Respite captures the essence of a universal human experience. You wake up one morning, calm for just a moment before the memories of a terrible night before come flooding back. The specifics of the event might differ—having drunk too much, shouted at your spouse, or, in the case of Respite‘s protagonist, lashed out at his friends after collapsing under the stress of overwork—but the stress of the aftermath universally leaves one near comatose. The cocoon of bedsheets is a safe haven from confronting the real world, warm and dark and silent. Worst case scenarios flicker through your mind, a warped version of the people you love whispering awful things. As the protagonist of Respite slowly drags himself up, however, the little details of his apartment remind him that things are not as bad as they seem. Created for a student project by developers Klaiis and Luxiere, this introspective narrative game celebrates friendship and the importance of slowing down every once in a while.
The unnamed protagonist of Respite is living in a world of stress. Set in Hong Kong, where twelve-hour workdays are common and businesses are not required to pay overtime, the main character needs to work ridiculous hours to simply afford his spot in the small two-bedroom apartment he shares with four friends. One day, the pressure of overworking becomes too much, and he lashes out at his roommates. Awakening the next day to an eerily quiet apartment, he slowly looks through the house, trying to decide whether to head in to work, or take a much needed day off.
Gameplay in Respite is slow and contemplative, with the player clicking around the room to look at the different objects. Each item builds a little more of the world, along with the protagonist’s relationship with his friends. A date on a photo will reveal the near-future setting, a post-it note expresses worry for the protagonist. His housemate Harriet is an avid gardener, so the player waters her plants to show remorse for their actions. With each inspection, the protagonist feels a little less anxious, as he realises how much his friends care about him. The game shows an interesting contrast between the environment, which is highly soothing, and the fear that is bubbling just below the surface. Much like Gone Home, searching each room is always tense, with the player waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The message of Respite, however, is that sometimes the shoe does not need to drop. The main character had a terrible fight with his friends, sure, but they still love him. One bad action does not make someone a bad person, and a good friend understands extenuating circumstances like being utterly exhausted. Recovering after a bad blow up is a difficult part of being human, but remembering the good times can help with psyching yourself up to face the music. Living in such a state is a unique, difficult-to-name emotion, and I have never seen it expressed as well as it is here.
The end of the game is a touch abrupt, and would be a good section to flesh out further. At the entranceway of the apartment, the player chooses whether the protagonist goes to work, or stays at home. If he goes to work, the game repeats itself, the protagonist not learning anything about self care and thus fighting with his friends once again. If he stays, the game closes itself, symbolising taking a break. The choices are sound in theory, but I felt yanked out of the experience when the window closed, rather than a peaceful resolution. Perhaps the inclusion of a credits sequence that involved showing the protagonist resting would give me the closure I lacked.
Respite‘s apartment setting is tiny, but the house is filled with lots of little touches to make it feel like home. Paper cranes hang in strings from the doorframe to the kitchen, and large crystal lamps give the living room a warm glow. Shampoo bottles clutter together, the roommates having long forgotten who owns what. The art style is a welcoming one, muted colours and pixelated textures wrapping around the three dimensional objects. Calming music crackles in the background, as though the song is being played through a cheap bluetooth speaker. The elements all come together as a happy home, a group of poor young people putting their own mark on the world.
Respite is an introspective counting of your blessings that does not feel ham fisted or preachy. The protagonist’s friends understand how difficult things are for him, but do not wave away his poor behaviour either. The game is a tale of taking accountability, both of your actions and for your health. Developer Klaiis has also worked on several other games, which can be found here.
Next week, we will be playing Hidden Cats, a puzzle game based around finding sneaky felines. The game can be downloaded from itch.io here. Discussion is happening on the Discord Server, or you can email me here.