Our game club pick for December was GOODBYE WORLD by YO FUJII. I, uh, did not like it! Please note that the rest of this post is going to be full of spoilers for the game and talks about suicide.
Let's start off with what I did like about the game. The pixel art looks amazing. A post-release patch lets you disable the heavy visual filters, which I appreciate since I have terrible eyes. There are some touching scenes with great direction. The puzzle-platforming elements that I dislike (see below) can be skipped. And the thing I appreciate the most of all is that it's a game meant to be played in one 1.5hr sitting, the perfect amount of time for me to play something like this without getting distracted and stopping partway. I don't have a problem with the price tag or the length like most negative Steam reviewers; I feel like I got a movie ticket's worth of entertainment and discussion out of it.
Okay. Now for parts I did not like at all.
The vignette chapters are prefaced with these awful puzzle-platforming levels. As I mentioned, you can just die three times to end those segments and move on with the story, but they're still implemented really poorly. For whatever reason, my gamepad wouldn't work with this game, so I had to contend with the keyboard controls. (Daikon was able to get the gamepad working for him and had a slightly better experience than I did, so YMMV.) You can see me struggling mightily with the "Z/X/Up to jump" control scheme in my stream of the game. When I wasn't fighting against the controls, I was dealing with the spiteful level design. (People who make dark levels with leaps of faith, why? Actually, people who make dark levels, WHY?) This is retro game design more along the lines of Famicom Transformers than Mario or Megaman.
There is a lot of self-referential winking in the story about how BLOCKS is ~supposed~ to be kind of bad because it's retro, and it's not ~supposed~ to have the polish of a published game since it's an indie passion project, but that's bullshit. There are countless retro indie puzzle-platformers (I daresay it is one of the most popular genres for a lot of game jams) that don't feel like butt to play. I get that the puzzle-platforming part of GOODBYE WORLD is not the "real" game but, god, the audacity.
The "real" game is the visual novel. Well, I say visual novel, but it's actually just a collection of cutscenes with no choices or interactivity. There is ONE chapter near the end where you can walk around a small room and examine items to read their descriptions, but the other twelve are pure cutscenes. This could have been all right if the story was interesting or well-written, but it's bog standard "I am an Artist who makes Art but nobody recognizes the Genius of my Art." This is hammered in again and again and again and AGAIN, with no interesting commentary about the conditions of creating art under capitalism, or the soul-crushing process of trying to monetize your passions, or how it sucks that commercial viability is the only value society recognizes in art, etc. There isn't even anything about the process of making games. Worst of all, the final few chapters are a straight recap of all the scenes up to that point. As I said, the entire playthrough is quite short, so having such a long and tedious recap of stuff that JUST HAPPENED is absurd.
There are no dialogue tags and the two main characters are so boring that it's hard to differentiate them at times. Kani's defining characteristic is that she is selfish and aloof, coldly dismisses the art made by her former classmate and then Kuma, and generally treats people like they are beneath her. But when others likewise dismiss Kani, we are supposed to understand that she is a Struggling Artist in a world full of shitty philistines. (Seriously, the way the shopkeeper and especially the publisher talk to her is so over-the-top cartoon villain that it's hard not to laugh out loud.) Kuma is a Generic Cheerful Anime Girl and the one person who puts up with Kani's garbage until the day she finally doesn't. It's so hard to root for Kani and Kuma to keep making games together when it's clear that Kuma is a lot better off being away from Kani.
There is exactly one chapter (the train scene) that felt emotionally honest. Kuma and Kani are riding the train together and Kuma is bigging up Kani's works. Kani, who up to this point has been sullen and cold to Kuma, hesitates. The train comes to a stop, and the doors open. As the doors hang there, Kani finally gets up the nerve to ask Kuma to make games with her. There is a long, pregnant pause. Finally, Kuma agrees to do it. The doors close, and the train pulls onward. It's the one scene that really stuck with me. I wish the narrative kept that sense of emotional honesty to the end, but unfortunately, it never again gets anywhere close.
The rest is so cynical and tedious. There is a running joke about how BLOCKS is a metafictional representation of GOODBYE WORLD itself, and this "joke" gets thoroughly run into the ground. At one point Kani brings her Gameboy-styled game (the one you have to struggle through at the start of each chapter) to a publisher, who tells her that while "it's at least playable," it's only really notable for having Kuma's amazing pixel art. Like, DO YOU GET IT? It's a self-referential comment about how you the player probably only picked up GOODBYE WORLD because you too saw the beautiful pixel art in screenshots CHORTLE CHORTLE CHORTLE. BLOCKS is frustrating and poorly designed, but GOODBYE WORLD straight up tells you that it's frustrating and poorly designed, so don't YOU look stupid for hating those segments! Really makes u think!
CONTENT NOTE: suicide
The ending is actually sickening. Kani has endured failure after failure, and in the end even Kuma is too busy to come over and playtest her game. Kani is at her lowest point, ears ringing with criticism, and facing the reality that her dream is unattainable. The screen cuts, and when it comes back, Kani is gone and the balcony door is open, curtain fluttering in the breeze. The next morning, Kuma comes over. She searches the apartment for Kani, then sees the balcony door. She steps out, looks down. The screen cuts to black as Kuma calls, "Kani?" Kani does not appear for the remainder of the game.
It is at this point that you the player are supposed to think that Kani might have died by suicide. Which is an unfortunate reality for many people who get crushed under the boot of selling their art, their labor, their lives under our shitty, capitalist system. It's dark, but it's worth examining honestly. Struggling with depression and anxiety is real, suicidal ideation is real, wanting to escape a world where all the doors have slammed shut in your face is real. These are real issues that deserve being talked about with gravity and sincerity.
But GOODBYE WORLD does none of that. In the post-credits scene, Kani asks, "Why does it look like I died?" To which Kuma jokingly replies, "That was your idea, you wanted a metafictional story where the protagonist dies unexpectedly!"
So yeah. The suicide was a fake-out and meta joke. Instead of an earnest story about the pressures of trying and failing to make it as an indie dev, it's a cynical joke about how commercially viable indie games use metafictional or dark elements to get people talking, so we put metafictional and dark elements in this commercially released indie game to get people talking lololol do you get it lololol. Whatever grace I was willing to extend to this game disappeared the instant I saw that post-credits scene.
The worst part is that there are plenty of games on places like itch.io that won't get a fraction of the attention of GOODBYE WORLD, yet handle the subject matter so much better and have way more interesting things to say. Off the top of my head, I recommend My Dream Job: How I Survived Job Hunting in Animation by BubblyOasis. It is sincere and honest, two qualities missing from GOODBYE WORLD.