What makes a video game is an abstract concept, as it’s hard to pin down, which is something Ether One tries to juggle with. It’s both a free, explorative world as it can be a puzzle adventure, forcing as little as possible on its inhabitant.
Though the sheer void of any direction may ultimately be its undoing, the concept behind that idea theoretically makes its pastoral universe more accessible for an array of demographics. It’s like an interesting desert; a death knell for most, but a memorable event for the hardened few.
Ether One takes place in a world of make believe; a fragment of a person’s memories in some old industrial shore town, complete with lighthouse and cozy harbor.
It’s taken in from a first person perspective, leaving all the attention for the finely shaded textures, worked off with a touch of contrasting darkness, like any modern photo filter.
Sadly, the environments only look their best on the highest of settings, become flatter and less vibrant when scaling down any small portion. As it isn’t the most demanding of games, however, it shouldn’t be an issue for any recent setup, though it does affect the overall atmosphere.
When fully geared on, shiny effects and slight hazing yield an authentic atmosphere that also rings true with the soft veiling of memories. This is a dream world after all.
Further lulling players along, many areas are littered with dynamic story telling elements, popping up with important items or events. These blurbs string together the overarching theme of remembrance as well as the job needed to be performed within.
Players are tasked with finding the source of this mind’s problems, restructuring what’s left behind. This is monitored remotely by a supervisor, urging the job at hand though ultimately powerless to intervene in it.
This duo makes for an odd relationship, as there are also more human moments in between evaluations. From within the dream world, there’s also voices from a loved reminisce about things past, putting context to the current environment.
While several sections of the town are open, there is one goal in each area and that is to search for ribbons that collectively access a core memory. Finding these often will guide the protagonist through the entirety of the given location anyway, leaving any other prompts to fancy.
There’s a lot to see in Ether One. Businesses hold many items worth browsing, homes depict relationships within their decorated rooms and outside bulletins show the town’s dealings.
Just about anywhere, there will also be communiques scattered around. Some are mere jotting of words, while others reveal a lot more about the town’s secrets. There may even be a clue or two about some inaccessible places.
This is where the optional part comes in. Aside from roaming the area for ribbons, nothing is mandatory in this adventure, though there are a multitude of puzzles regardless. Safes require a combination, locked doors need a key found in some remote place and broken projectors can be reconstructed to reveal more story.
Each tidbit isn’t easily accessed, but it does have another tale to tell as a payoff. It is, however, a big stretch for little added value. This is where the tradeoff sort of falls down.
Sure, it’s totally optional to do these elaborate puzzles of finding a scrap in one disconnected place and put it to use much further away, but there is little at the end of the rainbow as well. As the main goal is already clear, hearing the small stories outside of it is less appealing and only fodder set for personal goals.
This, in tow, also makes the exploration issue much larger. Since there is so much optional content in Ether One, the actual significant parts are stretched out and obfuscated behind them.
Each ribbon can be leagues away from another, hidden amidst tons of hallways and such. How bittersweet, really, having the great intention of packing in tons of content, only to have it destroy any focus or drive.
It almost feels maze-like to start wandering around, as its openness means that a lot of houses give access to different paths, halls lead to many different rooms and so on. Since the rural and industrial locales also start bleeding together with similar textures and items, getting lost isn’t uncommon.
Making progression even harsher, the player’s pace is set on utmost realism and thus advancing at a crawling, leisurely stroll. It’s hard to stay committed to finding ribbons with all aforementioned obstacles in mind. Sprinting through areas will become standard procedure.
Ether One also tries to connect to a tough subject for an emotive story, but its writing is too predictable to really cash in. To its credit, narration and scattered notes present its lore well, but twists can be seen coming long before the final verdict arrives, making for a much less climactic ending.
With a huge world to dive into, but little sense of purpose, Ether one becomes a hard sell. It has a truly unique method of providing puzzles that can be taken on or left behind, but it’s also this detached attitude that fills its universe with empty instances.
Falling back on its core, it does have a genuinely captivating atmosphere, but it moves too slow and shoots too straight to fully hit every beat, as picturesque as it may be. Just like an art piece, it may hold some deep symbolism, but it could also just be pretty nonsense.