by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Shoot for the Moon
Think of Yi and the Thousand Moons less as a game, and more as a really long musical number from a Disney movie. It’s an experience that exists entirely around its soundtrack, with dialogue taking the form of lyrics and background music filling the entire run time. People talk (well, sing). Things happen. The music sets the tone and delivers some plot information about spreading darkness, an endangered village and one woman’s quest to protect her people. Gameplay isn’t quite the word I’d use to describe what I did while spending my time with Yi. Almost all of your time will be spent just walking from one area to the next, moving through the game’s plot and few songs. You’ll shoot a bow a couple of times, and you might even jump now and then for fun, but mostly you’ll walk. Whether or not this is a pro or a con is going to be up to what you like in a game, but it worked for me. Adrenaline soaked action games hold a near and dear place in my heart, but there’s also a time and place for something meditative and soothing, and this fills that slot nicely.
Inconsistent visual style and jarring sounds
I appreciate minimalist graphics. They’re my jam. They are, however, a lot harder to pull off than I think most people give them credit for. Low-poly visuals require immense attention to artistic detail to convey emotion and purpose with what’s there. Yi and the Thousand Moons’ heart was in the right place when it went minimalistic: the simple graphics fit the story from both the gameplay and thematic perspectives. They are fairly inconsistent, though, which detracts quite a bit from their appeal. Certain things like fog, water and quite a few background textures don’t match the visual style of everything else, and it’s a bit of an issue. It’s a shame that in an experience focused almost entirely on its presentation they couldn’t quite lock down the game’s look, especially when so much of it does look good. .
In a game so entirely entwined with its soundtrack, a big part of whether you enjoy your time with Yi and the Thousand Moons is going to depend on whether you jive with the tunes or not. I’m a games critic, not a music critic, so I’m not really prepared to break down to tracks from a terribly ethos-laden perspective, but for me the songs were very soothing. I thought the vocals were solid, and the lyrics got the job done telling the story they were trying to tell. One tune in particular, a four part quartet piece with Yi and some gods, has been stuck in my head since I heard it, which I suppose is as high praise as anything. The only times I had beef with the sound design were when, periodically, text would pop up on the screen to describe the next step in our journey. The text is fine, but what was jarring was that the music, ever so calm, cool and fluid, is, for a few moments, replaced by retro 8-bit-era midi music that clashes with just about everything else in the game. I don’t get it, and I wish it wasn’t there.
Over before it started
The dealbreaker for me here is the game’s length. From the moment I booted up the game until I finished watching the credits roll, Steam says I spent 41 minutes. Now, subtract from that the 15-20 minutes I paused the game throughout my playthrough to type out notes for this review, and you’re looking at a 20-25 minute game from start to finish. I really did enjoy the plot that was there, but too little of a good thing ceases to be that great. I won't, but I could sum up every plot detail and conversation in less words than this paragraph, and the credits rolled just as I thought we were leaving the opening sequence. Look, not every game needs to be long. In fact, at this point in my life I appreciate short, focused experiences. I also appreciate the freedom indie developers have taken advantage of to deliver games of varying lengths at appropriate price points. 20-25 minutes pushes that a little past my comfort zone, though, and I think everything would have really benefitted from settling the game in at around an hour.. At $6 USD it’s not going to break the bank, but $6 can buy a lot of game elsewhere. Yi and the Thousand Moons is a fun experience, I just don’t know if it’s fun enough to make it’s incredibly short run time worth the cost.
A relaxing experience with soothing original music.
Inconsistent graphics detract from the art style, far too short.