There’s an unspoken promise of the video game medium that I’ve always sort of just assumed – that you can do anything, be anyone, interacting with worlds that could never possibly exist. It calls into question why we’ve spent so much time in universes so similar to our own, operating under most of the same boring rules we’re already familiar with. It’s easy to understand why, but I’ve always felt drawn to that initial promise, even if delivered poorly. A cracked window looking out into a fantastical world is infinitely more interesting than a clear snapshot of our own.
Off-Peak was one of the rare games to deliver that very particular feeling to me. I still think about it a lot, sometimes even revisit it just to be in that train station again, listening to a ramen cook talk about how ingredients are somehow like brass instruments. It was the gaming equivalent of a piece of micro-fiction, a very small slice of a larger world hinted at beyond those walls but seemingly impossible to build upon without being a disappointment. I found myself oddly content with that, knowing that all of the questions I had would likely not have satisfying conclusions. Off-Peak was never really about mystery in the first place, but you couldn’t help but wonder why this world deviated just ever so slightly from our own; just how it came to be that board games and musical study dominated over technology and why giants existed as some sort of marginalized race.
The Norwood Suite had a seemingly impossible task – to offer a larger glimpse into that world while still maintaining that sense of wonder. At what point does the illusion break? Is it even possible to maintain a sense of coherence and consistency building upon what Off-Peak had established? One would be fair in assuming that I’m overthinking this, but you have to understand just how easily a world like this could fall apart, and at moments in The Norwood Suite, it nearly does, but every time it recovers, giving you something new to look at, to ponder.
There are objectives in The Norwood Suite, but, like its predecessor, they only really exist to give you an excuse to interact with the world. Though I can safely say that the ending to the game surprised and intrigued me, the real reward of the game was in the aimless pieces of conversation that I wasn’t even a part of, in looking at books and pictures on walls and wondering what they all meant. I did these things unconsciously, not even realizing until about halfway through my playthrough that I was simply doing more of the exact same things that drew me into Off-Peak, just on a larger scale. That is, after all, what a sequel is supposed to do, but in this case, I didn’t believe such a thing was possible. It replicated those same moments of humor and warmth and curiosity and horror; somehow maintaining a sense of mystery within all of the garrulous banter. In short – it delivered.
This, of course, then calls into question whether or not it could be done a third time, or even again after that.
The Norwood Suite’s sheer existence may have already answered that for me.