Rain wants to make you feel like a lost child, again
Do you remember getting lost as a child? Really, helplessly lost? Sony Japan Studio and PlayStation C.A.M.P. want to help you remember with the PS3 title Rain. Rain is all about bringing back the emotions you once felt when you were a child, but lost when transitioning into adulthood.
The intro of the game's E3 demo is told entirely in nearly-abstract water colors, telling the tale of a young boy who ventures out into the endless rain to chase after a young girl who is herself being chased by a monstrous skeletal beast.
What is the beast called? “The Unknown.” Rain clearly has little interest in subtlety when communicating its themes and messages.
Fear of the Unknown
And so you'll set out into the world as a little boy with no real indication of where you're headed. You're led on by the vague desire to catch up to the little girl, and all the while you'll live in persistent fear of The Unknown.
“Initially we wanted to create a game to trigger the feeling of getting lost,” said Ken Suzita, Rain's producer at Sony Japan Studio. “The nostalgic feeling of getting lost. So it was natural to create this tone of melancholy.”
Just how lost are you? Well, you're completely invisible. Which is about as lost as you can be. The only way the character can be seen is by walking out into the rain. The rain beads up on the skin of the boy, the girl, and the Unknown creatures, allowing use to see them.
Otherwise, if you're underneath an awning or inside a structure, you're completely invisible.
It's an interesting about-face from the way most games handle invisibility. You don't have the power to become invisible. You have the ability to become visible. It's a subtle difference, but it's one that plays into the games themes.
Throughout the short demo we played, Rain repeatedly said that invisibility made the little boy uncomfortable, that being able to see his own outline was a comfort to him. With that said, visibility is also what makes him most vulnerable.
Stay out of sight
Rain's game play very much overlaps with its themes. When you're looking at this game, it's like you're looking at a painting, wondering why the artist used a certain brush style or a certain angle of perspective. The game play of Rain itself seems to be trying to tell us something.
It doesn't take much mental acrobatics to surmise that Rain might have a message about the need to expose your self to the elements, to the unknown, to the world in order to be able to see yourself most clearly.
But at the same time, you'll be crushed by The Unknown if you wander out into the world without tact. It takes a delicate balance of hiding yourself and exposing yourself in order to triumph over the obstacles that lie in your path.
Mechanically, Rain is like a stealth adventure game. Most of the time you're figuring out how to use the level to your advantage in order to sneak past the skeletal beasts that patrol the world and will bound after you if they catch a glimpse of your soggy silhouette. Occassionally, puzzles will pop up as well which ask you to do things like bait The Unknown into destroying an obstacle so that you can climb up somewhere.
“We really wanted to create a sense of feeling lost, and only a child could experience that feeling,” said Dais Kawaguchi, the US associate producer on Rain. “Us, as adults, we don't get lost, and we don't have that feeling of 'oh my god, where am I?' But around that age, you still feel that loneliness.”
Even the creatures themselves are meant to embody a childlike phenomenon. They're entirely formless and vague. Most people will probably vary in the way that they describe them, and the intent is to recreate that childlike imagination that allows two kids to look at the same object and see two different things.
We'd expect nothing less from a game that is being developed by the same Sony branch that created both the off-the-wall game play of Tokyo Jungle, and the touching sentimentalism of ICO, Sony Japan Studio. Rain seems to be being created by a hodge-podge of creative people from a number of different disciplines. We've even heard that one of the main designers of the game is a former florist.
Often with artsy games like Rain we see players who think that journalists and critics are mining too deep for symbolism and finding stories where there aren't any. With Rain, there's no denying that the game has deep symbolism and strong themes of childish fear and emotion.
Am I reading the game correctly in all of the above cases? I don't actually know for sure, and that alone is exciting.