In His Time Review – Inconsistent Clutter

Some of the most memorable indie games are stylish story-driven 2D adventures. It’s a genre and a formula that works well with the smaller scope of indie studios, and they appeal to a larger audience. But at the same time, new titles in the genre have a lot of expectations and competition to live up to.

In His Time, developed by Tearyhand Studio and published by Kodansha, is a 2D puzzle adventure with a unique art style and a story that explores sensitive topics such as loss, terminal illness, bullying, and depression. The game has many themes regarding the story and the puzzles, and over its short playtime, it fails to create a consistent and unified experience.

In His Time the main character Olly falling through a background of gears.
One if the earlier scenes in the game, establishing time and clock gears as a main theme.

In His Time tells the story of Olly, a young boy who has recently lost his father, and his mother is fighting a rare and harsh illness. It’s a hard situation for an adolescent boy who is also struggling with isolation and bullying at school. These are all very sensitive themes, but In His Time manages to handle them very carefully, especially when it comes to bullying.

Olly is being bullied by Bobby, the bigger kid, and his two friends Mila and Hugo. The feeling of helplessness and desperation against these bullies translates well into the gameplay. Certain sections in In His Time made me feel frustrated that I couldn’t do things differently, but when I looked back on my own experiences in similar situations, I realized that this is how young children often feel when being bullied. It feels impossible to explain the situation to teachers or other grown-ups, and it feels impossible to get out of this dynamic when the bullies hold all the power.

A small suburban house in In His Time
A small loop in the game is waking up, doing house chores, and heading to school. It’s a nice way of portraying the protagonist’s struggles in everyday life.

Other major themes in In His Time are loss of loved ones and loneliness, and this game is delicate and respectful in exploring these stories. Even though the culmination of some of these situations is answered by religion, specifically Christianity, as a non-religious person I didn’t feel like In His Time was pushing religious beliefs. It told a story in which spirituality felt like a suitable and comforting path for the characters.

The problem in In His Time‘s story comes when you consider all of these different themes, characters, relationships, and events, condensed into four hours of gameplay experience. This is a short game, but it’s over-ambitious with the story and the pacing feels extremely rushed. In the final scene, we see all the characters we have met during the game gathered in a cinematic, and I didn’t recognize half of them. And yet there are so many relationships that I wish we could get to explore more. The gameplay of In His Time didn’t have the potential to be longer, it’s the story that needed to be more focused and polished.

In His Time platforming puzzle with various machines.
One of the better puzzles in the game that is creatively integrated into the world and the story.

Speaking of gameplay, this is where In His Time starts to fall apart. The game is full of various puzzles, and I couldn’t count the number of different types and themes of puzzles in the short gameplay time. Some puzzles revolved around time and clocks and had a consistent theme, while there were dozens of unrelated minigames in between each of them. This is the tricky design of story-driven puzzle games. If the puzzles are not incorporated into the world and story creatively, they feel like obstacles to the story’s progression. In His Time does this with a handful of its puzzles. There are strange machinations and elaborate locks in the house of a clockmaker, and they feel part of the world. There is also the other end of the spectrum, puzzles that are so weird and imaginative that add to the surrealist aspect of the game’s world and the characters’ perspective.

But more than half of the puzzles are so disconnected and irrelevant to the other aspects of In His Time that they feel like separate mini-games. It’s these mini-games that disrupt the game enough that my four-hour play time took place in five gaming sessions. Whenever you get interested in the world and the story of In His Time, there is a mini-game that totally disconnects you from the experience. Some of the mini-games are childishly easy, some are just based on weird physics and luck, and there are some puzzles so convoluted and complicated that remind me of old-school point-and-click adventures. The number of different types of mini-games made me think that In His Time is a game designed for a younger audience, but considering the many sensitive topics and religious undertones, it’s not really a suitable experience for children either.

A sliding puzzle for completing the picture of a house in In His Time
Whenever we need to go to a new location, we have to solve a puzzle and complete the picture of our destination. One of the mini-games that doesn’t make any sense in the game.

In His Time‘s inconsistencies follow into the visual and audio design as well. While the overall art style looks unique and memorable, it’s hard to keep a unified design and color palette in dozens of different mini-games. This is another reason certain puzzles felt so disconnected from the overall experience. The visual inconsistencies were few and far in between, making the visual design of the game one of its strongest aspects.

The music and sound designs of In His Time are unfortunately not on the same level. The music is mostly atmospheric and nice enough, but it’s also not a memorable part of the experience. The dialogues are not voiced, and the characters have short, Sims-like expressions whenever they say anything, but they sound extremely jarring in the more emotional dialogues and scenes.

In His Time final scene, showing a large clock tower and people gathered around it.
The final scene of the game, and the characters who we never really got to know and quickly forgot about all gathered around us.

In His Time simply has too many ideas, and not enough energy put to polish them nor enough time given to explore each of them. The puzzles are inconsistent with each other and the overall tone of the game, and the only redeemable aspect of In His Time is that it looks really beautiful.

Nima played In His Time on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.

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