Greatness in Simplicity
If there is anything connecting Lucas Popes last venture Papers Please to Return of the Obra Dinn it is that the core concept revolves around a seemingly grounded job. While Papers Please escalates the stakes with political drama as the backdrop Return of the Obra Dinn opts for a more mystical approach.
At it's core the game is rather simple, armed with a magical pocket-watch it is your duty to access the fate of all the Obra Dinn's passengers (to properly adjust their premiums and payouts of course). Upon discovering an individual who has met their untimely end, you can see there last moments. And that is essentially it as far as in world gameplay. The real star of the show in Obra Dinn is the journal which you fill out throughout the game cataloging the story of the Obra Dinn. With each new event discovered, pages are filled in allowing you to establish the fate of the missing passenger involved. You pick through a list of possible causes, but the trick is you must also determine who this person is. Often the moments you travel to will involve some dialogue which may hint at the identity of your new skeleton buddy, but often this wont be the case. Within your journal are further resources such as a map of the ship and an artists depiction of the crew and all of these elements must be used to divine who is whom aboard the Obra Dinn.
With its fairly simple mechanics much of Obra Dinn is left be worked out outside of the game itself. While determining what happened to who I found myself scribbling down notes and finally generating a massive 60 by 60 spreadsheet to determine everyone fate aboard the titular vessel. In a way Obra Dinn is a puzzle game where you have to cross-reference different events with one another to solve your insurance cases.
The games art style also does a great job of enhancing the mystery of the events that transpired. Often the one bit renderings will make it unclear exactly what is happening in a scene which in turn forces you to venture to the surrounding moments to see figure out how they connect. It is also surprisingly beautiful at points and assuredly makes it stand out.
I would love to say more about the game itself, but its something I believe is best experienced with little to no prior knowledge. To say I was surprised by Obra Dinn would be an understatement, not only was the gameplay something completely unexpected and new but the visuals, story and moments are all things that have stuck out to me.
Play Return of Obra Dinn, it shouldn't be missed.