It’s a common saying that life is a journey. Though true, it’s not entirely accurate. Actually, contains many different types of journeys starting and ending at different points in our lives, as the OWLS are exploring throughout this month. Some of these journeys are fun and uplifting, such as creating a new blog, starting a family, climbing a mountain, or getting a degree. Others are more difficult, and often more turbulent experiences. Today, I wanted to take a look at one of these difficult types of journeys as explored in the game Rime: grief.
Spoiler Alert: This post will contain heavy spoilers for the game Rime. If you’re interested in playing this game with few expectations of how it ends, I would suggest playing through before reading this post. It’s a fun experience and a beautiful game to experience.
Welcome to August’s OWLS Blog Tour
Every month, I join the voices of the Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-respect (OWLS) blogging project. The OWLS bloggers and vloggers use anime and other pop culture works to discuss a central theme promoting diversity, respect, self-acceptance, and equality. I feel proud to work with the OWLS team, so keep an eye out for future posts exploring important social issues. If you’re interested in these topics, be sure to check out the other OWLS blogs for each tour, or consider becoming an OWLS blogger or vlogger yourself!
This month, we’re looking at “journeys” in pop culture. The journeys we embark on in life don’t always send us down easy roads to travel. The path can be turbulent, full of heartache and turmoil, throwing down obstacles that make us face our own personal struggles or confront difficult realities in life. To add complexity to the matter, every journey is unique to the person living it. Even if two journeys seem similar, such as two people’s journeys to becoming basketball stars, they’re going to be unique to the individual due to their personalities, histories, struggles, and what they learn along the way. Thank you for joining us in exploring this month’s theme.
A Long, Difficult Journey
The game Rime offers an interesting look at how difficult some journeys in life are, taking the player through the stages of grief. Grieving is a complicated journey with many highs and lows for the individual experiencing it. Similarly, the levels of this beautifully animated game shift between safe, calm areas, dangerous or frightening areas, and melancholy areas, shifting back and forth between these tones fairly quickly (I haven’t covered tone yet on this blog, but don’t worry, it’s on the list!).
At the game’s start, the player finds themselves in control of an adolescent boy regaining consciousness on a beach. He looks around himself. The whole scene creates the impression that he is shipwrecked, or else he is an ethereal being suddenly come into existence on this little, empty island (at least, that was one of the possibilities I thought of).
After some exploration, the player finds that the island isn’t entirely empty. There are a few animals here, some ruins of an old temple of some sort, and four fox statues. These statues contain a magical fox spirit who guides the boy through the rest of the game.
This initial island exploration is the first stage of the child’s journey, a chapter entitled Denial. The name doesn’t seem to fit the tone, as everything is happy, bright, and calm in this chapter. It’s perfect. Nothing threatening happens and the player is free to explore the island and its ruins. At this point, his journey begins, though he has no apparent goal other than possibly figuring out how to go back to wherever he came from. Some journeys begin this way, with us having no idea where to go or what to do, but knowing that we need to continue on.
The second chapter, Anger, is much less calm and the title and tone match much more closely. Here, the boy’s journey is interrupted by a difficult obstacle when an angry, flying monster attacks him and knocks him off of his path and into a desert. He has to strategically move through the shadows to avoid being eaten by the monster as he continues to solve puzzles to return to the path he started on.
During this chapter, a new character type appears: Shades. These Shades are somewhat translucent, seem lost, and act terrified of the boy. Whenever he comes close to them, they flee from him. They seem to serve little purpose other than bringing to the player’s mind the possibility that the boy is in a spirit world of some sort.
Chapter three, Bargaining, is the longest chapter in the game. It’s a deceptively difficult chapter in the boy’s journey. Although he seems fine for most of it, he experiences moments of intense sorrow and fear during this chapter. The boy finds himself in an underground part of the ruins. Trees, moss, and other plants cling to the walls and ceiling, taking over the floor in some areas of the collapsing structure. Night has fallen, and calm has once again smoothed out the boy’s journey.
While here, the boy finds a two-legged robot (a sentinel) that’s dying. He’s frightened of it at first, but he finds a power core that restores the sentinel and enables it to walk around again. Thankful for his assistance, the sentinel becomes the boy’s secondary guide, leading him through the ruins and helping him overcome obstacles that are too large for him to handle on his own. In many cases, the journeys that we face in real life are similar to the ones in this chapter, presenting us with certain obstacles that we can’t overcome without help.
