The definition of inspiration is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something that is creative. It is the motivation given to us by someone else or their acts to perform deeds similar to their own but in our image. Inspiration can be important, especially when it comes to being a creator. To create media or art that can be enjoyed by dozens of others requires an idea, and an idea requires background before it can be truly formed. This may sound like a dumb statement, but original ideas otherwise originality is actually really hard to come by the more time passes. Nothing is truly original anymore and even if a piece of media feels innovative or new there was some influence driving it. Return of The Obra Dinn may be the best detective mystery I’ve played, but it wasn’t the first detective mystery game ever made. In fact, it didn’t come up with the concept of detective mysteries as classic films and novels predate the concept more than a hundred years ago. Nothing is original and originality is basically dead, but what we have received during that time is improvement. Future creators take past ideas they appreciate and see if they can be expanded upon. Introduced in such a way where it feels new despite having been seen before. This is inspiration at its finest. A driving factor giving someone the creative energy to act or perform well. Inspiration ultimately led to a beautiful work of art.
Now I've been boasting for a whole paragraph now on what inspiration is, and quite frankly that wasn’t necessary because you all know what it is and had it at some point in your life. However, it just felt nice to give a thorough explanation as to what inspiration is and it helps build up to the rest of this review. I’ve certainly had a lot of contributing factors to the inspiration in my life. What keeps me pushing forward each day and seeing what lies over the horizon. There are many friends who surround me. All of whom are smart, diligent, skilled, and keep me motivated even when I feel down. There are my relatives who have been supporting me since day one. Then of course there are the several pieces of media, art in simpler terms, which have given me positivity and feelings of worth throughout my life. You all know how important Hidetaki Miyzakai and FromSoftware’s work is to me, as it provided me comfort during dark times and taught me to get back up no matter how many failures I face. Persona 5 has inspired me to always find the positive sides to life even if the world may be full of twisted souls and when you get rid of one another one will pop up. Hades and Disco Elysium have inspired me, because while you may be trapped within a depressing world you can always find the good people within it. There’s just so many inspiring games I can think of and if I kept listing them the review will last longer than it should. Today’s title is rather important because it’s one of the most inspiring games I’ve played.
The Artful Escape, developed by independent studio Beethoven & Dinosaur and published by Annapurna Interactive who are known for helping fund and get lesser-known titles out there. They are basically the A24 of the video game industry. They may not be as well renowned as Devolver Digital, but they support the more artistic side of the gaming market. The game was directed by Johnny Galvatron who was one of the four founding members of the rock band, The Galvatrons. During his time in university he studied film and computer animation, and ever since then he has wanted to put his skills into action. Even during his time playing music with The Galvatrons. The band would grow distant from each other with time, and during that time little old Johnny had an idea. He wanted to create a game about inspiration and what would fuel a musician to become an idol. He based the game off of David Bowey and how through one his albums he became the iconic Ziggy Stardust. Creating a new persona separate from your real-world personality. Johnny called it, The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti, got the funding from Epic Games and started a Kickstarter to back his project, but the crowdfunder failed to raise enough money and his game would never become a reality. That wasn’t until Annapurna picked up his idea and gave more funding to make his game, which he later retitled The Artful Escape. The first reveal came out in 2015, but it looked a little choppy for the time. Johnny spent more time working on the game and there were several delays. He worked on The Artful Escape for almost six years, and it wasn’t until 2021 that the final product came out. The game had received massive overhauls since then, and when you compare it to the version seen during E3 2015 you see a drastic difference. How is the game? Well, it’s really good. I am going to clarify that it may not be for everyone, but I’ll try to sell you on this game. There’s not much to talk about, so I’ll avoid spoiling anything story wise after the first hour. We’ll be talking about The Artful Escape and why it deserves your attention.
The story follows Francis Vendetti, young musician and nephew to the famous country singer Johnson Vendetti. He lives in a small mountain town named Calypso, the same town his uncle grew up in, and the whole community knows who he is purely based on the legacy of his uncle. Johnson has brought happiness to millions and is well known for his album “Pines.” Francis spends most of his time playing a guitar overlooking the town and trying to perfect the music his uncle wrote. The 20th Anniversary to the release of Pines is approaching, and people are coming to see Francis play the songs his uncle wrote. Francis is worried though, because his uncle is dead, and everyone expects him to carry on what feels like distant memories of his uncle. He continues playing music to drown out the thoughts, but it turns out country music isn’t enough. He carries around a custom-made guitar and on it are electric components that change the sounding and output of the guitar. You know where this is going. Francis cranks the noise levels to a one hundred and delivers a killer rift off the mountain. No longer is he reminded of his uncle, country music, and rather a rock star. Everyone talks about the new south funny, but it’s just rock n’ roll to him.
