Review: Sunset

While Tale of Tales’ eclectic array of unique games are enjoyable, they aren’t for everyone. Often vague and confusing (Bientôt l’été anyone?), Tale of Tales have gotten somewhat of a reputation for just being weird.  It’s hard to find somebody with a neutral opinion of any of their games; they either really like them, or more often than not, highly dislike them. Sunset, however, is much more an actual game than any other they’ve created before. Any notion of a vague, non-existent plot has been wiped away in favor of one that’s highly story driven.

It’s 1972, and you take on the role of Angela Burns, an American stuck in the socialist Republic of Anchuria after a military coup. Along for the ride is her brother, David, who followed her to the country.  She has no choice but to take on the job of a housekeeper to survive.  You end up under the employment of one, Gabriel Ortega, keeping his brand new apartment in order.  Ortega is a highly wealthy, affluent man, with a none too little obsession with art.

Note that it’s impossible to avoid spoilers in such a story driven game, and while I’ll do my best to avoid as many as possible, there would be nothing to talk about but sweeping floors and doing laundry if they were avoided altogether, and that would make for very interesting reading, now would it?

It all begins in the elevator to Mr. Ortega’s apartment, and each day there is a monologue to listen to delivered by the main character, Angela. This serves to keep players up to date on the happenings of the past week and the general going-on. This is the point where we’ll likely lose a fair few players. As said above, in this game, you play as a housekeeper meaning you’ll be doing exactly that.  Each day you’ll be given a note with a list of things to get done. Washing windows, emptying ashtrays, organizing books, sweeping floors, watering plants; the list goes on.

The game plays out one hour at a time, roughly one week apart, over the course of about a year.  There are 44 ‘days’ in total and once the clock hits 17:59, whether you’re done with your tasks or not, it’s time to go home. One in-game hour works out to half an hour in real time. Though if you want to sit back, relax and put your feet up while on duty, time will advance faster.  Each task you preform will also fast forward the clock. On most days, you’ll finish all your tasks with more than enough time to spare; time with which you can use to poke around.  But isn’t that the biggest perk of being a housekeeper?

Two options are given with each task: you can simply get them done or go above the call of duty. By going above and beyond your requirements, you’ll get closer to your employer, becoming friends, and perhaps even more.  Ortega will also, as time goes on, leave you an increasingly larger number of notes around the house for you to respond to, or not, as you feel fit. The instructions could have been more clear as tasks can be frustrating, with things like a bucket used to clean the windows being hard to locate. While exploring the apartment to find where everything is curbs the difficulty, some tasks are so vague you’ll find yourself wandering the residence trying to find where to preform them even knowing where everything is.

The world outside the apartment falls apart more and more as the year goes on.  You may find yourself startled more than once by explosions or gunshots, and even hiding when a helicopter flies by (you’re not guilty of anything, or are you?).  The story is excellent and will draw you in, making you feel as if you truly are Angela Burns.  As Ortega is drawn into the increasingly tense political situation, you’ll find documents and files that could greatly aid the resistance.  The resistance that your brother is now neck deep in. You fear for his safety, but also have the desire to help both him and this country you find yourself more and more invested in.

Despite frustrations, the story remains immersive. When Ortega must go away for a couple of months, you may find yourself wandering the apartment, feeling utterly lost. No more notes from him to find scattered about the house, no tasks left for you to do. You may even find yourself missing him, fearing for his safety, and anxiously awaiting his return.  You have only Angela’s thoughts to keep you company, and it is lonely.

As the resistance gains ground, and the situation in Anchuria becomes more and more tense, Ortega finds himself much more involved.  As a lover of the arts, he feels driven to protect all that he can. And as such, the apartment begins to fill with crates, sculptures, paintings; all that he can save from the war outside.  You become less of a housekeeper and more the protector of these precious objects.  Until a time that the war ends, with only one side the victor.

As wonderful as the story and premise are, there is a major flaw. Upon attempting a second playthrough to see how different choices could affect the outcome, it became clear that they don’t and every option is almost utterly pointless. Just to test this, I skipped through the entire game without doing a thing. I got to work and immediately left, never performing a single task. Not only was I not fired, but the story progressed as if everything were being done.  For one example, the resistance still received its insider information, even when it wasn’t discovered.

The first playthrough of Sunset is thrilling and makes it easy to fall in love with, but discovering the choices were so empty sullies the experience. Part of me wants to rejoice in such a wonderful concept, but the other part feels betrayed that I wasn’t actually making a difference in this fictional world.

Closing Comments:

The entire world of Sunset is masterfully crafted in every way. The art style is gorgeous, with the apartment bathed in the light of the setting sun every day. The story is captivating and satisfying to the end. The voice acting for Angela is also top notch, while the music immerses you in the fictional country of Anchuria. Unfortunately, however, there is absolutely no replay value and those without the dedication to find every last thing to do in the apartment on each given day could find frustration quickly setting in. Sunset is refreshingly original in putting players in the role of a housekeeper, but with poor instructions and no real choices, it never meets its ambitions.