My 45 Minutes with Dear Ester

Some of the textures are muddy, but still beautiful.
I have just finished Dear Ester--not beat, finished. There is no winning, no victory. There is only a whole mess of thoughts swimming around my head as I stare at this black screen while peaceful sounds of waves play in my headphones. Dear Ester just ends like this, with waves. It's a fitting end for a game that has affected me  in a way I did not expect.

Dear Ester has sat in my backlog since I heard about last year. I recently came into possession of a Steam key, so I finally set aside time to play it--if one really plays Dear Ester, I'm not sure. The story that unfolds is murky in my mind. I plan to look into this, but for now this serves as a record of my reaction and understanding. The story is narrated by you, but there is no exposition. The narration is very much a flow of consciousness. There are long stretches of exploration that contain no thoughts whatsoever. There is only music and sounds of gulls, waves, and water. But sometimes your character reacts to the environment or relives memories. Names and places are thrown out to you (the player), but it is difficult to follow who is who or how they are connected.

At the beginning of the game, your character is going over a letter in his mind. It tells Ester about how he has been shipwrecked and you find yourself crawling out of the water to a lighthouse. You can see the lighthouse and a radio aerial, which is clearly your goal. Things appear to be simple. You are shipwrecked, but clearly you are not far from people. On the other hand, this lighthouse is in bad shape and no one seems to be looking for you. I took a moment to review the scenery (it's a gorgeous game) and poke around the lighthouse. I was immediately frustrated by the lack of a sprint key, or any way to walk faster. Then I slipped off the path and had to spend a few minutes walking back. There I was, walking in silence and wishing I could press a key to see a waypoint or to run.

Dear Ester does a great job giving you these cinematic views.
It wasn't until the second chapter that the game started to grab me. A story was beginning to form. There was a car wreck. I didn't want to be rescued. Was I sick? Wounded in the shipwreck? It is revealed I know an awful lot about this old house I have moved into. Has time passed, or have I been on this island for a while at this point? The game started me thinking and I no longer cared how fast I was moving or whether or not I knew my true goal.

The narration slowly becomes more passionate, angry at times. I must mention it is splendidly written. The thoughts become unnerving and more unhinged as you get closer to your (the narrator's) goal. The number 21 takes on an importance in the story that is frightening and the environment starts helping you (the player) understand what exactly has been going on on this island. By the end, I was uncomfortable and anxious. I understood just enough to be affected, dragged onto this island. It was unexpected, which made it that much more exciting.
The caves were just awesome. This bit (chapter 3)
really held my attention.
It felt like I had stared at the black screen for 5 or 10 minutes. I checked my watch and figured I must have been playing Dear Ester for 90 minutes or more. But no, I had only been playing for about 45 minutes. The game had consumed me, and I knew it would continue to distract me more long after I had closed the program.

Dear Ester could have easily been a horror game. That would completely destroy this experience. The spookiness is in the narration, music, and atmosphere. It's in the roaming the green hills at sunset before leaping head first into a hole, exploring bioluminescent caves, and emerging into the dark of night with a full moon and crashing waves all around you. All the while items in environment are telling you a story that isn't happy, but isn't quite sad either. I went into Dear Ester not knowing what I would think of it, but now I have no trouble recommending it. It was absolutely a fine way to spend 45 minutes. But if you can, you might try starting it just before sunset with your lights off and headphones on.

I half expected the moon to come crashing into the
island, à la Majora's Mask.
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