PEGBRJE: Akurra (Chapter 1) and Belong

Sliding Puzzles never felt so good.

Akurra (Chapter 1) is a puzzle adventure created by Jason Newman, a solo indie dev that also goes by the name Gojira. As an individual who washes ashore in an archipelago, players will explore this island set and discover what lies within; perhaps its treasure, friends, or just dangers? Only the brave will find out.

As this adventurous individual, players will be entering a massively open world with the goal of exploring and discovering just what lies within. Much of the islands are blocked off by gates that require stars in order to traverse farther, but they have been scattered throughout the world as if they had fallen from the sky itself. So how does one collect them to continue forward? Well, through sliding puzzles of course! Yes the entirety of Akurra is covered in hundreds of sliding puzzles, each halting the players progress through different variations on the mechanic. Many of the cores of sliding puzzles are present, from the need to push specific blocks to certain areas to traverse them properly to ensuring spatial awareness to keep blocks from locking themselves against walls and being unusable. Thankfully players have the ability to undo their actions as well as reset the entire map if issues occur, which helps to streamline the process of problem solving and critical thinking.

What makes Akurra so different however is not in its mechanics, but in its execution. The game is massive — it takes the tenets of an open world and applies them immediately, as players leaving the first island will see immediately upon sailing around the ocean on the back of a giant turtle. Each island has its own flavour and questline of sorts, introducing new ideas and individuals to meet and acquire new skills from. There are so many pathways to take that loop back around to familiar locations, unlocking slowly as players explore and gain those new skills and even through pure chance thanks to the abundance of secret paths. I honestly felt so excited to see just where each area would take me, and since the sliding puzzles are so solid there was always a feeling of anticipation when adventuring; what would I see next? How would they introduce the next idea?

It’s this that makes Akurra’s first chapter so interesting, and easily my new favourite iteration on sliding puzzle centred titles. Instead of being satisfied with just creating ingenious puzzles, it takes you on an adventure of a lifetime through gorgeous landscapes and giving the player free reign as to how they reach the end rather than just shoveling them along. If you’ve got a moment to appreciate what sliding puzzles can do inside a fantastic world, this is easily the best example I’ve come across so far.

Belong is a visual novel/otome made by Aflutter Studios, an indie dev studio run by the solo dev Click. Players get to play as their self insert character for this setting, one that involves players needing to go get a part-time job in the hopes of getting their Father a new jacket. However, nobody seems to be biting to give the player a chance until their dragged in to a studio and become a receptionist.

As visual novels go, Belong is easily identifiable. Players get to choose their name and gender, while also selecting a vice of theirs to talk of while in the confession booth with their Father (who is also their father, what a twist). From the onset, players will be learning of the world that has been created, settling in to the receptionist desk position that has been seemingly gifted to them before settling on one route of three. Players can choose to pursue the one that brought them on in Capriana the bubbly actress, or the makeup artist Dylan who keeps himself bottled up. The third has no name at first, only identified by his red jacket — those who wish to pursue him will learn of his name obviously, but it adds to the suspense and mystery for me to leave it unknown. Personally I went with Capriana to dig more in to why she would just drag a stranger in to the studio based on fate, and what I got was a sad yet wholesome experience about Capriana’s past, her bubbly optimism and her rose-tinted glasses which are totally not symbolism.

Where some may be a bit taken for a loop is before a route is selected, when suddenly a mystery individual dressed suspiciously like Sherlock Holmes begins to narrate. They talk about the significance of the name, as if talking to the player rather than the player’s avatar, before asking the player to select either Bel, On, or G. In reality, each of these three words signifies which route the player goes on, corresponding to a certain individual thanks to the hint in the word. I found this an interesting strategy to relieve the possibility of players ‘accidentally’ ending up on different routes, and it helps in the writing process if there is no need to worry about decisions taking players in directions they weren’t expecting. This is further reinforced with the chapter system, breaking up the conversations of each encounter with the love interest so that players can easily digest each section and understand their significance. It’s not a strategy that works 100% of the time, but thanks to Belong’s structure it comes out successful.

Thanks to this, Belong is a solid short otome title for players to dive in to if it appeals to them. Each character has their own story to explore, keeping things upbeat thanks to the lovingly crafted soundtrack and crisp visual style. Whether or not there is any romance is up to how the player interacts with their love interest, so ensuring that you’re attentive to find love is always important. Like I said, visual novels aren’t for everyone, but if you find yourself in need of a theatrical novel that explores multiple themes, this might be what you have been looking for.

Liiiiiiii

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.