When the Past was Around review: Like all good things, it ends too soon but never leaves you

Follow Eda on an emotional trip down memory lane in a story told only through art and music with puzzles mixed in along the way in When the Past was Around.

Title: When the Past was Around
Developer: Toge Productions, Mojiken Studio
Publisher: Chorus Worldwide Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: December 15, 2020

Recently I had the opportunity to play When the Past was Around by Toge Productions, a company which I absolutely stan ever since their excellent Coffee Talk. It’s also one of the indie games that just showed up on the Switch recently after the recent Nintendo Direct.

When the Past was Around is an interesting take on storytelling, using point-and-click puzzle-solving to experience the story of a young woman named Eda as the memory of her dead lover, Owl, guides her through the suffering of loss and helps her move on. If you’re curious about the name “Owl” it’s not just a clever name. It’s an owl-man.

When the Past was Around

Mojiken Studio

Now, personally, I don’t think he’s actually an owl but just her way of remembering him. Birds often play a huge role in the lore of spiritualism so it’s possibly a metaphor as no one else in the story is an animal. They also do not lose their minds when a remarkably tall man with an owl’s head shows up and just starts playing the violin. There also isn’t a single scene in the game where he turns his head completely around. A scene I didn’t think would happen but REALLY wanted.

Over the course of the game, Eda solves puzzles that allow her to move forward through her memories. Many of these memories revolve around the two of them writing a song together that is essentially their song. The primary four cords reoccur constantly through the game while the song itself switches tone to convey emotion which is good as there is no dialogue and the story is completely done visually and through music.

This would normally be a hard thing to but luckily, When the Past was Around has a story told through incredible art. Every scene had moments where I just stopped for a moment and took in the detail and artistic choices.

When the Past was Around

Mojiken Studio

My only complaint with the game is, oddly, the puzzles. I know that this is the primary form of interaction with the game but the puzzles don’t really have a lot of context with the story itself.

For the few puzzles that have you mixing tea and coffee for your two characters or setting up a beach picnic, there’s a ton of puzzles that are so irrelevant to the story it almost breaks the immersion. For example, a scene in a cemetery requires you to find a gemstone for a statue so that a door will open. During that time you may also find yourself smashing tombstones. None of this is ever explained and, as a creative writing major, even I had a hard time coming up with a possible story as to what this could mean.

Luckily though, the puzzles are quick and still fun. I even had to write down notes for some of the code puzzles which is something a game hasn’t made me do in ages and I loved it.

And while I do wish the puzzles fit the story more, I’m glad they didn’t add an additional story. Normally I’m bothered if I can beat a game in about 2-3 hours, but this game told the exact story it needed to and I’m thankful for it. Having to walk away from a game about loss is a very hard thing to dive back into halfway so having a game I can get a full story from in one sitdown was nice.

Especially knowing how hard the game can hit at times.

When the Past Was Around

Mojiken Studio

Sticking with it and playing all the way through is a rollercoaster and differently one worth standing in line for. Eda’s journey is both heartbreaking and heartwarming and I definitely recommend giving this a shot.

When the Past was Around

Toge Productions

8.5

When the Past was Around is an emotional roller coaster of a story told exclusively through gorgeous art and stirring violin music. The puzzles are clever and fun but a little immersion-breaking at times. The addition of touch screen support in handheld mode on Nintendo Switch adds to the experience as well.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.