A strange, irreverent, opening gambit, but follow me on this. Since childhood, I’ve had an infrequent, recurring, abstract nightmare that’s laughable to others and chilling to me.
Here goes… in essence, I am the paddle in a game of Breakout, existing in the vast black space of the famous Atari game Maybe I have a traumatic experience with Breakout as a child, I don’t remember.
I’ve tried to understand this and I think it’s a combination of the absurd situation mixed with a profound existential anxiety, as I prevent the moving white square from falling below me. This instinctive panic-inducing purpose is made more miserable, as I recognise there is no concept of completing this, only escalating difficulty and inevitable failure.
Why on Earth would this matter? Well it’s perhaps because of this that most 8-bit aesthetics immediately make me feel irrational and uneasy, and Storysinger’s Sunset stimulates that familiar unsettled response through its minimalist style and colour palate. It’s an interesting and apposite frame of mind to take on Sunset’s specific subject matter.
Sunset is a browser based visual novel that focuses on a day in the life of Kay, a research and development officer in a corporation involved in the production of magic. When Kay finishes her 9-5 for the day, she has arranged to sign the documents legalising her divorce from her husband Matt. Plot is progressed without much interaction, as you mostly move the story forward through clicking the text.
Given the brevity of Sunset, I’d recommend exploring the plot by simply trying it. I’ve tried to critically assess this, and while I have little to say about its peculiar mixture of magic, gemmology and marital woe, you may.
What did resonate, was the effect of aggregating a low energy interactive pace with minimal style and sound and an already unsettled state of mind. Sunset induced an almost hypnotic effect in me that opened my senses and exposed my thoughts. With few distractions, I found the experience to be a reflective quarter of an hour, like a lucid dream.
I felt hyper aware of the significance of mundane, relatable interactions between Kat and Matt. These include descriptions of Matt’s irritating mannerisms, Kat’s expectation of seeing her spouse going about his everyday life or their predictable verbal altercations.
I found myself absorbing the shapes and sound vacantly (as reading feels like too strong a term here) and thought about how their relationship degraded leading to divorce. I consciously considered discussions and actions my wife and I share (who is wonderful by the way) and the very preventable decisions that lead to disagreements of our own. Were this purely text, imagery or audio with no interaction, those loaded pauses would perhaps not exist and by extension, the contemplative moments would not have occurred.
Sunset’s story has no arc and seemingly no resolution. It feels like a simple recollection or a statement of fact as opposed to a narrative and it’s better for this in my opinion. It was an interesting mirror to hold up to my own behaviours. While firmly none of my business, it would surely make for an interesting discussion to learn more of the developers personal experience that inspired this creation.
Mine is of course, an incredibly subjective position to take, brought about almost entirely in response to an odd nightmare and an overactive imagination, but I appreciated taking a chance on it.
Ultimately Sunset is a brief, specific and sincere 15-20 minutes. Try it, especially if you have embarrassing, ultra-specific relationships with 40+ year-old Atari titles.
Cane and Rinse was approached by Eliana of Storysinger to try Sunset.