You shouldn't play some games on Mother's Day. They make you feel overly emotional, especially when you are having cynical feelings. Nevertheless, the games can provide a form of catharsis. I know that A Taste of the Past did, and by the end I was loaded with sadness.
Sondering Studios, a video game company dedicated to the pathos of being human, released A Taste of the Past free on Steam. It's a thirty-minute game that can extend to as long as 45 minutes if you are as silly as me and can't figure out the handwashing mini-game. It was embarrassing when one of my friends watching suggested a simple solution but I was simply relieved to find a way forward.
A Quest For Long Noodles And Closure
A Taste of the Past is about loss. A studious artist attending high school, Mei has lost her mother and hasn't painted since that awful day. Her father remains lost, while her little sister is acting out; none of them even have the security of a daily routine or going through the motions. Her mother was a great cook and the soul of their family. Now that she's gone, Mei doesn't know what to do. She goes through her days, resenting how people are using kid gloves around her.
When her train acquires some extra passengers and stops, Mei receives the means to start processing her mother's death. Ghostly ancestors appear to offer words of comfort, and ingredients for long noodles. Long noodles are a traditional birthday meal, but no one at Mei's house can make them for her. Her ancestors tell her that her mother is on the train, but she needs to gather the ingredients for long noodles and cook them.
Mei may not have the physical recipe, but she has mostly emotional support, and the strength to resist the few naysayers. One jerk of an ancestor tells Mei that she has to parent her father and her sister. She obviously resists that, and good for her. Mei is still a kid, in high school to boot. She needs time to mourn for herself as well. It helps that shortly afterward there is a ghost dog that wants to be petted. I spent quite a bit of time petting the dog. It's one of those things that you have to do.
The art of the game is beautiful; you can tell that love went into every frame. We get long and sweeping movements that emphasize the weight of grief that haunts the train; I could watch the hair animation for hours. While the point-and-click is simple, I liked the simplicity. It provided a straightforward path through the narrative and meant that I couldn't get sidetracked. The game's music helps, soothing while navigating how complicated loss can feel.
You're Never Ready To Say Goodbye
Losing a parent is tough. I can speak from experience that you're never ready. A good mother or father is your world. When they leave, either suddenly or with time to make arrangements -- something that sucks when you live in the United States -- you're left with this hole in you. Death doesn't have a solution for filling the hole that someone left behind. All you can do is live with it, and hope that the heart will recover.
The worst part is when you never even get the chance. One moment a parent is there, the next they aren't. You may have been left in the dark, and suddenly you get the sad news after a great day. That happened when I found out my dad died, and it turned out he had cancer. I don't remember much of that day, except for the moment when I realized after my sister picked me up from summer camp and wasn't able to tell me. When she couldn't answer my question, I started crying.
Mei knows she's not ready. The game starts with her poring over her mother's recipe book, deciphering the faded-out handwriting. I can relate when trying to clean up recipe books that my grandmother left, and finding out that roaches had gotten to them. My grandmother is still alive, but it is sad to lose another piece of her.
Seeing her ancestors does help, learning about their lives all over the world. One was an artist like her, who did paintings of the mountains. Another recounts being her great-grandparent, knowing her mother as a little girl. They all pave the way for her to find her mother's ghost. That final conversation allows Mei to accept her sadness, and let it move through her. She knows that she won't find the train again.
It's the long noodles, however, that end up tying the game together. Mei finally recalls the last ingredient that her mother would use, and adds it to the train's batch of noodles in the pot. It's a wood-ear mushroom, that she suggested as a little girl when they were short a few herbs. When she makes that dish on the train, it motivates her to find similar noodles at an Asian grocery store, and the right ingredients.
I recommend that you play this game, especially when you are at a crossroads. Also Sondering Studios, please make a game where we can compensate you fairly. This is your second free game and I would like to shower you in revenue so that you can keep making more of them.
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