If you came up to me and said check out this game about environmental awareness I would brace myself for some preachy annoyance teaching me to feel horrible for being a human and I would be greatly underestimating YCJY Games’ abilities of making an immersive and exciting experience. The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human is (an unnecessarily long name) a 2D shooter with Metroidvania elements and a perfect example of explorative gameplay. I’ve heard it been called the Shadow of the Colossus of the sea which I would agree with except where Shadow of the Colossus can be barren at times The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human (god, even the acronym is long) is brimming with stimulus. The storytelling is unique as it does the job of telling a story without words.
The game starts with a space ship entering a wormhole and reemerging an incalculable amount of years later. In that time Earth has been encapsulated in a sheet of ice that the ship crashes through to discover a lush underwater world. I love the storytelling in The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human because it tells the story almost completely through an environmental context. Sure, there are text logs you find here and there that tell some of the story through the lives of the residents that lived in the vicinity but they are in no way the main storytelling technique; most of the story is portrayed through the visuals of the desolate and devastated world around you. You are shown the impact of industry and colonization on nature then you are shown the impact of nature after the effects of time and neglect.
Each new area you encounter is as telling as the last and they are portrayed beautifully in a vibrant and colourful 8-bit art style with diverse music that fit the theme perfectly. The most impressive aspect I found in the game feel is the way that it incorporates isolation. You are told right off the bat that you are the last human so you can expect to feel quite lonely at times and the way that it does this is unique in that your awareness of it fluctuates. It does this through a clever manipulation of your feeling of fear and it does that with polarized gameplay.
Half of the time you will be cruising around with harmless fish and killing them if you’re feeling particularly heartless (or if you’re trying to get the ‘kill 100 fish’ achievement). You will be either discovering new areas of the map, finding upgrades for your ship, dodging naval mines and weird spitting deep-sea flora or randomly encountering giant monstrous beasts that lock you into an extremely difficulty battle with them. Not one boss battle did I beat in the first five tries and not one boss battle did I not have a blast. You have to carefully analyze the movements and attacks of every boss and there are no hints or tutorials so your victory is completely yours and boy do they feel rewarding.
YCJY Games know the ins and outs when it comes to rewarding a player: first, exploration is necessary as the rewards you get from exploring the world are needed if you expect to beat any of the bosses; second, packaged with the reward of a hard boss is either a new weapon to explore with or a big haul of upgrades; third, it is the only game I’ve played to date that uses a continuous healing system that I’ve enjoyed. In a lot of games today if you get hurt you just wait a little while and your health comes back which I find incredibly dull as it takes away all difficulty the game has; in The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human, however, waiting for your health to come back is an extremely difficult task as you have to constantly dodge barrages of attacks coming at you. You are rewarded for having skill instead of just patience.
I enjoyed every second of The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves because I feel it perfectly demonstrates how powerful attention to detail is in making a good game. Everything about this game feels thought out and sculpted with the player’s enjoyment in mind. The only complaint I have is that there could be a little bit more. The game is quite short and normally I would say that’s a good thing but in a game about exploration you want there to be a lot to discover and I just thought it ended a bit quick. What it does great is that it doesn’t tell you what to do or where to go: you decide which direction is important and you make the adventure yourself so it feels like a proper journey instead of a theme park ride. Do I think it’ll successfully further the awareness of our impact on the environment? Sure, I guess just as much as any other piece of art on the topic but most other environmentally driven messages concentrate on the message above everything else so I applaud YCJY Games for putting the players enjoyment first.
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