Gather ‘Round And Marvel At: Being Her Darkest Friend
At times obtuse, an entry worth your while
I can’t breathe. It’s dark. My eyelids, my eyes won’t open. There’s a tapping, muffled, somewhere not so far away but my jaw has clamped unbearably tight, so tight my teeth tremble and ache.
I can hear crackling, something dusty plinking off something dirty. Tap, tap, tap. I don’t know if I’m alive, dead or in between. The shadows saturate my skin, my hair, my fingertips. Tap, crack, crack.
Is light coming? Or are my eyes dying?
I knew precious little of what to expect from Chronerion‘s “Being Her Darkest Friend” when I snagged it from Gamejolt. Going in, I made a conscious choice to avoid reading the blurb and anything that might tell me more than I wanted to know up front.
Unfortunately, my attempt to maintain the purity of the experience created an interesting hang-up: I had no idea this game was a successor to Chronerion’s previous effort, “A Fragment of Her“, until after I popped back over to the developer’s GameJolt page to grab some hyperlinks.
I am proud to report, however, the story’s effect still was profound. I can’t say for certain, but I suspect going in with fewer details than intended may have enhanced the surreal atmosphere of “Being Her Darkest Friend”, as I felt myself struggling to put pieces of plot in place from time to time. The protagonist’s confusion bled into my own for a bit, until I was able to catch up.
With the introductory fluff, links and pretentious author-insertion out of the way, let’s shut off the lights and check this nightmare out.
Aspects to consider:
- This game was developed within a brief time span for an adventure game jam.
- This game is free to download.
Note: Because adventure games tend to be story-centered, I will attempt to avoid as many spoilers as possible. I toyed with the idea of writing a separate, unlisted post with a story breakdown, but this game’s relative brevity means a player can finish it in an hour with little trouble and experience the tale for oneself.
We begin the game with a title concept that greatly amused me after I figured out what was going on. At first, I suspected I’d downloaded a broken copy of the game but, as I attempted various keystrokes and clicks, I accidentally uncovered the first mechanic of the game. It’s a small detail, but a quirky method of tutorializing via game mechanics as opposed to outright exposition.
Once we’ve passed our first hurdle and are thrust into pitch darkness, we take control of our protagonist, Selina, and begin exploring our surroundings. Through fairly extensive dialogue uttered almost universally by our heroine, we learn she has ended up in this impenetrable abyss with no knowledge of how she arrived. The starting area is little more than a strip of rock beneath a backdrop of black, but we spend only a few moments here as a pair of ruby-pinpoint eyes call to use from the black.
When I approached the first character we come across in the game, I initially was off-put by Selina’s insistence that the gray-toned creature before me was, in fact, her friend Tomoko. I imagine that, if I’d played the first game in the series like a proper critic, I wouldn’t have been so surprised by their prior relationship.
But I find myself growing too specific, so let’s pick up the pace.
Over the course of several teleportations to a grayscale office setting, adorned with paintings of all sorts, easels and faceless, colorless NPCs, Selina fulfills the desires of a pair of NPC characters: one friend and one enemy. By altering this film noir world, Selina reveals to us the nature of her relationships to these characters as she comes to terms with her situation.
“Being Her Darkest Friend” is a story that encapsulates the numbness of depression, the subtle manner in which such mental hurdles steal the color from our lives. Though it is quite dialogue-heavy at times, falling victim to the “tell, don’t show” weakness native to adventure games, Selina’s arc flows nicely from inciting incident to a climax that surprised me with its potency and left me feeling alternately glad for her and worried I had just seen something go terribly wrong. The story’s ending bathes in the waters of ambiguity in a way that allows the player to decide what became of Selina, and I greatly appreciated that.
Disclaimer: Unless something from “A Fragment of Her” explained the ending. Otherwise, please assume the ending made perfect sense to me.
I believe this game tells a complete, if somewhat open-ended, tale of mental redemption marred only by its reliance almost entirely upon Selina’s dialogue to convey details. I would have liked a more robust set of NPCs, and yet I fear including them might take away from the delightful solitude of the game.
