A gorgeous point-and-click hidden object title, When the Past Was Around packs a lot of emotional engagement into a reasonably small package. You witness a collection of memories – some happy, some not – being revisited by the main character, Eda. Despite the sombre moments being expressed in the title, the game is able to convey an impressive level of tenderness. The animation style and the title’s use of colour provide such a comforting experience, it feels as if you’re wrapping up in a nice warm blanket on a chilly night. All of the scene transitions are beautiful, and many of the key moments appear as though they are being drawn for the very first time before your eyes. It’s all simply wonderful. All the hardship conveyed is not happy by any means, but the game’s presentation does a good job of conveying the idea that everything will be okay someday.
One of the best examples of crafting a loving environment is the way the game utilises music. There is a wonderful stringed melody that heavily factors into just about every facet of the title. The melody is the backbone of the entire score of course, but it also factors into gameplay. Many of the puzzles are structured around music, either by offering hints or being presented as solutions unto themselves. The music, wonderful compositions courtesy of Masdito 'ittou' Bachtiar, is even further integrated by serving as the narrative backbone. The aforementioned melody serves as a point of shared interest between Eda and her lost love, portrayed in-game by an anthropomorphized owl. The two are brought together, and subsequently struggle together, in large part thanks to their shared love of the violin. As Eda begins to try and put the pieces of her life back together, this music is her one constant. It’s heartbreaking but helps hammer home the value of happiness, however fleeting it may be.
Even the runtime of the game gets in on this, clocking in at just north of an hour. Granted, it is priced appropriately, but we were definitely sad to see the credits roll so soon – especially given that the title had just begun to flex its muscles mechanically. What start as very simple hidden object brain-teasers eventually progress to multi-scene puzzles, where items you collect serve more than one function. The puzzles never get hard per se, but they are immensely satisfying all the same, especially the more involved ones.