Dear Esther is bold, different, and one of the most memorable videogames I’ve ever played. And I don’t want anybody to get the impression that I’m regarding it so highly simply because it tries something new. Innovation should be rewarded, of course.

Breaking free from the mold is rarely a bad thing. But innovation is simply one design aspect that, by itself, doesn’t make a good product. Dear Esther works because in addition to being innovative, it tells a powerful narrative inside of a beautifully crafted world, and, most importantly, it uses the medium of videogames in one of the most effective ways I have ever experienced.

A Journey of Discovery

Dear Esther puts you on an island with a limited amount of controls, just enough so that you can freely explore. You can’t jump, ducking is automatic, and when you enter a dark area your flashlight will pop on all by itself. There aren’t any puzzles. And as you can explore, you aren’t even necessarily looking for something, at least that you know of. You’ll lazily wander down paths (the walking speed is regrettably slow) and into caves lit by some sort of florescent paint, all while a nameless narrator reads his letters to a girl named Esther.

Experience the Story

I’m almost positive it doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway, just for laughs: Dear Esther is not a game for everyone. And chances are that if you’re not the kind of gamer who will like it, you’ve already deduced as much from the last two paragraphs. Dear Esther is a videogame only in the technical sense. There is no skill involved, because there are no actions to take. It is linear with the exception of a few paths that lead nowhere. It’s an interactive story and nothing more. And sadly, even the story itself is pretty uninspired and at times pretentious, but the experience is unrivaled in my long history of playing games.

Without getting into the story itself, the atmosphere of Dear Esther is nothing short of tragic. The moody, shifting soundtrack. The pain in the narrator’s voice. The solitude and loneliness of the island and the surrounding ocean. And while you might be alone on the island, the island itself is a character. Then again, are you alone on the island? I could’ve swore I caught glimpses of people here and there, only for them to vanish upon closer inspection.

MEGATechie Beautiful or MEGATechie Boring?

The cryptic nature of the narrative is both a benefit and the game’s biggest downfall. Much of the dialogue is beautifully written and cleverly sparse. Though there will be events and lines of dialogue that you’ll be unsure what they mean, only to realize that they don’t necessarily mean anything.

For all of its elegance, Dear Esther’s writing can get a little full of itself. And then there’s the actual story itself, at the center of the entire experience, that’s been done one too many times. While the ending doesn’t lessen the overall impact too much, it does feel like a missed opportunity. This just happens to be more about the journey than the destination.

Dear Esther is flawed, but the experience is just so moving that is far outweighs any flaws. The opening line of this review originally read “had the pleasure of playing,” but I changed it because I don’t think pleasure is the right word. In the end, I love Dear Esther, but at the time, when I would initially turn the game off, I wasn’t happy. I felt sorrow, I was emotionally frazzled, a reaction that can only be provoked by true art.


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