Once he finishes shredding his guitar, a mysterious woman speaks from behind him. She’s about the same age as him and is quite impressed by his originally made music. She knows who Francis there is as paper flyers stapled around talking about him performing his uncle’s songs the next night. She asks if he always wanted to become a rockstar, and Francis answers yes but has been afraid to ever go outside the comfort zone. The calm, safety restrictions his community has always placed on him. He had never been outside of Calypso and always wondered what world and mysteries lie outside. The girl tells him to follow her through the forest and introduces herself as Violetta. The two take a walk and Violetta discusses a place with Francis. She calls it Lightman’s, and Francis is confused as he never heard the name before. Violetta disappears and he decides to ask folks around town, but they haven’t a clue as to what Lightman’s is. Francis passes on the thought and decides to go to sleep.
That isn’t until what appears to be an unidentified object zooms over Calypso and crashes into the forest nearby. It floats on over to Francis’ house and knocks heavily on his door. Francis goes out to see who it is and is introduced to what appears to be several eyes and a brain in a floating jar with hands. It’s an alien who goes by the name Zomm, and luckily, he speaks English which is surprising. Zoom claims he has heard of Francis’ musical skills, and he is quite impressed by his work. He can offer Francis something that the rest of the town couldn’t give him. A different picture. A look at what could be a world outside of Calypso. Wait, not just a world but several worlds. Places beyond the solar system and universe Francis is confined to. Mythical races who would easily gush out at his music and be amazed with what he has to give. Francis is concerned and wonders if it’s all a dream, until the alien zapps a slick suit on him and gives him a glowing electric guitar. Okay, so this is real and the out of this world amazement didn’t wake him up to what was potentially a dream. Francis plays the guitar and lights around town glow with neon colors he’d never seen before.
A mysterious man floats down from the sky. Another guitarist who goes by the name of Lightman, the name which Francis heard earlier. Lightman states he is in need of Francis and guides him to a closed shop in his town which had magically turned into a lively post office. They enter and through a door they are transported to a realm beyond their own. A space in between galaxies and connects to several worlds. Francis is dazzled by the many colors which light up the sky and he is then transported to a floating vessel known as the Cosmic Lung. A space, theater, and lunge driven by Lightman. Aboard he meets Violetta again, who turns out to be an operator and stage effects manager on the Cosmic Lung. She works for Lightman and is told to prepare you for future shows and travel locations. Lightman wants Francis to become experienced to beings outside of earth. Demonstrate his musical talents and slowly build up his reputation to become a rock star. An alternate persona who can escape reality and become an entertainer for millions. Francis agrees and together they traverse across the stars. Warping to unimaginable places you wouldn’t expect and doing what we call the spectacular. A word that is normally used as an adjective, but you are about to give it a whole new meaning. A meaning that will commonly be used by those willing to follow in your footsteps.
At the beginning of this review, I stated that The Artful Escape isn't for everyone. It’s not that the gameplay is terrible and isn’t fun to begin with, but more like there isn’t any gameplay at all. It’s one of those artsy games where it focuses more on visuals rather than exciting gameplay, and that’s I mean as long as it does what it wants to best that’s all that matters. However, there aren’t that many moments in The Artful Escape that are going to challenge you. The game is divided into chapters and all of them are fairly linear. You move down a singular path and navigate your way around the environment. Occasionally there are platforming sections, but they really aren’t that much as there aren’t any obstacles besides a few bottomless pits. Even if you do fall into a bottomless you are respawned at the closest point. Not a distant checkpoint, but right before the bottomless pit. You run across the environment and shred your guitar which has its own singular dedicated button. Shredding it will make certain objects in the environment light up and sink to the cue of your guitar. Making it feel like holding it down for minutes is worth it.
All there is outside of moving forward are these musical sequences, but those aren’t really hard either. If you screw up you are given the chance to perform a section again, and you aren’t really punished for failing multiple times in a row. That’s it. That’s all you do in this game. No magical power ups which expand your navigation abilities besides a double jump and shredding in midair to get a little float time, but you get these at the beginning of the game. No interconnected level design or secrets which reward exploration. Any side content is just side interactions and it’s just hard to lose in general. The Artful Escape isn’t much of a video game and that’s what makes it a difficult recommendation, but the last section of this review will explain why I love it so much. Hopefully you can ride across the cosmos! We are going to Zanzibar! Tonight!
