My husband, Galen Rice, and I, Jacie Rice, both decided to play Dear Esther this past weekend, so I thought it would be fun to review it together. So here we are, in our first ever joint review as a married couple (so sweet)! We’ve played and enjoyed many other “walking simulator” style games, so it was very special to finally try out Dear Esther, which basically kickstarted the whole genre back in 2012. Even before that, Dear Esther started out as a Half-Life 2 mod in 2008, so it’s crazy how this rich little gem’s legacy has endured—especially now that developers The Chinese Room have brought a remastered “Landmark Edition” to consoles.
The thing about Dear Esther and other “walking simulator” games, is that I wouldn’t exactly call them “games,”—they’re more experiences. Dear Esther’s story is all about the player’s interpretation of what is happening. That’s why two different people can run through the same linear space, but have two different ideas of what the story is about. At the end of your first playthrough, the game’s more obscure story beats might leave you thinking “what just happened?” That was certainly true of me and my husband—we both had to play more than once to even start to form our story theories. Yes, there is a narrator, but his words are just one piece of the larger puzzle that is Dear Esther. It is crucial that you pay attention to all the fine details ingrained within its world; from pictures, books, and various debris you may find scattered along the shore.
Whether you interpret the story as bleak and sorrowful, or as obsessive and psychotic, is all dependent on your perception of the narrator’s words, the music, and the items you stumble upon throughout your journey. Interestingly, Dear Esther randomizes items and voice over narration throughout different areas (even areas you may not have entered.) Playing a couple of times could give you varying experiences and story interpretations based off items changing throughout the locations you visit. The randomization aspect greatly increases the replayability factor to players who wish to delve deeper into the storytelling and gain a better comprehension. Another element that adds to the replayability is the aforementioned Director’s Commentary, which features not only Dan Pinchbeck but also musical composer Jessica Curry and art and level designer Robert Briscoe. The trio speaks in depth about the music’s thematic meaning, the art direction, and the creation and writing process of the game to help players better inform their understanding of Dear Esther as a whole.
My husband and I both enjoyed playing through Dear Esther multiple times. Nothing’s better than playing a game together that has an elusive, sometimes confusing story where we can share our own thoughts and opinions on the overall game. One interesting phenomenon was how much our theories on what happened to the narrator and Esther herself were so different, only proving more that you really can gain vastly different experiences from other people that play Dear Esther. Honestly, even though this game is all about individual interpretation, after my husband told me what he thought the story was (which was a completely off the wall Shutter Island-like twist,) I do think my theory was more correct.
Mr. Rice – “Although Dear Esther was a great game, I believe there should have been a stronger introduction to help me understand the story a little better the first time I played, along with faster movement speed. At the price of 10 dollars, it was a great experience.”
Mrs. Rice – “Dear Esther was like a little escape. It allowed for me to have this relaxing experience apart from the normal games I play. I really enjoy walking simulators like this because I can get so lost in the environment and the story to where it feels like I’m there. Yeah, there were some minor annoyances but they didn’t hinder my experience. I really enjoyed Dear Esther and look forward to playing more from The Chinese Room.”
TMG reviews will mostly remain without numerical scores and instead be replaced with the “Mr. & Mrs.” score.