Developed By: The Brotherhood
Published By: Untold Tales
Release Date: 05.28.21
Composers: Mick Gordon
I’m not even sure I can accurately calculate the number of hours of my life that have been spent exploring isometric RPG adventures. From classics like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate to modern masterpieces like Pillars of Eternity and Disco Elysium, it’s possible only JRPGs have devoured more of my time. So when a game like Beautiful Desolation for the Nintendo Switch comes around, at the very least it will have my curiosity. While the lack of combat means Beautiful Desolation is not exactly like the games I mentioned, its top-notch world-building, writing, and graphics mean it was well-worth my time all the same.
The Leslie Brothers
One day, Mark Leslie and his wife were on their way to check in on Mark’s brother Don when a giant trans-dimensional, triangular, technological marvel called the Penrose warped into the skies above them. Falling debris sends their car flying off the road, killing her. The Penrose ignites a technological revolution in the world, advancing science to the point that sentient machines, called Agnates, can be developed. A decade of research, investigation, and following conspiracy theories later, and Mark is ready to go to the Penrose and discover why it appeared – and why his wife died. He convinces Don – a helicopter pilot – to fly him up there.
When they get there, they are discovered by Agnate scouts. Before they can be arrested, however, something science-fiction-y happens and Mark, Don, and their Agnate pursuer Pooch are launched into the far future. What follows is the story of two estranged brothers and their robot army dog navigating the future to find their way back to the past. It’s full of wondrous sights, fascinating societies, and deep character moments. It’s a well-crafted, well-written story that not only lives up to the reputation of the adventure games that inspired it, but stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any narrative experience in gaming today.
Look Around and Find Out
While Beautiful Desolation has the isometric perspective of my favorite RPGs, it’s solely a narrative-focused adventure game. There are several different areas to visit and explore. You can hit the minus button to read some flavor text about the world around you, as well as highlight objects that can be collected or used. Essentially you’ll spend the majority of the game scouring new areas for items on the ground to give to an NPC. Luckily the game is well-written and engaging enough that I never really minded the relative lack of gameplay diversity.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some other activities to enjoy. One mini-game has you roll dice to control gladiator insects, for instance, and there are some others which are pretty fun. There are some puzzles you have to solve using the game’s journal as well, but for the most part you’ll be matching items to NPCs or interactive objects. The only real hiccup is that sometimes the marker for items blends into the backgrounds a little too well. There were several instance where I got stuck and had to revisit multiple areas trying to find a random item I missed on my first visit. While that can occasionally grind the game’s momentum to a halt, it’s a relatively minor complaint in the face of how much I enjoyed the setting and narrative.
Beautiful Desolation Is Right
While it may not look as good as it does on other platforms, Beautiful Desolation lives up to its title even on the Switch. The game’s many different maps are gorgeously rendered in a style that faithfully recreates the mid-to-late 90’s isometric aesthetic so well that I felt like I was back in front of my much-loved Compaq from middle school. The character designs are wildly imaginative and unique, giving the game an amazing visual style.
The game is no slouch in the audio department, either. The in-game music is atmospheric and engaging, but the soundtrack for the cutscenes is where the game really shines. The music swells and fades in all the right places to accentuate the pacing of the movies, enhancing the drama of every major scene. The fully voice-acted script is chock full of excellent performances to boot. Overall, much like the game’s narrative aspects I can’t find any faults in the audiovisual elements.
A Journey Worth Taking
Certainly, Beautiful Desolation doesn’t blaze any new trails in terms of its gameplay. It plays like a lot of point-and-click or isometric adventure games you may have played before. But who cares about that? The story, setting, and graphics are so well-crafted it makes this a must-play experience if you’re any kind of fan of narrative focused games. If you like deep stories, flawed characters, and fascinating world-building, you won’t regret giving Beautiful Desolation a chance.
Digital – $19.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.