Why do I strongly recommend The Artful Escape despite it not being a good video game? The gameplay isn’t all that interesting, never really challenges the player, and the linear design of this artsy indie game fails to create reasons to replay the entire adventure again. It even lacks the optional content of most artsy indie games, because even Gris had optional collectibles for the player to obtain to earn a secret ending. It took me around four and half hours to beat the game, and for a lot of people this will make the twenty-five-dollar price tag difficult to justify. Why do I still love this game nonetheless? My last review was on Trek to Yomi, and there was a section where I stated even though it screwed up an aspect most video games need to be good it still redeemed itself doing a good job in other areas. That’s exactly what The Artful Escape does! It redeems itself through its story and visuals and comes out to be more of an art than a video game. What do you think the genre terminology of artsy indie games meant? You play for the art.
I was expecting the story to be kind of okay when skimming the surface of it. A teenage boy in a small town knows that life is strange and wishes for things to be different. Immediately when I saw that I was trying to predict how the rest of the game would go. Maybe he would run away from home, meet a bunch of strangers, form a band, grow distant from his parents, and realize his life is a mess. Maybe he would doodle into his notebook and through his imagination we see the spectacular worlds advertised. Maybe he drinks a drugged elixir and starts experiencing some dreams that teach him to be a rockstar. That last one I weighed heavily on, because it felt the most likely. Turns out none of those predictions occurred. What I got was a boy who got picked up by aliens and dragged through some of the most bizarre worlds I’ve seen in a video game. They use terms you would expect from a science fiction story and use the genre’s creative range to whatever the hell they want. The story started off as exceptional to be pretty great as it went on. The game tackles the theme of identity and trying to carve out a future for yourself. One that can demonstrate your capabilities and show you are happy with what you do for a living.
Francis performs more shows and entertains the foreign creatures he encounters. Amazing them all and seeing them discuss his success to other foreign aliens. Seeing his popularity grow and being broadcast to other planets as it grows even bigger. Being given the chance to become a successful rockstar, but it all slaps him in the face when he’s told to show everyone. Including his hometown, the people who don’t want him to become a rockstar. The people who expect him to carry on the legacy of his uncle, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be a disgrace to what was an icon. A person who brought joy and wonder to a different generation, but he is not of their generation. He’s a free thinker with dreams and he is shackled by the chains of expectation. Not society. If it was society then he would be rebellious like the characters in Life is Strange. He is doubtful and most importantly of all afraid. Wondering what fame and fortune would bring. Leaving the world behind so he may follow his own. Learning to build the courage so that he may live out the dreams he wants. To be a rockstar. To be happy with himself and his future career.
The Artful Escape has a really wonderful narrative. It’s not the best and there’s some cringey dialogue occasionally, but it’s a good narrative, nonetheless. The game also has wonderful visuals to back up the wonderful narrative, and this is the game’s main selling point. I am betting the art designers and programmers had a fun time making this game, because these are some of the most spazzed out visuals I’ve seen in a video game since the Fullbear level in Psychonauts 2. There’s a wide variety of colors on display and they're all being blasted into your petty little face. All the creatures, objects, and scripted sequences are going on in the foreground and background. How they were able to take contrasting colors and make them work well together. Seeing lights flash and objects pop up when you shred your guitar while running along. There was just so much love put into drawing each and every single thing in The Artful Escape. I especially love those moments where you are sliding down a hill, you jump into the air, and you bang that guitar as you glide miraculously across the air like an angel. It’s thrilling despite you just holding the joystick right to move forward. I’m also betting the music department had a fun time with this game. The guitar riff you can play has so many notes and changes going on, and the music that plays during jaw dropping moments. There’s not a single bad track in this game and I can continue listening to it without getting sick. It’s rock and roll at its finest and reminds me why I love it.
I only have a few complaints about The Artful Escape besides its lack of engaging gameplay. All of the human characters wear glasses, and while it does add a bit of uniqueness to the art direction, I think there was a reason why they chose to do so. It was most likely because the animators didn’t want to draw eyes and that they didn’t fit the art style. There was a lot of time put towards the art, but The Artful Escape doesn’t have the greatest animation I’ve seen. Rather than have smooth frame by frame animation like Hollow Knight or Spiritfarer, it goes the route Ender Lilies took where they designed each individual body part and attached them onto a character model that could make it look like it’s moving around. That’s why Francis looks jittery to control and move around with. I also want to say jumping doesn’t feel good as you are not offered a lot of airtime and the double jump doesn’t do much, but that’s fine because any of the platforming scenes don’t require precise movement. Besides that, I don’t really have any other complaints about The Artful Escape. It masterfully handled every aspect besides gameplay, and even though it’s only four to five hours long it makes the most of its short runtime and delivers a memorable experience. In the end I give The Artful Escape a 9/10 for excellence at best.
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