Everhood Review

Jun 08, 2021

Back to Thinking About Games

I recently bought Everhood, which at the time of this writing is also a fairly recent release (about 3 months). Following a binge play session and a fair amount of time to digest some thoughts, I'm here writing about the experience and my thoughts on it.

So, my credentials: I played over 4 hours of the game and saw the "normal", or standard, ending to completion. I looked up a bunch of information on the wiki and saw the alternate content I didn't play through, since I really didn't feel personally inclined to go through the game again for secret-hunting.

I'll try and spare you the information you could pick up off the store page. The game starts you off with minimal enough motivation: get your arm back. This very quickly takes you to some wild spaces, as the world of Everhood is a surreal, surreal location. Much of your adventure borders on non-sequitur, and frequently I was wondering just what the hell was going on, or if this particular piece of insanity was the intended experience or if I tripped some kind of nonlinear event with my other antics. While not really trying to justify itself, and only sometimes taking itself seriously, the series of events going on in Everhood are as delightful as they are strange.

The sheer amount of black in the game, being both the primary color and the sole negative space (and there is a LOT of empty space in Everhood) gives the game a definite eerie emptiness. It's as though there's no sunlight or the world is perpetually dark. The lack of major vibrant areas doesn't help here, and the few areas that are just look off-putting. Everhood is a very uncanny world.

The game has a battle system, but I wouldn't call this an RPG: there are no stats, no encounters, and in practice gameplay more resembles simple adventure walking and talking interspersed with "boss fights". Battles are musical in nature but this is not really a rhythm game: the notes are sent to you to the music, but by the time they reach you them, and the actions you'll take to dodge them, are likely off-beat. Battles can also get incredibly psychedelic at times, with some bordering on unintelligible with the amount of visual noise and skew going on with them.

A few tracks in the game stand out as incredible, but the rest I honestly have a difficult time remembering. I'd really like to replay a lot of the fights, either for the visuals or just the sheer pleasure of the fights themselves, but the game unfortunately doesn't have an easy way to do that. A way to quick-select and pick a fight I've already done would be a pleasant feature that unfortunately just isn't here. There is, however, support for making your own custom battles, which is really cool.

In-between delightful characters, some more interacted with than others, there is plenty of what I will call over-intellectual philosophizing that borders on the arty-art sort of silliness of someone trying to be philosophical. I won't get into that too much here, since I actually declined to learn any of the "Absolute Truths" the game offered to tell me about. Also, a lot of what the game is trying to convey with these is relevant to the second half of the game, which...

I'm now going to start talking about the second half of the game, which is where "the twist" happens and completely turns the game around. Naturally, this is a massive spoiler. I'm also going to be comparing the game to Undertale, which, itself, probably gives a hint about what the twist is like. This means I'll be spoiling some of Undertale too, I suppose. Basically, if anything you've gleaned from this paragraph upsets you to have learned, you should probably stop reading now and go play one or both of the games discussed before continuing.

The second half of the game turns things from a slightly-aimless series of non-sequiturs towards getting your arm back, into a game with a very clear purpose, goal, and direction: to kill everyone. Personally, it's interesting on reflection how my attitude toward the game changed once this started: my playing went from a sort of "enjoying the ride" passive playing into something I was determined to see through and complete. Many of the characters are actually happy to die, and the majority of them will do so without putting up a fight and simply letting you kill them by selecting "kill".

As it turns out, immortality is one of the not coolest things you could possibly have. All that funny quirkiness is varying levels of insanity from mortal minds unable to cope with eternity. You are doing the ultimate service by ending untold years of horrible stagnation. Indeed, the ending you get for being a pacifist is by far the most tragic and heartbreaking of them, with the game's Sans analogue breaking down and falling into total despair being enough to give me a "what have I done?" moment (or, what have I NOT done?). It is not even much of an ending, as the game itself explains: you are supposed to be the ending.

The normal ending, from killing everybody, is by far the happiest with the best resolution, although it maybe drags on a little too long. There are multiple finale-feeling fights, and maybe the game gets a little too caught up in its own symbolism and abstractness for its own good. But even the characters that were opposed to dying realize it's for the best and thank you for it.

So a lot of other reviews or impressions of the game I've seen compare it to Undertale. This is only half-right, and the parallels between quirky surreal worlds and the focus on killing or not killing are apparent enough, but the half that's wrong does a very large disservice to the themes of both games. The games use the act of killing for very different messages: Undertale is an exploration of curiosity with infinite power and the compulsion gamers have to complete everything. Everhood uses killing as an act of incredible bravery, something that's incredibly hard to do even though it's the right thing to do, and looks into the necessity of death.

Both games also play with the idea of the player themselves as a force or controlling entity, though Everhood seems a lot more ambiguous about it. The initial impression is that you're controlling Red the doll, although a character, Pink, is introduced who is actually the one doing all the killing: they're just imagining it's Red doing it as a coping mechanism, or something. Pink is an independent character in their own right, although by using a piece of Red you can control them too. It's not exactly clear to me where the line between Pink, Red, and the player are, although some characters address "the human".

So all this was mostly just me explaining things. I guess the big question I'm supposed to be answering is: Does all of this work?

For the most part, yes. I do think the game gets way too symbolic or abstract at points when it really should probably just offer a direct answer, and the impact of killing characters doesn't carry the weight it probably should when so many are under-developed or one-shots. It explores morality, mortality, and what it means to be human adequately enough to give you something to think about, and, hey, it's a pleasant time while you're doing it. I'm not sure how much I'll be going back to Everhood, but it was certainly worth the trip.