While games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Life Is Strange have brought about a revival in point and click adventure games, many will argue that the genre never really went away. Interest may have waned as a result of transient tastes though there are plenty of developers that continued to innovate within this shrinking corner of the industry, developers like Pendulo Studios.
Coming into the game completely blind, it wasn’t until writing this review that I realised that Yesterday Origins is in fact part of an existing series. Leaning heavily on a time-bending narrative, it follows on from 2012’s Yesterday with many of the same characters making an appearance. By far the most interesting is our leading man, John Yesterday, a historian and antiques dealer. It’s a fitting vocation, especially when you consider that John is immortal and has been exploring the world for some five hundred years.
Luckily, you don’t have to play Yesterday to understand what’s going on, though it certainly helps in filling some occasional blanks. Most of the game’s story beats are completely new, however, and look to address John’s past lives. You see, when we think about immortality, we often think of someone being completely impervious to suffering the effects of time or death. For John Yesterday things are different. He’ll bleed and bruise like any other human, though, upon death, he will revert to a younger version of himself, albeit one that has no memory of what’s happened. It’s an intriguing set-up and one that brings aboard themes such as satanism and the occult while travelling across the world and time itself.
Compared to the more recent wave of point and click adventure games, Origins feels a tad more old school. Much like Syberia, The Longest Journey, and other European favourites, there’s a fair amount of backtracking and obscurity to wrestle with as you move from one area to the next.
Although hardcore enthusiasts won’t bat an eyelid when it comes to laboriously scouting for clues, most gamers will look for a balance between challenge and the ability to apply common logic when solving puzzles. This is where Yesterday Origins – and most old school adventure games – takes a bit of a tumble. While some sections allow players to flex their powers of deduction with satisfying results, others can feel frustrating by comparison, often requiring trivial solutions.
This isn’t helped by the fact that some interactive objects and other points of interest are hidden within each environment. While some stand out quite clearly, others are tucked away and can only be found when painstakingly combing an area for clues. As touched on before, this is a common trait shared throughout the genre and one that is exacerbated when translating an adventure game between languages. Unless you have the patience to retrace your steps and attempt every possible solution, the only way forward is to look up a walkthrough and that’s no fun at all.
Still, persevere and you’ll start to uncover more about the game’s characters as the backstory slowly unfolds. It’s by no means unforgettable though it does a good job in exploring its core themes, probing deep into the occult and threads such as the Spanish Inquisition, alchemy, and transmutation. If that’s the kind of setting that fascinates you then there’s plenty of lore of soak in.
Origins isn’t exactly the prettiest adventure game you’ll find, though it demonstrates how a consistent art style can often surpass raw visual fidelity. Characters appear toonish and angular in a way that feels unique to Pendulo and its other titles. The game also employs a comic-style paneling effect that hones in on the action to create a more cinematic effect. Those who dislike visual novels and the walls of text they throw at players will be glad to hear that Yesterday Origins is fully voiced. Sure, there are a few less-than-stellar performances but they’re mostly solid and don’t suffer from the effects of localisation.
All round, it’s a solid point and click adventure game that combines that familiar old-school formula with a couple of clever quirks. It has a decent story to boot as well, though there are slight issues with pacing, both in terms of the how the narrative unspools combined with some of the more obtuse puzzles. Together, these create a barrier that will stump players while ultimately holding Yesterday Origins back from greatness.
Version tested: PS4