When I booted up Everhood I was expecting a light and quirky adventure, filled with memorable characters, a danceable soundtrack, and some feel good moments. I was wrong. I was very, very…. wrong.
Everhood bills itself as an unconventional adventure RPG, and I definitely have to agree, it’s bat-shit crazy. On the surface it calls back to Undertale or Earthbound, serving up a minimalist style filled with memorable characters, and snappy writing that immediately sucks you in. However that’s about where the similarities end because Everhood has something far more sinister to explore – death, immortality, and the acceptance that these next five or so hours are going to take you some places.
You play as Red, a wooden puppet who is missing an arm and has no voice, thrust into the cosmic hub in a world of immortals who are bored after eons of existence. With no memory, you set out to find your missing arm. Your quest is vague and lacks specificity as you wander the cosmos, leading you to a cavalcade of different characters. Another component to your travels are the battles that play out as a cosmic Guitar Hero dance show, as you dodge and jump over a floating note chart to best your foes. Then sometimes there’s go kart racing. And other times you’re playing a furious game of SMEGA Tennis.
Everhood is constantly throwing twisted surprises at you, never really reinventing itself, but never content to let you get comfortable. It’s this constant drip of “what the hell is going to happen next?” that keeps you on edge, wanting to push through the darkness, to see if there’s any light coming at the end of that tunnel.
And there kind of is. About half way through my six hour playthrough, a huge tonal shift happened. There was suddenly a goal. A very very clear goal unlike the meandering game so far. A reason for existence in a world where immortal beings are struggling to justify their own. Let me be clear here: I didn’t LIKE this goal, but the constant fumbling in the dark was finally replaced by a clear and distinct purpose and I was determined to see it through.
Am I being purposefully vague here? Yes I am. To be honest there’s a lot to spoil for the relatively short game that Everhood is. Suffice to say the game deals with some heavy themes, especially when I’m sure many of us are questioning our own mortality and purpose after a year of uncertainty with more to come. It does so in abstract ways, poking and prodding at you via series of absolute truths and thought-provoking dialogues that are sitting with me days after I put the game down. I’m sure someone less prone to existential crisis than I will write a dissertation on how Everhood cleverly distilled the problems of a capitalistic society that has fostered a generation of lost and directionless souls that are searching for meaning. Seriously, Everhood doesn’t really pull any punches when it reminds you that your time on this Earth is limited.
As you work your way through the second half of the game, you find your relationship with the quirky cast of characters turned on its head in the light of your newfound purpose. Not many games or experiences in general are good at getting you to stop and think about your relationship with another character or person but Everhood gets under your skin to make you reevaluate where you stand with the person you’re talking to in light of your new all encompassing reason for existence.
This new all encompassing reason for existence CONSUMED me.
Everhood’s narrative is utterly gripping, but it’s also the shining element in what otherwise is a pretty fairly average game. Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly competent at what it does and the gameplay supports this narrative by allowing the player to focus completely on it. There are no progression systems to make you think about how you spent your skill points, no hardcore combat encounters to frustrate you or tempt you to be absolutely perfect, no Roguelike elements that make you think “just one more run”, no platforming challenges that rewards you for precise control. In 2021, that’s actually quite refreshing.
Any single one of those mechanics done well could carry a game on its own, but Everhood isn’t here to deliver those experiences. It knows that the story it wants to tell is worth telling and it is ready to give you exactly what you need to really take in that story: Lots of walking. Talking. Dance battles. Contemplating.
There’s also a lot of beauty. Everhood has some moments of pure joy that transform the minimal style into a psychedelic powerhouse that is unlike any other game I’ve personally played. Each area of the game has a specific look and feel, which makes exploring those areas feel like a breath of fresh air, and when the game does something completely bonkers, it really does stand out. It’s also worth noting that when you boot the game up it says front and center that those with epilepsy should not attempt to the play the game, and I have to say that I’d agree – even for me this was an assault on the senses with it’s flashing lights and mind bending motion.
Just like everything else in Everhood, the soundtrack is just…weird, but in the best way. There’s a good mix of rock, electro, techno, and dance here that all feel incredibly unique, all with a lofi sheen that fits the nature of the game so well. Each track simply fits the encounter perfectly, which makes these tracks a series of memorable moments, rather than just a series of background tunes. But there’s also big moments of pure silence, which goes a long way to fuel the anxiety and dread that the story is pushing on you as you go deeper.
OH MAN, I WISH I COULD TELL YOU ABOUT THE GOOD STUFF.
It’s hard to talk about a game like Everhood. Not only because mortality and morality, and where we fit on that spectrum on human beings is a deeply complicated subject, but also because the journey IS the game here. Everhood’s success lives and dies based on your ability to connect with its tone, and the journey that it wants you to go through. If you’re looking at that trailer and you’re expecting a 20 hour RPG filled with light-hearted adventure, you may want to reevaluate. But if you’re ready to be challenged, and ready to go on a ride, but also have some fun along the way, then Everhood will likely stand out as one of the most unique experiences you are likely to have this decade.
Everhood is bat-shit crazy, and I loved it.