Beyond: Two Souls has received its fair share of criticism since it launched on the Playstation 3 back in 2013. Most critics express concerns with the narratives direction, alongside the pointless quick time events. It is hard to argue against the frustrations with the quick-time events when compared to Heavy Rain’s consequential system. In Beyond: Two Souls you can do entire scenes in this game and mess up every event with no consequence.
For a game like Beyond: Two Souls I feel like the game elements don’t matter. This should be considered an interactive story that is meant to grab the player’s attention. With this point considered, there is a very different approach for with the gameplay itself. It is only meant to matter in the context of our connection with the character, and the game utilizes these simple points as a means to add impact.
Do you want Jodie to be safe? Well then don’t mess up any quick time events. She won’t die but she won’t be hurt either (unless scripted). But ultimately this is a game meant to tell a unique story that can only be properly explored through game length and through minimal gameplay. What matters is that if you ignore the often incriminating issues, Beyond: Two Souls is a deep game with a well-constructed and meaningful narrative which is what I feel many players missed.
The biggest complaint directed at this game is the way that Quantic Dream and David Cage decided to approach it. Rather than focusing on a typically linear narrative direction, Quantic Dream decided to offer a non-linear narrative. As such, players would explore Beyond’s story through random scenes of Jodie’s life. One minute you would be playing as child Jodie and the next you could be on the run from law enforcement in adulthood.
It’s hard to deny that this particular choice for a narrative can confuse players. When you quickly jump from moment to moment it can be hard to see where they are going as you spend half the game wondering how you got to each point and how the points tie together. Yet after looking back upon completing the game, if you are willing, you can see the brilliance of its design. Sure you can now play a linear game with the Playstation 4 version but it does not have the same impact when compared.
The choice in this direction is the key reason why Beyond: Two Souls manages to be meaningful, as we explore the many episodes that make up Jodie’s life. Like a great non-sequential TV show, you get to follow random moments and feel the impact for the characters involved, be it good or bad, and then at the conclusion see the payoff from your decisions.
More important is understanding the importance of why Quantic Dream’s choice in direction ultimately helped the flow of the game, a big part of which is the importance of how everything ties together. Every moment is purposefully placed, so playing as Jodie during her army days then going back to her childhood often have some connection. It’s never directly obvious when compared to the previous scene but it ties to what is coming.
Jodie’s childhood often holds hints toward an important element of an incoming chapter. If you pay attention you can understand a key point and by extension you will be able to make a choice that is better for that particular moment. Take for example a moment with Nathan Dawkins toward the end of the game. A previous child scene actually provides information that can provide closure.
Sure, there are things that can be said about being able to carry information from the game’s first hour and see it used within the last, but it might not have the same impact or can be lost within the rest of the story.
This is easily one of the biggest reasons why a non-linear narrative was actually an effective choice. Even still there is a greater reason, much of which comes down to how Beyond: Two Souls manages to build its narrative through this element. Most say that you decide whether you wish to keep playing something in the first hour of gameplay and while there are some great points in Jodie’s childhood, there is not really anything that would encourage you to keep playing.
Perhaps if you were to look at Beyond: Two Souls as more of an “interactive” story you can find some enjoyment. Beyond: Two Souls manages to tell an incredible and comprehensive story that does manage to impact the player where it counts. The little stories sown throughout this narrative manage to give a decent idea of the lives that Jodie manages to touch, while divulging insight into her destructive life.
From being on the run from armed forces to helping with a tribal curse to a truly heartfelt moment where she is homeless, this game has so much to offer. In fact whenever I think back to Beyond: Two Souls I regularly consider how this game made me feel. I cared and was emotionally affected by the hardships that Jodie faced. There was so much here that holds such a long-lasting impact, especially with how the game managed to explore some pretty heavy topics through this one girl. Perhaps this is just me but I was emotionally invested in every moment.
For me the homeless sequence still stands as the most memorable moment in the game. When I look back I remember just how well constructed this one point was, how it made me care for the characters. All of this was well handled through some of the miniscule options and the way you get to explore your homeless companions' pasts, even getting to feel like you made a difference in at least one person’s life.
There are many moments that stand out and help convey the story and make you care, which is what is important. Across the varying moments within this non-linear narrative, you get to feel for the character, whether it is with child Jodie or adult Jodie, and by extension her bond with Aiden. There is an indisputable brilliance within the confines of the game when you consider the build of its story and varying segments rather than its gameplay. This is a clear story game that waits to see who is willing to listen and feel for all the characters involved.
It is impossible to forgive Beyond: Two Souls for its truly apparent shortcomings, much of which come from the direction of the “gameplay.” At the same time Beyond: Two Souls does actually succeed in the medium that it most represents. As a narrative within an interactive property you can feel for the characters, whether it is through insignificant choices like stealing or not being able to buy something while poor.
Within the entire foundation of Beyond: Two Souls' design, it thrives when you decide to look beyond the thrown-in gameplay tropes and instead enjoy it as a moving narrative. Seeing the non-linear experience sets you free to explore varying moments in a single character's life that collectively manages to tell an astounding story. When you choose to consider the way you view a piece of interactive entertainment, Beyond: Two Souls is simply a different brand.
When you want to listen and feel, Beyond: Two Souls really does go beyond the two souls that act as the centre of this game.