OPTIONAL WORLD, POWERFUL STORY
I play many different types of games, but I find myself reviewing so many adventure/puzzle games, I decided to take a break from them. “No more adventure reviews, at least for a few weeks,” I said. Well, Ether One came out. I played it, and immediately went back on my word.
Explaining fully what Ether One is about is difficult. It’s a game about dementia, but who is dementia about, really? Is it about the patient, the doctor, the memories lost, the places that exist only in memory, the people and harm and meaning locked within? Is it about Jean, the Restorer, or the village of Pinwheel? Ether One, although it’s not a funny game, has a tongue-in-cheek name. Ether One doesn’t pick a singular focus. It’s about the mind, the memories, the people, and the places within and without. It’s about all the connections that stretch out from the question of a lost memory and a lost place, and it reveals life with its own everyday tools. There are no guns, nor any weapon to speak of. Progressing through the game is a matter of using the mundane functions of life, restoring the village and its functions as best you can. The thing is, there’s a lot to do.
Ether One is about 85 percent optional content. To some gamers, there is no such thing as optional content. Many have not rested until they got the super-secret 100 percent completion true ending and unlocked all the in-game cheats, even the super-secret jokes left into the code by the developers. Ether One doesn’t have any of that. The game ends the same no matter what you do. And if you really want to, you can probably beat it an about an hour, maybe two. But those who stick around and explore will find the village of Pinwheel made with nearly obsessive care, as though it were a completely real place,and only had to be written into code.
The patient and persistent will find dozens of puzzles in every area, few of which are easy. If the game has one caveat, it’s that the full experience of finding all the little bits of life and story sprinkled throughout is not for beginners. Finishing everything will reveal dozens and dozens of separate stories, richly painting Pinwheel, its inhabitants, and their adventures with the full emotional depth of a self-contained world—but it will take you hours just to figure out what’s a puzzle and what isn’t. There is no limit to how much is enough optional content and how much is too little; every bit of exploration is not done for bonuses, but for the player’s own desire to discover and solve.
Ether One is an incredibly detailed game of exploration, and it can be short or long, difficult or easy. But if you want my recommendation (and you’re reading my article, so either you do or you pity me), play as much as you can, play until Pinwheel feels like a second home and Thomas and Jean feel like important, real people, then finish the game and understand the fragile, indispensible world of memory.