Dear Esther: You are boring
Updated: Jul 27
(I am clever by the way)
A little something about me: I love audio books. They offer me a way of reading while I go about my day without having to worry about dyslexia getting in the way. It has got me through such books as The Handmaid’s Tale, Mogworld, 100 years of Solitude and also Fifty Shades of Gray (never said all of them were good books). They also helped pass the time in long car rides and during evening power cuts. Audio books have served me well in allowing me to be efficient while letting me immerse myself in fiction. Dear Esther is like an audio book in some respects but instead of getting stuff done you are stuck in front of a monitor pressing W for two hours while a man spews samey story stuff.
I would like to post a quote from The Chinese Room website: “Dear Esther is a first-person game about love, loss, guilt and redemption. Driven by story and immersion rather than traditional mechanics, it's an uncompromisingly emotional experience. Starting life as a cult mod in 2007, Dear Esther is recognised as a major title in pushing forward the boundaries of game design and storytelling and was one of the standout independent releases of 2012.”
Does that explain anything about what the story is about? Asides from a conga line of buzzwords like “immersion”, “emotional”, “Standout” and “Driven by story” it does not really describe anything really. I don’t know if it is about coming to terms with one’s sexuality or if it is about pirates looking for lost treasure. That description can apply to either and it does not spark a single flint of interest within me.
I would like to put a quote from Bloodborne’s store page: “Introducing Bloodborne, the latest Action RPG from renowned Japanese developer FromSoftware, makers of the hit Dark Souls series, coming exclusively to the PlayStation®4 system. Face your fears as you search for answers in the ancient city of Yharnam, now cursed with a strange endemic illness spreading through the streets like wildfire. Danger, death and madness lurk around every corner of this dark and horrific world, and you must discover its darkest secrets in order to survive.”
(Please note that I am in a relationship with Bloodborne so there will be some level of bias here) There we know who the dev them “FromSoftware” a bit of the story “ancient city of Yharnam now cursed with a strange endemic illness” and the tone we are getting into “Danger, death and madness lurk around every corner.” So I know that we are going into some survival horror with underlying themes of Lovecraftian and Gothic horror.
What I am trying to say that The Chinese Room seemed less concerned about making a good story but rather tell us that the story is profound instead of it being profound. More concerned with a beautifully vague press statement instead of giving us an idea what the story is about.
I suspect they didn’t know what the story was about either.
Dear Ester’s story involves you the player as some gormless floating camera that has to listen to a nice male voice tell a story that neither he nor you have any personal investment in for about two hours. It is like a really boring audio book that fails to capture the listener. Just pretentious sounding speeches which resulted in me becoming so bored my camera threw it off cliffs in some desperate attempts to end its dull life. I cannot remember a single thing about the story, all the inconsequential rubbish just sailed over my head.
You can focus the camera in but that is useless. You can technically explore but there is only one entrance and one exists with no rewards for doing the exploration. In reality all you need to do is press W. The only thing you can do that is rewarding in any way is pressing W for two long tedious hours. You press W to wonder through boring linear environments while a story that does not influence the game in anyway drones in your ears. As I have said before I had become so bored I made the camera commit suicide multiple times to prevent myself from falling asleep.
Art-Style and Graphics:
To The Chinese Room’s credit, Dear Esther is a very pretty game. When the textures are stable Dear Ester is on par with a AAA game in terms of graphical fidelity. The sound design too is suburb; it makes the world feel just a little bit more alive with every rustle of the wind. It’s not much, because all the wonderful sound design, colour and graphical fidelity can only do so much to cover up the fact it is all wallpaper. A pretty picture that is as shallow as a paddling pool and as involving as one. It’s like listening to a boring audio book while pretending to move through a number of pretty artworks that have no substance.
As I mentioned in my past section it is a very pretty game that runs at a consistent 60 FPS. However there was that one time I fell through the world. And that time it crashed for no good reason. Dear Ester’s performance was adequate with the few examples of malfunctions.
Dear Ester might have been a ground breaker back in the day, but now today it has aged as well a well soaked prune. It is as involving as a paint drying exhibition and as memorable as short term memory loss. Play The Stanley Parable instead. This game is in the Hall of Infamy.