Orpheus is a prolific figure within Greek mythology. Best known for his trip to the underworld, where he fails to bring his wife Eurydice back from the dead by turning to look at her too soon, the hero also went on many other adventures, charming people and gods alike with his mastery of the lyre. Orpheus’s Dream uses this musical ability to create intricate puzzle rooms, with the playing of different notes serving different functions. The first game from Taiwanese developer Orpheus’s Dream Team, this isometric puzzler is a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of home, depression, and the role that beloved pets play in our lives.
The events of Orpheus’s Dream follow the dreams of a young unnamed protagonist and his cat Lyra. The young man is having a rough time, reluctant to leave his bedroom due to the argument that is occurring just outside. His new kitten needs to be fed, however, and the task forces him to leave his safe space. The boy’s dreams take him to different stages of his life, but no matter how hard things get, the constant companionship of Lyra makes everything a little bit brighter.
Each stage revolves around getting the protagonist to a different room of the house. This task is not as simple as it initially appears: many of the doors are locked, and others do not exist at all due to the current perspective. Progress is made by collecting a variety of musical notes which, when played, perform different tasks. The semi-quaver unlocks doors, bass clef orders Lyra to collect out of reach collectables, a sliced-in-half clef mirrors the current room, and the axe symbol removes roots that block pathways through the house.
Complicating matters further is the relationship between the different notes: mirroring a room that contains a note will make its opposite appear in the newly generated room. The order and choice of which rooms to mirror, then, becomes the key to solving each puzzle.
This process is quite a bit to wrap one’s head around, especially with the minimal tutorial, but the challenge ramps up smoothly enough that I only really got stumped on the final level. Unlike the preceding sections, which are comprised of a handful of rooms, the last area gives the player run of the full house, and thus requires a very long sequence of moves to get to the exit. The game is quick to tell the player when they have made a level unbeatable, with a reset prompt popping up, but the option to undo the last move rather than redoing the whole puzzle would be preferable.
Finishing a level will have the boy step off a ledge and fall into the next area, adding to the dream-like quality of the world. As the protagonist sinks further into depression, so does the colour palette of the world shift, cheery pastels darkening to blues and blacks. The simple marimba tones of happier times becomes a complex and racing piano composition, reflecting the anxiousness within. Along with journal entries, the boy’s state of mind is clearly depicted by the concerning descriptions of the objects he examines. Every element of the experience carries the player further and further down, a cohesion rarely seen done so well. After all this darkness, I was pleasantly surprised by the optimistic ending. The boy is still stressed at the end, and his cat is getting old, but her constant companionship pushes him to fight back against the depressive haze. It made me think about how much I appreciate my own feline friend, even if she is more inclined to climb all over my keyboard than solve puzzles.
Starting up Orpheus’s Dream will present the player with a wall of Chinese characters. Changing the language to English is a simple enough task, done by clicking around in the options menu, but the language choice should really be offered from when the game is booted. With how global gaming has become, that the location of changing languages has not been standardised is surprising; the process must be frustrating for non-English speaking gamers, who I imagine have to deal with this issue constantly. Once switched over, the English is mostly good, but a few instances of untranslated text or odd wording are present. The font for the diary entries is very difficult to read, particularly in the notebook section where the player can reread past notes. The game generally performs well, but the boy occasionally has issues with path finding. While the house is nicely decorated, the large amount of objects do lead to the boy getting stuck in corners, on chairs, and in once instance the middle of a table. Lyra is also prone to getting stuck on things, and will climb invisible objects. Clearing the space around doorways would ease much of these issues.
Orpheus’s Dream is a unique puzzle game with a beautiful aesthetic and a lovely message. While the game does have some rough edges, the cohesion of story and art direction is masterfully executed. If you wish to support the developer, the soundtrack for the game is sold separately here.
Next week, we will be taking a look at The Terrible Old Man, a Lovecraft-inspired adventure game, which can be picked up from Steam here. Discussion is happening in the Discord, or you can email me here.