An Exploration Of Depression, Indie Games And The Brilliance Of Sonzai

Sonzai - Feature Image

I rarely get hyped for a game these days. Save for the upcoming Biomutant and Kena: Bridge of Spirits, there’s nothing that I’m overcome with glee for. For as long as I can remember, there has been desperation within me that demands I get hyped for something. When I was younger, it came to me with ease. I remember when my family finally got an Xbox 360, I pretended to be ill just so I could stay home and play Far Cry 3. When I got my first laptop I watched the download bar as Napoleon: Total War installed. When I was a bairn, I waited outside the local game shop to get Yu-Gi-Oh for Gameboy. But nowadays, no matter what I do, no matter how many trailers I watch, interviews I read or demos I play, nothing has me hooked. Well, that was until I saw Sonzai

Image Credit – 2 Odd Diodes

The Art Of Believing The Hype

Recently, there has been a flurry of direct style events. They’ve announced all sorts of titles from triple-A behemoths to the most obscure of indie games. However, these events have failed to instil in me any form of excitement. It’s not that they were disappointing per see, as I can tell that there are games plenty of people will enjoy. It is just that for me nothing stood out. Nothing gripped my attention. That’s saying something too, as games like Deathloop, Hogwarts Legacy and Resident Evil Village were all featured in one or more of these directs.

Image Credit – Avalanche Software

Watching these events had become a bit of a ritual for me, even if they admittedly failed to get my blood pumping. I suppose there’s a sort of masochism behind it. I have this deep-rooted sense of entitlement, a feeling that maybe if I suffer through another direct about games I’ll never play or have any interest in, something will come along to reignite my passion for video games once more. There’s a spectacle to these events, an almost salivating legendary nature to them. We all clamour when they get announced, excited at the prospect of getting new games. Maybe we’re catastrophically bored of what we have, or maybe we’re just desperate for something new?

My Body Is Not So Ready

Unfortunately, for me, there was more to it than that. It wasn’t that I was just bored of the games I already had. Nor was it that I was just excited to see what was coming next. It was instead the realisation that I needed these directs. I needed them to fuel my insatiable addiction to feeling enthused. I needed them to remind me of why I love video games, why they’ve been a huge part of my life for so long. It dawned on me that I was relying on these events to make sure I didn’t lose one of the few things that still seemed to matter in my life. But no matter how many I watched, or however many new games were announced, they always failed to excite me.

Image Credit – Sony Interactive Entertainment

The failings of directs, States of Play and whatever other conceited names marketing teams can drum up, drove me to believe that the act of being hyped was dead. I was confused as to why my excitement for video games, and the marvellous spectacles of events and directs, had diminished so greatly. Why didn’t I care about the games that were being announced? Why wasn’t I as enthused as I once was? I had chalked it up to the games being lacklustre or the sheen of a brand-new concept wearing off, now that everyone does them several times a month. In reality, my depression was just getting worse.

Depression, Anhedonia & Me

I’ve struggled with anhedonia for a while. It is a debilitating condition that renders someone’s enjoyment of once pleasurable things null and void. As Tim Newman put it in his article, “anhedonia is not simply a reduced appreciation of the taste of chocolate; the underlying reward mechanisms are impaired.” My anhedonia, and by extension depression, have shaped how I interact with video games.

It goes beyond simply struggling to muster the motivation to feel hyped. Video games have been a part of my life for so long and have become an intrinsic aspect of my personality. That loss of interest, of feeling and motivation, has reduced me to my base emotions and goals. Where once there was a young man who wanted nothing more than to be a filmmaker, now lies a hollow husk disinterested by everything that once gave him great pleasure. That is extremely demoralising, destructive and heartbreaking.

The thing is, I want it back. I want to be able to tell my own narrative, and not let my depression dictate what I can and can’t do. I became a games journalist to reconnect with my love of video games and hopefully reinstate those same feelings of excitement I got when I was a child.

Over the past few months, I’ve encountered numerous titles that I’ve found myself enjoying more than I ever thought I could. My anhedonia hasn’t gone, nor has my depression, but the willingness to try and recover from it has returned. There is an ease in letting it consume you, in letting it drown out the thoughts of redemption and hope. Those same thoughts come back often, heck, I’m even thinking them right now. But I’m trying, as best I can, to overcome them.

Sonzai & The Beauty Of Indie Games

That’s where indie games, or more specifically Sonzai, come in. In my time writing for The Game Crater, I’ve found myself mainly focusing on indie games. At first, I was worried, as they often lack the polish and glisten of a corporate produced triple-A title. But in reality, they’ve opened up my eyes to a whole new world of creativity and originality.