Gameplay and Mechanics
“Being Her Darkest Friend” is a point-and-click style adventure game. Therefore, if you’ve played even one title in this genre the mechanics should be pretty familiar: click and drag items from your inventory onto intended targets within the playing field. Click a segment of the field to move Selina toward it.
If I remember correctly, fewer than ten inventory items come into play over the course of our story, several of which disappear after a single use. Some adventure games lean heavily on puzzle elements but I wouldn’t classify “Being Her Darkest Friend” into that category. Item use in this game is more about discerning relationships between objects than figuring out any kind of trick, along with identifying certain code words in Selina’s dialogue that might indicate when to use one of the three multi-purpose items: a camera that clears away emptiness, a paintbrush that uncovers the truth and a knife that is, by all accounts, just a knife.
Mechanically, this game is sound and functional. It’s clear we are not here for revolutionary gameplay or mind-breaking puzzles, even though I found myself hung up on a few occasions; nevertheless, one or two a-ha! moments uncovered through the mechanics left me feeling enlightened. There is a simple pleasure to accomplishing goals in adventure game, a kind of measurable sense of achievement. Still, we are here for the story.
Here, “Being Her Darkest Friend” is at its strongest thematically. Through a highly minimalist aesthetic both in terms of color and architecture, we attain a sense of the emptiness inside Selina’s heart. Rather like Frank Miller’s Sin City, only a handful of colors appear in-game and their scarcity provides extra weight: the metaphorical fire in Tomoko’s eyes, the physical fire blasting out of Seligmann’s office contrast sharply with the drab of everything else.
Selina herself stands out from the background by being colorful, and dialogue appears in contrasting shades of teal and orange. I do have a small nitpick concerning dialogue, though, as it sometimes ends up covering characters’ faces or parts of the map I wanted to see. I also would have liked to see the screen darken a bit before the dialogue appeared, to further pull the letters out from the background.
Among the most interesting designs aspects of this game are the many paintings we see throughout the story. Some of them loom large and almost all are accompanied by their titles: In a design environment with more time, I feel this would have been a delightful opportunity for the full painting to appear onscreen when Selina looks at it. There are a pair in particular that Selina claims she already knows the truth behind: one of enormous lips and the other a sort of Rorschach test that I’ll freely admit looked rather vaginal to me.
A fair portion of the imagery blends into the background, an unfortunate side-effect of grayscaling, and once in a while I felt my eyes growing somewhat bored with the surroundings. Without fail something visually interesting would occur soon after, but the pixel graphics aren’t as well suited to handling high-contrast shades of gray as, for example, vector graphics and/or flash animations. Selina herself is animated beautifully, in a style that reminds me of the old rotoscoped platformers “Another World” and the original “Prince of Persia”. When she uses her camera, the movement is fluid and exaggerated, perhaps a touch sexualized, and is fun in a way that provides a split-second break from the grim proceedings.
Near the end of the game, when the nature of the first screen in the game is revealed, we are treated to one of the most off-putting and deliciously freaky visuals I’ve seen in a while. I won’t spoil it, but rest assured the environment transforms from freaky to outright horrifying by the end.
One final note: I greatly appreciate Chronerion’s inclusion of a readme file warning the player not to attempt playing in full screen. It’s unfortunate that full-screen functionality isn’t available, but it’s far from a deal-breaker. There are instances of jagged edges and ashy-looking character models, but on the whole this game’s visuals contribute well to its storyline.
Keeping in mind this title was created over a brief development cycle for a game jam, I feel “Being Her Darkest Friend” is quite the treat despite a small selection of nitpicks. It treats depression with a gentle hand, avoiding over-the-top and obvious symbolism in favor of character-driven explanations that form a delightful three-act structure.
At only about an hour of leisurely play time, this title offers plenty to think about in a tight, well-crafted package. While I’m not the world’s most enthusiastic adventure gamer, I find “Being Her Darkest Friend” a darkly beautiful piece that’s well worth your time. The price is right, as you can pick this one up for free, so if you have a taste for the macabre and prefer sober storytelling over flashy graphics and jumpscares, head on over to Chronerion’s GameJolt page and snag it.
Unlike this critic, though, you might want to play “A Fragment of Her” first.
Rating: 84/100. A thoughtful experience well worth the time.