The magic of video games is that they somehow take players on a journey they otherwise never would have known, from enchanted lands far away to the heartbreaking static of everyday life. In The Everlasting Regret, it does both perfectly, seamlessly blending a coming-of-age love story with fantastical elements set in a gorgeous backdrop of actual history.

The Everlasting Regret - Developer

Tencent's Lightspeed & Quantum Studio is the developer of PUBG Mobile, and The Everlasting Regret is a welcome departure from that kind of genre. The incredibly unique game is short but sweet, capping off at just two hours or so for the whole thing. But the beauty of The Everlasting Regret is how tempted you’ll be to stay and spend some time with every scene in each of the four chapters, all just to marvel at the stunning artwork made more vivid with Oriental brush styles reminiscent of the Tang Dynasty.

The Everlasting Regret developer

The game invites you to pause, take a breather, and spend a few moments gazing at the artistic ink paintings, even encouraging you to download screenshots of the chapter scrolls to share with friends or set up as your phone’s wallpaper (because yes, each scene is definitely wallpaper-worthy).

Top that off with the emotionally stirring traditional Chinese instruments playing softly in the background and you absolutely won't be able to help yourself—your heart might just break from the tear-jerking soundtrack alone.

A poignant puzzle

Of course, it’s not just all about the aesthetics—the game also brilliantly infuses puzzle-solving mechanics into the ink paintings to tell you a story. Being a story-driven gamer, I appreciated just how well the narrative flowed, because every illustrated scene is not only a delight to see but is also a treat to actually play. Scenes invite players to get involved in such an immersive way through interactive brushstrokes that you need to perform to move the narrative along.

The Everlasting Regret gameplay

For instance, in the very first scene, you will be instructed to use the Vivify brush to make a flower bloom. The Bond brush lets you connect objects in the painting, while the Erase brush lets you modify elements to make the verses in the poem come true. Using the wrong brush is actually pretty interesting, as the game doesn't punish you for making a mistake.

Sometimes, using the wrong brush even unlocks certain hidden achievements, which are an absolute joy to discover. While wrong brushstrokes won’t move the story along, you can essentially experiment with all of the brush techniques at your disposal to see alternate results (like different hairstyles or makeup colours for Lady Yang in one particular scene).

Frustrating brushwork for the less artistically inclined

The Everlasting Regret graphics

If you just want to know what happens next, simply pay attention to the words highlighted in every verse from the poem. As you progress through the chapters, the puzzles get increasingly more challenging, prompting you to draw missing items in the scene rather than just modify them. For instance, there is one particular scene that says, “The moon viewed from his tent shed a soul-searching light.” Here, you need to paint the highlighted “moon” in the sky to move the story along.

It’s an ingenious way to really provide an immersive experience for players, but personally, I found the brushwork to be less intuitive than other similar game mechanics I tried before, particularly for the brushwork in Okami HD. Case in point: I spent a good chunk of time trying to fulfill the highlighted word “rain” in one verse, because how do you draw rain? Do you do it via raindrops, or via slanted lines falling from the sky? Do you simply tap dots into the empty space in the canvas, or do you need something a little more defined?

The Everlasting Regret review

Still, the game can be very forgiving, because if you keep failing after a few tries, it’ll basically lend you a helping hand and move on to the next verse anyway. It’s a great way to keep players from getting too frustrated just because they’re lacking in the drawing skills department. (A little side-note: the game kept crashing on my Samsung Galaxy S9, but worked perfectly fine when I played it on an iPhone. I’m not sure if the Android version is wonky, or it’s just me.)

“Her soul came not in dreams to see the brokenhearted”

The story itself is an adaptation of the poem titled Song of Everlasting Regret. In every verse, you can check the annotations to learn more about the history of the poem, the cultural context of the era, and so much more. Being of mixed Chinese descent myself, I found it incredibly refreshing to learn about culture this way in the form of a highly entertaining and tragically beautiful game.

review of The Everlasting Regret

Penned by Bai Juyi, the poem supposedly talks about the whirlwind romance between Emperor Xuanzong and Lady Yang. It was a love story doomed from the start in the time of war—things pretty much escalated and led to Lady Yang’s death. The second half of the poem follows the Emperor’s depressed plight as he tries to live his meaningless life haunted by a great love lost. “The boundless sky and endless earth may pass away, but this vow unfulfilled will be regretted for aye.”

Overall, if you’re feeling the need for a cathartic release while in quarantine, The Everlasting Regret is the perfect salve. The free-to-play game is available for download on Google Play and the App Store, but be warned—you just might shed a tear or two at the tragedy of it all (blame it on the invisible ninjas cutting up onions somewhere).