I realise I’m not the first to “stumble” across the world of indie gaming. Nor is my discovery a particularly revelatory one. We’ve been blessed with countless incredibly innovative and unique indie games for a long time now. Those who are releasing now can only do so, thanks to the incredible success and strides made by their predecessors.

Image Credit – Columbia Pictures

In fact, my own foray into the world of indie gaming is in part due to its increased popularity and prevalence in the world of gaming. When I was younger, indie games were mostly unheard of or had remained obscured for some time. Sure, you’d get the occasional breakout title, but the way that indie games function now seemed impossible back then. Video games hadn’t had their French New Wave or Italian Neorealism moment. There wasn’t the support in place for developers to create ambitious indie titles and expand the limitless potential the medium afforded them.

The Chain Reaction Of Skyrocketing Success

Fortunately, now there is, and we live in a truly golden age of video games as a result. Sure, triple-A titles have been faltering and desperately scrambling to recapture what made them so special a decade ago — heads up Ubisoft, it was because your games felt new and fresh rather than remakes of the same stuff. But while they stumble their way into an uncertain future, indie games have started to see skyrocketing success. In the past year or so, Fall Guys sold more than 11 million copies, Among Us sold 3.2 million copies in a month, and Spiritfarer recently announced it had sold more than 500,000 copies.

Image Credit – Thunder Lotus Games

Sure, not every indie game released sees such economic success. But there are slowly becoming more and more examples of indie games blowing up beyond just Minecraft. What this success ultimately means is that more and more original and unique ideas, themes and narratives have been coming out of the woodworks from infinitely talented people. It means that the industry doesn’t live and die in the hands of a few corporate entities that produce the same games every year. It means that games like Sonzai, the wonderful brainchild of Indian video game development duo 2 Odd Diodes, can exist. And that makes me very happy.

The Surreal World Of Sonzai

I discovered Sonzai via a reveal trailer one arid autumnal afternoon during one of the worst years of my life. It didn’t pop up in a flashy direct, or an overwhelmingly overstated event. Instead, it just appeared one day on my Youtube recommendation tab. I was locked away in the bedroom of my mother’s house, having been trapped there for months. All I was doing was wasting away the better half of my early twenties. If there were ever a time I needed something to pull me out of my rut, that was it.

Image Credit – 2 Odd Diodes

Sonzai’s trailer didn’t cure my depression, that would be farcical and ludicrous. But it did restore a little bit of hope I had thought long lost. Sonzai is being touted as Persona meets Devil May Cry, and while that elevator pitch is certainly appealing, I feel that it goes far beyond that. Sonzai is, in my opinion, a celebration of everything indie. It is the culmination of progress, passion and perseverance in the face of absolute uncertainty. It proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that originality still exists and can still be wildly and wholly creative.

Every Frame A Painting

The sheer amount of dedication to the craft of video game production is evident even within the brief two-minute trailer that we’ve been afforded so far. From the fact that each and every frame is hand-painted, to the absurdly beautiful art style birthed from the minds of truly creative individuals, Sonzai impresses on an unparalleled scale. This is a game that is attempting to achieve the unthinkable and stretch its ambitions beyond the expected. It is a game that takes beloved game mechanics, themes and motifs, and expands their potential.

Its trailer showcases the dichotomy between life and violence, the duality of the quiet awkward socialising of teenagers with the frantic and meticulously detailed action. The blissfully ethereal nature of its jitteringly surreal world creates an atmosphere unlike any other. Even from the few locations, we see in the trailer, it is clear that Sonzai takes place in a world far removed from our own, a world in which the themes of violence, relationships, emotions and youth can be explored from a more fantastical perspective.

Image Credit – 2 Odd Diodes

Never in my life have I wanted to be immersed in a world as much as I have with Sonzai’s. There is something so terrifically unique and surreal about its distinctive characters and breath-taking universe. And that is the wonderful thing about indie games. Whether it’s larger indie game companies like Experiment 101, or smaller teams like 2 Odd Diodes, they have the potential to offer more wildly distinct universes to explore. They’re not shackled by the lack of innovation suffered by the bigger triple-A companies. Instead, they’re free to experiment and explore new avenues of game design.

Conclusion

Sonzai releases sometime in 2022, which feels like an eternity away to me. But then again, for fans of Cyberpunk 2077, waiting the 8 years it took to produce it must have felt like an eternity away too. Okay, bad example, but the sentiment remains. I’m actually excited to eagerly await Sonzai with bated breath. It is part of the fun, reclaiming that wonderful sense of hype and enjoying it for once. Sure, the road to truly recapturing the magic of feeling invested in something, of feeling a genuine sense of interest, is a slow and long one. But I’ll get there, and when I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m going to go stalk the Sonzai Twitter page. I suggest you do the same.

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