How do you begin to tell a story?
Far: Lone Sails does so in the most beautifully tragic way possible: a grave. It all starts with that single, poignant, yet impactful scene, where the protagonist stands over a grave against the bleak backdrop of the world he’s in, not quite sure where to go or what to do next. While the game never tells you a single thing, never utters a single word, and never shows you a single emotion or facial expression, you are bombarded by everything and nothing all at once. Such is the effect of the game’s minimalism, opting to tell a story without a single word.
Immediately, you are thrust into the gameplay without any explanation, which is by far the most refreshing thing I’ve experienced in recent weeks. There are no menus, no intros, no tutorials. There are no cards or characters to summon, no upgrades or farming to level up anything, no maps to navigate or structures to build. All you have is you and your trusty vehicle - a cross between a ship and a steam-powered tank - and as you stand atop the deck overlooking the vast nothingness, you brave the elements of nature with your chin up, your resolve firm, and your bright red raincoat fluttering in the wind.
Far: Lone Sails shines in exactly that - there is nothing else in the world but you and your ship. You immediately busy yourself with keeping her going, chugging along the dried seabeds amidst the wreckage of what once was. The game never tells you what happened to the world, or why you never encounter a single human being out there. But the lack of everything else only highlights the symbiotic relationship you have with your ship, as you tend to her needs, feed her fuel, and keep her well enough to ride through another day.
The main gameplay revolves around that singular, laser-like focus. You pick up random objects outside your ship and feed it to the generator to provide your vehicle with energy, releasing steam from time to time to prevent it from overheating. Sometimes, things break down as they inevitably will, and you have to put out fires and make repairs using what few tools you have. As you go along, you stop by abandoned warehouses, homes, and docks where you can pimp your ride with sails, better wheels, and other add-ons, but they all come as part of the game as you move through the 2D side-scroller toward the right - and forever to the right.
That’s not to say that the game becomes repetitive. Quite the opposite, it propels you to make sure your ship is a-okay, and when she is, you can reward yourself by zooming out and enjoying the view, no matter how desolate it may seem. There is something therapeutic about tending to your ship and then just moving along slowly through the day. You never encounter any enemies or monsters, so there’s no sense of impending doom looming over you like a dark cloud. The sense of exhilaration you get after spotting animals grazing or birds flying is unlike any other feeling. There are moments when you roll through vast, majestic fields, but there are also times when you have to brave the storm and fortify yourself against the forces of Mother Nature.
Throughout the whole thing, I never felt pressured or panicked - instead, the game eliminated everything but a sense of calm and acceptance. The rollercoaster of emotions that you’ll feel is largely due to the stellar background music that will really make your chest swell and your feelings surge with every beat. The sound effects are just as top-notch - you can really feel every creak from floorboards underneath, every crack of thunder against the dark sky, and every gust of wind as it whips against your sails. Eventually, the underlying hum of your vehicle becomes music to your ears, and you settle into an easy rhythm as you keep heading forward.
Being a gamer who values story above all else, I found this game’s tale - or lack of it - simply brilliant. I can’t spoil the ending for you, but something happens toward the latter part of the game that raises the stakes and makes you question everything you’ve been doing so far. The last scene of the game is still burned into my mind’s eye, and I still can’t tell if I should be happy, sad, hopeful, or simply content with how it all ended.
If there’s one thing I would complain about as I was playing on Android is that the buttons that you need to tap to move your protagonist along are kind of covering parts of the screen, which is a shame because you really want to see every single thing in every frame. But that’s nitpicking, really, because I just can’t find anything else I didn’t like about Far: Lone Sails. The deep connection I developed with my machine as I took care of it really struck a chord with me, so finishing the game made me feel accomplished but also broke my heart at the same time.