out good or bad, can be the product of many pent-up factors, typically hidden from any onlooker’s sight. And so it’s ultimately a lesson in empathy, gifted additional potency by our ongoing lack of the stuff.