Bird Of Passage arrives from the same metaphysical pedigree as Glitchhikers or Kentucky Route Zero both in aesthetics and execution. All three games follow a minimalist approach with dialogue driven by the momentum of inference, built around the whimsical framework of Magical Realism. Sidewalks covered by slick sheen, a lonely street light, blurry out of focus reflections that accentuate pastel taxis coming together to illustrate a long journey into an endless night wandering the Tokyo suburbs. Space Backyard has given a superb performance in capturing the plight of a listless wanderer.
It’s a game about feeling displaced both physically and within time itself, how the mind serves as a snapshot of ephemeral [place], and how easy it is to become lodged in the reflective orbit of both an era and a locale. Tokyo is shattered both from the Great Kantō Earthquake and the firebombings of World War II, and, despite rising from the ashes on numerous occasions, has become dislodged in time. Known for it’s extremely liberal development policies, Tokyo has radically re-configured itself within a handful of years, making it one of the most affordable alpha cities on the planet.
But as we have come to discover across many developed nations around the globe, especially in America, adaptability comes at the cost of those who grow accustomed to an atmosphere. And through the passage and collection of stories, iconography, or ontological fragments we build extensive cargo cults like Americana and Vaporwave, a crude nostalgic homesickness of a place that may never have existed. For our protagonist, they are both a torch-bearer and a shrine keeper, illuminating the past through the bright visions of tenacious yellow ginkgo trees.
The human brain is an exceptional wonder that can infer grand vision from even illusory patterns, and consequentially we are always perpetually building our own city of Theseus. Held hostage by economic momentum, our hands are forced in destroying the very places that can define generations or even civilizations, leaving only a memory.
Bird Of Passage dwells not only in the memory of every past Tokyo, but the möbius strip of our own memories in which we ourselves dwell. It is a love song to any place lost to either disaster or change, and an opportunity to reflect for anyone who has come to identify as a relic or a survivor.
Mechanically and from a narrative perspective, this game serves as a complimentary inversion of the dynamics in Glitchhikers, where you are interrogated by your passenger to create a flow for their philosophical insights. Here, in Bird Of Passage, you are searching for a sympathetic ear in your Taxi Driver to disperse your unending period of mourning, to convey the true weight of the burden the protagonist carries.
In a similar vein, Kentucky Route Zero is all about fictitious places that feel real; a distorted reflection of our own perspectives manifested before us via a sisyphean roadtrip following a path laid out by ghosts of the past and visions of the future.
Bird Of Passage ultimately feels like a synthesis of these two games within a comforting wrapper. It’s a nomadic exploration of what it truly means to belong somewhere, with Tokyo serving as a microcosm of all ever-changing urban landscapes.
For the wayward traveler driven from their long-since perished origins, Bird Of Passage is a soothing, familiar retrospective. And, for a moment, you may even feel like you’re home.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice