Indika: ruminations

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Comments: 1   (latest 21 hours later)

Tagged: reviews, ruminations, indika, senua's sacrifice

Indika (Odd-Meter) is that Russian nun game. You're a teenage nun in 1900-ish (the setting is a bit fungible). You're not a very good nun -- relegated to a monastery for your sins, or perhaps because you hear the voice of the Devil constantly snickering in your ear and distracting you from your chores. Fed up with your twitchiness, the other nuns send you off to the city to deliver a letter. Thus your great adventure begins.

This is an odd one and I've been mulling it. It's almost a walking simulator. You do more than walk; you explore and collect icons and solve environmental puzzles and get chased by a dog. But the meat of the game, what it really loves doing, is walk-and-talk dialogue. You debate the nature of sin and free will, both with the Devil and with the dying soldier that fate (or God, or the Devil) throws in your path. He talks to God, or says he does.

All this in a game which is cheerfully unreliable about what is real anyway. Pixelly faux-Zelda interludes hint at your backstory -- but the same eight-bit rewards bleep forth from the religious icons you find. Find enough of them and you can level up. It's the most unconvincing portrayal of religious experience you can imagine, and deliberately so.

Even when the game isn't evoking 80s console gaming, the world is never exactly realistic. Right from the beginning there are unremarked touches of dreamscape. Hulking cows, inexplicable objects... in later chapters, factories and cathedrals grow into Social-Surrealist monstrosities. But then occasionally the world breaks down into explicitly hallucinatory hellfire. So is the rest of the game supposed to be literal? Or is the entire thing just Indika's broken mind? An RPG played on a bored girl's GameSwitch, for all we know.

I really want to compare this to Senua's Sacrifice. Wait, did I not review that one? Dammit. Anyway, Senua tried to portray the experience of a protagonist suffering from schizophrenic delusions. In the context of her culture this is a saga, a heroic journey into Hell. It was something of a mixed success. It was an engaging and powerful game (and I will certainly play the sequel!) But to some extent the portrayal of mental illness got jammed into the mold of a puzzle-solving superpower.

Indika is another take on this idea. It doesn't fall into the same trap, mostly because it refuses to be jammed into any mold. Like I said, it remains entirely unclear what is delusion, as opposed to fiction or metaphor or miracle. But also, Indika refuses to be pinned down as delusional. She doesn't just pray her way through puzzles. She is determined, forthright, mechanically handy (she fixed motorbikes before she took the habit). The core emotional moment of the story (I won't spoil it) is not solving a puzzle; it's Indika looking at a problem, exhaling, and choosing a solution.

But then the ending. (I will spoil this, in nonspecific terms.)

In the end, Indika gets hurt. She loses her faith. Or, if she had no faith, she loses her hollow faith-point rewards. The soldier loses his faith. They do not have a touching romance, or hot sex for that matter. There are no miracles. Did you expect miracles?

It ought to be an enormous downer. But somehow I don't feel like I played a depressing game. Or even an elegaic game about letting go (as so many walking sims are). It was... I was left thinking about the middle of the story, not the end.

In that story, Indika (the person) is better than the ending of her game. I think she's got somewhere to go after this. Maybe fixing motorbikes. Learning to play guitar. I don't know, it's not spelled out.

Indika ends optimistically because it's about letting go of what doesn't work. That's what I say.

Comments from Mastodon