From its storytelling to its watercolor style, Beyond Eyes is essentially a children’s storybook in video game form. And like every storybook tale, its success hinges on the strength of its beginning, middle, and end. Beyond Eyes opens strong, laying the foundation for an emotional tale, and ends on a high note as well, wrapping up the story with a poignant final chapter. Unfortunately, it’s the time between these two points where Beyond Eyes struggles most. Due to a lack of plot points and tedious traversal, the middle – also the majority – of Beyond Eyes is a slow, largely eventless journey.
As the game opens, Rae, a young girl who lost her sight following a fireworks accident, leaves the comfort of her home garden in search Nani, a stray cat that hasn’t come around in some time. The bond between Rae and Nani is immediately evident – Nani has been Rae’s best, and only, friend since her accident – and made me emotionally invested in Rae’s quest.
Upon exiting the garden, Rae begins discovering the world through audio and odor cues. Beyond Eyes handles exploring unfamiliar territory as a visually impaired person admirably. With each step, the world’s white canvas is painted with the environment. I discovered the world alongside Rae, at her pace, as grass grew, flowers bloomed, and animals were born out of nothing just as Rae “sees” it in her head. Once Rae uncovers an area, it remains intact, easily allowing you to backtrack if needed. This convenience is taken away later on when Rae’s sense are dulled during a heavy storm, which led to the most challenging section of Beyond Eyes – not to say it’s difficult, just more so than the rest of the three-hour affair.
However, not everything is as it appears to Rae. Without her sight, Rae occasionally misinterprets sounds; in one instance, she hears the sound of running water and envisions a beautiful water fountain. As she nears it, her sense of smell kicks in and the fountain morphs into its true form: a sewage pipe. These mistakes are always without consequence, but again show how well Beyond Eyes presents the world through Rae’s eyes.
Unfortunately, not long into your search for Nani, it becomes evident there is little story to be told and even less to do in the world of Beyond Eyes. While discovering the world remains somewhat enjoyable throughout, thanks to a color-rich landscape and simple, soothing soundtrack, I was hoping there would be more to do, more to see, and most importantly, more to the story. The majority of time is spent walking, attempting to navigate the world while avoiding small obstacles created by Rae’s fears: dogs, crows, and traffic, to name a few. While these aren’t your typical baddies, it’s easy to empathize with Rae during these situations, as they are very real fears for a young girl who’s unable to see.
Even more troubling is the way in which you navigate this largely empty world. Rae’s movement speed is incredibly slow; slow enough to make simple environmental puzzles feel like a chore. Contextually, it makes sense Rae would move slowly; she is young, scared, and unable to see as she explores unfamiliar territory. However, from a gameplay perspective, the lethargic movement quickly becomes tedious.
The few puzzles are problematic as well. The most elaborate of which involves figuring out a way to force a flock of seagulls out of your path. It required minimal problem solving and slowed the already sluggish momentum of Rae’s search for Nani. It felt like a game mechanic was being forced into a story where it didn’t belong. Beyond Eyes is best as an interactive story. I only wish the developer hadn’t felt the need to make it “more of a video game” and focused solely on the story, letting Beyond Eyes stand on its own as an interactive storybook.
Slogging through the tedious mid-section of Beyond Eyes eventually pays off; the final chapter ends on a poignant, memorable note, showing off Beyond Eyes’ true storytelling potential. The epilogue is further proof of its potential, providing an even more conclusive, satisfying finale to Rae’s journey.
Beyond Eyes is a short, unique adventure that starts strong, but falters due to its slow middle and empty world. It admirably handles discovery through the eyes of a blind girl and, if you’re able to grind through its middle chapters, ultimately pays off with an emotional conclusion.
The journey itself may be far from memorable, but I won’t soon forget this storybook’s ending – Beyond Eyes’ version of “happily ever after.”