Sephonie by Melos Han-Tani and Marina Kittaka
Sephonie is an adventure, puzzle, and platforming game from the creators of Anodyne. Following the exploits of a trio of explorers and scientists using new technology to better understand the many species found on a mysterious island, Sephonie is equal parts a journey through beautiful environments and an exploration of the personalities of its protagonists. Infused with introspection and nostalgia, Sephonie offers a strange but memorable adventure.
As soon as I saw that the developers behind Sephonie also gave us Anodyne, I knew I was in for a surreal experience (perhaps the only predictable quality of its narrative). Sephonie opens with a rather unusual narrator providing an enigmatic introduction as they try to reclaim their own memories. We soon dive into these recollections and take on the roles of the three protagonists as they arrive at the titular island.
Amy, Ing-wen, and Riyou form a team that has been sent to explore the island. They soon find themselves stranded and cut off from support, but this doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm or desire to learn about the island. The team is all outfitted with a kind of neural implant that lets them “link” with any species of plant or animal they find, gaining a unique insight into the life and experiences of the entities they encounter. Together, they begin to explore the island and find more species with which to link.
Island in a Dream
I found Sephonie’s world and aesthetic immediately charming, evoking a kind of off-kilter N64 style whilst maintaining its own somewhat surreal atmosphere. Navigation relies on a somewhat unconventional control system that facilitates wall-running and parkour-inspired style platforming. The areas are designed superbly to draw attention to hidden nooks or hard-to-reach places which manifest wanderlust and the age-old question, “How can I get there?”
An assortment of collectibles that each provide a snippet of background on the characters can be found as rewards for the intrepid explorer.
This adventuring is broken up by intermittent puzzle sections built around a block-placement game. These puzzles are used to represent the task of linking with new creatures, and each tries to represent some aspect of the species in question through new mechanics such as “seed blocks” which bloom or rocks that bar block placement.
These puzzle segments are fun and diverse, and while they provide a bit of a challenge or a new dynamic here and there, they feature a relatively soft difficulty curve. Sephonie is clearly designed to be a fairly gentle experience; some of the platforming can be tricky, and many areas require a little thought in order to progress, but the game offers a relatively welcoming level of challenge.
Looking Forward through the Past
Sephonie has absolutely lovely music that is both melancholic and sweet in equal measure. A sense of surreal magic pervades Sephonie’s world and this is translated through the music and design.
Sephonie’s choice of style shows how the visuals created by the limitations of the N64’s technology can be beautiful and that, in our rush to reach new levels of fidelity, game development can all too often overlook the unique aesthetics found on its journey towards photo-realism. This may be my nostalgia talking, but the design of Sephonie finds a worthy use for the sometimes abstract polygonal shapes of ’90s gaming in its strange world.
Sephonie is a gentle, fascinating, and characterful adventure that manages to balance the occasional tricky moment with a welcoming difficulty curve. Some may find its philosophical chin-stroking a little overwrought here and there, but it’s earnest and often manages to stir rare emotions with its subtle but engaging storytelling. Sephonie is worth checking out for any keen adventurers or puzzlers looking for something firmly different.
Sephonie is available via the Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Sephonie below: