When Adrenaline is Relaxation

A sort of review/open letter about Hyper Light Drifter, a game by Heart Machine.

Every advice there is will tell you that it’s best to handle your problems calmly. Take it slow, bit by bit. Relax, pay attention to things, be careful. Be patient. It’ll work out in the end.

And this sort of advice is the one I first learned from playing video games. I’s easy to get angry when you lose, especially if your last save point is miles behind and you’ve been through the same hallways a hundred times. But the angrier you get, the more you’re going to keep pulling the same mistake, the more you’re going to be be blinded of that ditch you’ve fallen into over and over again. This isn’t just video games; doing things when you’re angry and impatient is just going to make you fall again, racing after time be damned.

I’m digressing, of course. But I’m getting to the point.

So maybe it’s a sort of wonder for most people as to why hard games exist, and why we keep playing them even after falling a hundred times, ever after getting angry enough to throw the controllers down. But the point of difficult games isn’t the rage, it’s the calm that it forces out of you. When throwing a difficult spike at you, games, or life in general, force you to erase that anger so you can move on.

Difficult games, even of the fast-paced, high-adrenaline, bullets-all-over-the-screen type, are a source of relaxation for some of us. And–this is the point of this whole opening–I’ve never had a game that so blend the two concept–relaxation and difficulty–as well as Hyper Light Drifter.

hld-headerthings

Hyper Light Drifter is an 2D indie action-adventure game, sort of like, I heard, the ancient Legend of Zelda games. The ancient Zelda games which I’ve never played because I didn’t grew up with them.So instead of giving me any sort of nostalgia, with its beautiful pixel graphic and singular atmosphere, Hyper Light Drifter gives me a whole new world that faintly echoes of something from far behind.

And this world is so peaceful, so quiet. Flames flicker off fireplaces and grasses dance in the wind. Life goes on while the monsters and ruins left behind by a bygone era mark a history that was done and finished with. The game features no words, not a single lick, beyond the main menu screen. It tells its story in the ruins that were left behind, in the gaping maw of dead giants, in the trees and birds, and in the foregone stories of the survivors, told only in glimpses and portraits.

It’s a quiet world.

hld-quietworld

It’s a quiet world that throws at you whole battlefields of monsters. It’s a quiet world that will soon be filled with the blood and corpses of your enemies, adding to the piles upon piles of bones that are already there to begin with. It’s a quiet world where you’ll have to be quick on your feet, pay attention to your surrounding, and destroy everything that stands in your way before they kill you.

And in the midst of all the fighting, it will still be quiet. Soothing.

Looked at it from another angle, it’s a gritty struggle for survival. You have a ghost in your past, something dark that keeps chasing you wherever you go. To make it through this world–scarred and ruined and as hounded by the past as you are–you have to fight and destroy your way through. There were corpses and blood and broken machines wherever you go.There’s more things trying to kill you than people that can help you.

But it’s a beautiful world. Life has grown around the dead, and there is a sort of hope and nonchalance from the living people you met. People has learned to survive through everything; so has the world. So will you.

hld-friends

So no matter how hard the game gets, no matter how many enemies are swarming me at any one time, I can always relax and take it all calmly. I always feel like I can cling to something. Hope, maybe. Relax, be patient, destroy what you have to destroy. We’ll get through this.

And when it is too much, I can just go elsewhere. I can just wander around, explore some other place, or maybe just take a walk and sooth myself. It’s a non-linear world with so many nooks and crannies. When the time comes, I’ll come back feeling better and calmer, and I find out that it really is a lot easier after the walk, after I’ve gone around and learned and experienced.

I haven’t beaten the game, admittedly. I’m taking it very slowly, with short courses throughout my days. The game has really helped me in a lot of ways.

Not everyone might feel the same about the game as I do, but Hyper Light Drifter is quite an experience. Give it a try.

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