Game Distractions: Kathy Rain
I love the wonderful experimentation that’s been going on in video game narratives in the last few years. But every once in a while I crave a good nostalgic classic adventure game of ages past. Kathy Rain turned out to be the perfect way to spend my downtime.
Taking place in my beloved 1990’s, Kathy is a hardened, sarcastic and witty journalism student who visits her hometown after finding out that her grandfather whom she lost touch with has passed away. Naturally, not all is as it seems and Kathy soon finds herself elbow deep in government cover-ups, cults and good old fashioned super natural entities.
Gameplay wise there is not much to say about Kathy Rain. If you’ve played games like Gabriel Knight or King’s Quest this will be nothing new. It’s good old fashioned point and click fun. I felt like I was playing the old Sierra games of bygone days.
Being a point and click, the puzzles rely heavily on using/combining inventory items. Thankfully no solution is ever so insane that it does not make sense. There is no “combine pork chop with safety pin” puzzle (okay, I just made that up, but trust me when I say that type of solution existed in the past).
There are a few meatier puzzles scattered throughout. These include analyzing answering machine tapes for cryptic clues or reading historical documents to get a safe code. The game does well in not holding your hand or pointing out the obvious. There were a couple of times when I was genuinely stumped and had to run through all of my inventory and locations to see what I might have missed. When I finally figured it out, the answer did make sense and I enjoyed the experience of solving it.
The game is not just nostalgic from an adventure game perspective though. As I said, it takes place in the 1990’s. I have to admit I am biased. Flipping through phone books, using floppy discs on computers and even just hearing the sound of a cassette tape going into a recorder made my 90’s kid heart melt a little. I had to remind myself that there would be no Netflix if I went back in time.
The tone and atmosphere are pitch perfect. Hearing the somber soundtrack and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside fully immersed me into into the world of the game and got me revved up for solving a mystery.
This game will easily please those feeling nostalgic for the old style of adventure game. The real question is: should those who did not grow up with classic adventure games bother trying it out?
Well, yes. Yes they should. The story is simply too good to pass up. Take away the point and click and there is still a narrative that stands firmly on its own. Kathy is one of the more well developed protagonists I have seen. She’s sarcastic and hardened, but is also capable of compassion and has her own demons she must face. Those demons do not define her though and it never got overbearing when she had a personal obstacle to overcome.
What’s a protagonist without her supporting cast though? Every other character in the game got the same amount of attention to detail as Kathy. They are all relatable and have their quirks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my favourite characters was Kathy’s evangelical, super organized roommate Eileen. Normally those types of characters grate on my nerves, but her enthusiasm to help Kathy out was endearing and helped to balance her more annoying traits.
It helps that the voice actors do an exceptional job bringing the characters to life. Even the best writing can be brought down by poor performance. I was relieved that the developer got actual actors rather than using friends or family members to save on money (or maybe they have actor friends…who knows!). Kathy especially was spot on which is wonderful considering you will spend so much time with her.
Then there is the story itself. There is the mystery of Kathy’s grandfather’s death to solve which is interesting enough but then there is something much more…bizarre. To say any more here would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say the story takes a far more supernatural turn. The characters and world are grounded enough that it never seemed too crazy or out of place, unlike some David Cage games which I will totally mention.
Kathy Rain may not bring anything new to the table when it comes to the evolution of the video game world. What it does bring though and what we need far more of is a very solid entry into the pantheon of story driven games. Like any good mystery, it kept me coming back for more. But like a great mystery, it never over explained and left a few questions unanswered. I sincerely hope that there will be more Kathy Rain in my future. If you have not played it yet and are craving a good story and quirky characters, please please please try this out.