Did you play To The Moon? No? You should go do that. I’d also like you to keep in mind that A Bird Story is not the sort of game that suits a traditional review score particularly well. It is definitely a game more than the sum of its parts.
A Bird Story is the second commercial release from Freebird Games, and though it’s unrelated to its predecessor, it features the same style of immersive, but gameplay-lite, experience. It’s a difficult game to review, because it isn’t really a game. It’s more like watching a 2D pixel movie where you occasionally make the protagonist walk one way or another. There are no choices or alternate endings so, with that in mind, it’s not a game for everyone.
The story follows a young boy and his adventures alongside a bird he rescues in the forest. It’s a simple tale about loneliness and friendship, but it’s told in a dialogue-free way that will undoubtedly bring a tear to your eye. The boy’s parents seem to always be at work, and he has no friends at his school. He forms a bond with the injured bird, and the two go everywhere together. There are plenty of sweet, smile-on-your-face moments, such as the boy sneaking the bird into his pet-free apartment, or running away from his teacher in a Benny Hill-style chase.
The actual telling of the narrative is quite abstract; scenes take place in forests, classrooms and the boy’s apartment, but sometimes they are mixed together and his living room is in a forest that connects to his classroom. As a result, the whole story feels more like someone remembering events from long ago. It’s original and effective, but occasionally I felt lost in the ambiguity. It’s clear the game was designed to be played in one sitting, and the woefully cumbersome save system reflects that. You reach certain checkpoints you can load the game from, but it never tells you when these are. As a result, I was forced to play through some of the same content a couple of times when loading.
As mentioned, A Bird Story has little gameplay. “Playing” the game is more like watching a long cut-scene where you occasionally move around or perform other simple tasks. Most of the “gameplay” is walking, but there are some other minor interactions such as tossing a paper aeroplane or jumping in puddles (which, admittedly, are quite fun). I frequently wished I had more choices, or that I could explore more of the abstract world. The overall experience of the story is worthwhile, but it’s rarely fun to play in a traditional sense. Still, Kan Gao obviously had a specific way he wanted to tell the story, and I commend him for sticking to that vision.
The soundtrack is brilliant and, as an upside of the infrequent gameplay, always peaks at just the right moment. The soft but stirring tracks are elegant and work wonders at evoking emotions. When the most intense moments of the story occur, the music is right there pulling you in. Sound effects are somewhat lacking in comparison, but all are passable.
The pixel art of the game is sure to divide players. It’s certainly of a high quality, but it’s hard to forget you’re playing a game built in RPGMaker. The graphics are good, and far above most indie titles made with the program, but they aren’t exceptional. Fortunately, some stellar animation raises it up a notch; watching the boy sit down at his desk or pull the bird from his bag is charming.
A Bird Story is a tale worth experiencing, but it moves at a slow waddle, even compared with To The Moon. At only a little over an hour long, it won’t take up much of your time, but the memory of it will stay with you far longer. The gameplay is far from riveting, but the overall experience of story, visuals and sound make it worthwhile. A Bird Story may not be for everyone, but it will resonate with some in ways no other game could.