When video games try to present art in ways unique to its medium, like interactivity, it is an often welcome experience. Inked: A Tale of Love is no exception, placing the player into beautiful worlds made possible by the ballpoint pen. While it is a bit wonky in the storytelling and length department, Inked: A Tale of Love‘s head-scratching problems and all-around elegance is worth its modest price tag.
Monuments & Valleys
The story follows The Nameless Hero, who has put his samurai lifestyle behind him to live a peaceful life with his partner, Aiko. However, their peace is soon cut short when the birds of their valley suddenly start dying. This leads Aiko to explore the world beyond their own, and soon The Nameless Hero loses her to The Artist, the world’s creator. Needless to say, you will embark on a journey to get her back, bending to the will of your creator if need be.
I was hoping for a particularly emotional journey with this game. It starts out promisingly, as you get to know The Artist’s tragic backstory and attaching you to Aiko. However, once The Artist becomes an antagonist, the story becomes increasingly less subtle. Instead of attempting allegory, the game hammers home the themes with heavy-handed narration. The game didn’t even need a voice, as illustrated by Unravel, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Ico. These games told infinitely more poignant stories with no words, and there are hints of meaningful concepts here, but the game does not treat its audience intelligently enough to figure it out for themselves.
Puzzles Falling into Place
With the left stick, you control your character and use your saya (scabbard) to move objects initiated with the button. Puzzle scenarios can involve moving objects onto pads to open a gate, start a moving platform, and more when you progress further. They are pretty simple, but the game gradually introduces different objects such as balls, turbine fans, and connectable shapes. As a result, you will need to complete puzzles involving physics, timing, and accuracy.
I appreciate the growing difficulty of the puzzles and the diverse challenge. The game does not become overly complicated, but it is still somewhat stimulating. What I don’t quite like is the downgrade of certain aspects. You see, Inked: A Tale of Love is a remake of the original ‘Inked’ game released in 2018. That game had platforming elements where you could jump, and there were even boss battles. While I feel the original was more ambitious in this regard, this remake does ultimately have smoother controls and a more robust suite of puzzling.
When the Rendering Doesn’t Work
Another downgrade from the original Inked is in its design and storytelling techniques. In some segments of the initial 2018 release, you would go first-person in the drawer’s real world, adding a unique juxtaposition. In both games, The Artist will often show his hands over the world like some kind of god. However, the hand appears cartoony and incongruous with the art style. It’s a weird problem when relatively simple drawings of creatures like penguins can look more detailed than a human hand. In the original game, the hands were detailed, and now they look like they are from the PS2 era. Couple that with the unnecessary narration, underwhelming character development, and poor audio mixing of said voice acting, and you have a considerable distraction literally and figuratively towering over the game.
There are nine chapters (and an epilogue,) each taking you to a different area with unique environments. The game does really spice things up, ranging from the ‘Swamp’ and the frigid ‘Frostland’ to the Wild West-like ‘Desert.’ The isometric viewpoint makes you feel small in surroundings, both grand and sparse, and some standout moments will fill you with awe. It is a great aesthetic and audial experience, enrapturing the senses with bold coloring that can switch chapter-to-chapter.
These are undoubtedly memorable visuals, from the elegant blue Indian ink tones of the oriental scenes to the solemn blacks and whites of a sketchbook of abstract shapes. The game also contains a particularly stirring score (although a lot of it is ripped from the first game,) echoing genres such as Spaghetti Western & Japanese Classical music. I know I’ve torn into the game, but the couple hours’ worth of playtime is easy on the eyes and ears and will leave you with mental rejuvenation.
A Tale Worth Hearing?
While it can be a downgrade and mimicry of the original 2018 release, Inked: A Tale of Love is a pleasant experience due to its superb artistry and laid-back puzzling. It may only be a few hours long, but it does not outstay its welcome, letting you finish mostly satisfied.
You can buy Inked: A Tale of Love on PSN here.