Throughout the chapter, the player gets glimpses of other broken down sentinels, and gets hints throughout that the sentinel won’t be around for long. It seems destined to end up like its fallen companions once more. The boy seems to know this, and it’s clear that he feels resistant to his new friend’s fate.
In certain rooms, the boy encounters the Shades once again, only this time they don’t run away from him. Now, they attack him and seem to suck his soul if he moves too close. The boy is afraid of them now. Up to this point in the game, the player can make the boy hum a little lullaby with one of the control buttons when walking around, but in these frightening rooms, pushing this button makes the boy gasp and quake with fear.
Depression, the fourth chapter, is more melancholy. It’s full of rain, broken ruins, and mournful music set with a background heavy with blues and grays. Rain pours down as the boy follows his sentinel companion back outside of the ruins. Now when the player uses the button that ordinarily causes the boy to hum, he sobs.
The sentinel sacrifices itself to help the boy progress, and the boy is devastated. He begs the sentinel not to go, but the gentle guide ignores him and proceeds. The boy has no choice but to continue alone, making his way through more rain-drenched ruins, crying instead of humming. Similarly, we face many situations in our own journeys when it is difficult to move forward, and we have to continue on despite personal grief or crisis.
The final chapter, Acceptance, feels much different than the others. The boy finds himself in a home, one that is gray as he moves through it. He passes an old man, and moves from this house into another section of ruin, where he finds a massive opening that goes down into a bright pool of light. Other shades jump over the edge as he approaches, and he follows them down amid triumphant music, bringing his journey to an end.
Interpreting Two Journeys
Humans encounter a number of difficult journeys in their lives. Healing is one of the most difficult journeys we face, whether from physical pain or emotional. Overall, the boy’s journey is quite difficult, and ends on an uplifting note.
During my first playthrough, I wondered if this was a child’s journey through the underworld, or his journey through grief at either his own impending death, or that of a parent or loved one. Throughout the levels, the player can collect a series of story panels that seem to suggest the death of a parent. The boy also has some vivid dreams that suggest the same thing, in which an adult gets washed over the edge of a small boat during a storm. It isn’t until the last chapter that the player learns that they aren’t playing through the boy’s journey at all.
At the end of the game’s final chapter, the player finds themselves playing a man who they guide through a house. It’s the same house and the same man the boy had seen earlier, now in color. The old man stares despondently out a window before moving into a bedroom. Hesitation weighs heavily on his movement as he pushes the door open and looks around. In the room, he observes several toys, items that the player has (hopefully) found hidden throughout the levels. This makes it clear that the room belongs to a child. After touching each object, he looks out the window once more, and the player gets a sense of reluctant release. The release of grief. It’s not the boy’s journey that the player has just played through, but this father’s over the loss of his son.
Attentive players might have noticed that each chapter’s title corresponds with the stages of grief. After making this connection, I realized that the seemingly cheeriest chapter, Denial, is also the most depressing. The boy’s journey starts with him washing up on an island because his father is in denial about him drowning after being washed over the edge of their boat during a storm. Instead, this father imagines his son surviving and washing up somewhere instead. The dreams that the boy has about an adult being washed overboard likely reflect the father’s wish that it had been him instead of his son who’d gone overboard.
And like real grief, the game allows players to replay chapters after finishing the story. When grieving in real life, the journey is long, and weaves in and out of each of the stages. Despite looking like a linear process on paper, grief is far from linear. People can move back and forth between the stages multiple times, and often, the journey never really ends.
As one final note, I wanted to mention the possibility of a dual-journey. It can be argued that the game represents two journeys, the journey of the father through his grief, and the journey of his son into the afterlife. I don’t think that it’s incorrect to say that this game contains two difficult journeys.
Thanks for joining me on this exploration of grief for this month’s OWLS blog tour. Be sure to check out Megan of Nerd Rambles‘s blog tour stop from yesterday, taking a look at the dark journeys of a few anime villains. If you would like to continue exploring grief, Two Happy Cats shared a great post exploring grief in Natsuyuki Rendezvous earlier this month. And if you want to explore this month’s OWLS theme further, swing on over to Rai’s Anime Blog for another blog tour stop, looking at the long journey that Yuri has taken to become what it is today.
Do you have a favorite journey from pop culture? Share it in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact” page. And as always, if you have a literary device or grammar rule you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!