Returnal — She Only Ever Talks to Herself

Time travel? Never seen that before!

You know how often I say in the context of roguelikes that both Hades and Returnal are considered revolutionary additions to the genre (“revolutionary” might be a bit of an overstatement, but you get the idea)? I finally had the opportunity to play the latter, and I was surprised that it was a great game. I’m saying “actually” because I was initially sceptical of assuming that it’s just another roguelike trying to take advantage of the current craze. Well, it isn’t, and just by writing this paragraph, I only think about what’s next in store for Selene. Speaking of which…

For those not in on the contemporary roguelike craze right now, Returnal is a PS5 exclusive where you play as an astronaut named Selene, who got stranded on the alien planet Atropos, and she quickly learns that she is trapped in a time loop. With what little she has at her disposal, she searches for whatever information she can find on the loop and how to break it. So yeah, your typical Groundhog Day scenario… well, almost.

Selene herself is caught in a time loop, but the world around her is not. Atypical of a Groundhog Day formula, Selene discovers her corpses throughout her journey on Atropos; corpses from a different timeline, supposedly all gathering in a single place where all timelines meet (or whatever the explanation is). Not only that, but she also finds recordings of herself, where she supposedly learns that she’ll be trapped in the time loop for a long time. Also, the world around her is seemingly detached from the time loop because geography constantly changes. I don’t want to spoil too much for the readers, but all of this is just the beginning of the game, which is where I am at. But wow, an AAA game with only one voice actress? Count me in!

Groundhog Day… but in space!

So you go around this alien planet shooting these weird octopus-dogs trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. I am only at the beginning of the game, and so far, I’m getting the impression that Selene is the only character in the game that talks, which means that Jane Perry, her voice actress, has a lot of lines to read. While the “minimal cast” element is certainly interesting, and sometimes it works in movies like The Breakfast Club or Alien (with each having a cast of fewer than 10 actors), I don’t know how much of ‘just’ Selene I want to hear.

Imagine that you have to listen to the same character talk over and over, with no variety whatsoever, with the same voice and same desperation in her voice as she fails to escape yet another loop among an endless amount of loops. Even when she leaves recordings for herself, it’s still her talking to herself, as weird as that may be. It’s not a terrible feature, as it is pretty fascinating when one character is forced to escape a complex situation by herself. Still, it can get quite repetitive… and lonely.

There’s also the issue of the alien language in the game, which is not a language but an encrypted text that you must decipher to understand. But that’s a game feature, so there’s not something particular I want to address. Selene’s repeated display of the English language interests me more.

Add more voice actors

The solution is simple, and it seeks to fix a design problem, which I encounter too often. If there’s only one voice actor in the game, you simply need to get more voice actors. Of course, Selene is the only talking character by design, which means that if there’s room for more talking characters, it would have to be by design, which isn’t the case… so there is no need for more voice actors.

Then there’s the exact opposite of the above, which is having no voice actors! In this scenario, Selene is probably a mute. But unless there was a good reason to make her mute, doing so would be counterintuitive when you consider the game’s scope. Anyway, this is a no-go, so we won’t talk about it.

When I think about it, the whole “just one speaking character” shtick is quite ingenious, so maybe it shouldn’t be touched because I like it the way it is.

How many times did you die in Returnal?

I’m currently at 7 deaths, if I recall correctly. What do you think about the feature with only one speaking character? Do you feel that it needs more, or is it perfect the way it is? Or maybe you just want to share your experience of Returnal. Regardless, this is the place. So, do it while Selene is still trapped in the time loop.

In Conclusion…

I was really surprised to find out that Returnal isn’t “just another roguelike” that tries to cash in on the craze because apparently roguelikes are all the buzz these days… relatively speaking. If you have a PS5, then don’t waste your time and go play it. Hopefully, it won’t remain exclusive so that at least PC players can play it, too, because it’s a great game!

I still have to find out if Selene meets anyone other than herself, but I genuinely like this feature and would like to see more of it as I continue playing, and you should too.

As a final note, you remember how at the beginning of the article, I mentioned Hades? I’ll probably write about it next time before finally ending the whole roguelike obsession… For now.

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Jeffrey McGee

Jeffrey McGee

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