“There is a place the lost embers go… as their light begins to fade.”
From Hello Games comes The Last Campfire at a much needed time for many of us. 2020 is averaging pretty low on everyone’s “Best Year” tier list, and it is showing little sign of slowing down. Our tenacity is being tested as we’re pushed to find hope in the darkest of corners. It comes as no surprise that people are struggling to find their sense of purpose during a period of isolation and strife. In The Last Campfire, you will experience similar motifs, but the heartwarming journey you embark on will leave you feeling hopeful.
On the surface level, The Last Campfire is a harrowing tale of loneliness and desperation. As there seems to be no reason to continue on a path that has no answers, life around our protagonist has lost hope. Much like we have to in our world, Ember has to create the answers to their questions. What awaits is not what is most important, but what they do up to that point. Whatever does await, if anything, is something Ember has to accept. Though we are presented with a world engulfed in darkness, it is ultimately a tale of finding hope. If that hope does not exist, you become the beacon in the night that others look to. As others find their way through your light, you too shall find yours through theirs. We all have a flame flickering within us, no matter how far we have drifted from the path. It is easily snuffed out, but it is also strong enough to withstand the most menacing of winds. Believe in the possibility, regardless of how hopeless it seems, and your flame will burn bright and strong for others to see, even if you can’t — that is The Last Campfire.
The story of The Last Campfire is told through an omniscient narrator. The narrator also voices each character you encounter. Having her narrate the story and voice the characters creates for an otherworldly experience that wraps the package up nicely. Though the atmosphere of the game can be described as depressing at times, the consistency of the soft-spoken narrator invokes a comfort reminiscent of that which a child feels when read a story by their mother.
“They did not need Ember’s kindness. But, still, Ember stayed. Building a bridge should it ever be needed.”
In The Last Campfire, your journey in life is coming to an end. What that “end” entails is understandably ambiguous. It appeals to no religion’s idea of what awaits us, but the anxiety of not knowing if anything does. In an attempt to find meaning for yourself, you solve puzzles to provide hope to the other forlorn embers you encounter. While some of the souls you encounter will accept your help, others will have descended too deep into the abyss of their mind to want to be saved.
The Last Campfire provides a satisfying number of puzzles that you will need to solve to progress the game. When you encounter and interact with a forlorn, you will be transported to a Breath of the Wild-like instance where you must solve a puzzle to free the forlorn. There are dozens of puzzles to solve with each being completely different from the one before and after it.
Due to not having been introduced to all the mechanics the game has to offer, you will start off by solving considerably simple puzzles. The difficulty does indeed seem to scale, but never to a point where you will find yourself spending too much time attempting to solve them. This may sound unappealing if you’re picking the game up specifically to solve difficult puzzles, but the direction that was taken with the difficulty of them is excellent for what the game is trying to be. They are fun enough to challenge you slightly (some more than others), but not so difficult that they detract from the narrative and atmosphere of the game.
“The fog didn’t choose me, it just… was. I hope the fog never closes in on you, friend.”
The Last Campfire managed to weave in its puzzles with its plot to make both feel equally important while progressing through the game. At first glance, each puzzle is simply something to be solved so that you can progress. Upon deeper inspection, however, puzzles are a look into each forlorn soul’s mind. Their internal struggles are given shape in the form of puzzles that need to be solved so that we may give them hope. Some puzzles will revolve around water due to that ember feeling like they are drowning in their thoughts. Others may have vines that represent feeling stuck and/or trapped. Due to their valuable contributions to the plot, they never reached the point of feeling like a chore.
Despite it only being a four to six-hour experience, it’s hard to argue for changes. If it were any longer, it would detract from the comforting “story time” feeling I mentioned above. Capturing this feeling feels essential to efficiently get its message across. Humans are most impressionable as children, and to emulate the feeling that a child experiences when being told a story made me feel more vulnerable and susceptible to its message. The length, core gameplay loop, and the culmination of the story all came together exceptionally well to create an unforgettable experience.
Our world moves at a pace that waits for no one. One stumble and you can find yourself left behind. It’s also difficult to notice when someone close to you has fallen with how loud our world is. It is important, however, that we acknowledge the value in slowing down to let those around us know that they aren’t alone. Sometimes a helping hand is all it takes for a waning flame to regain its strength. The Last Campfire is a game that touches on this and will leave you wanting to be better — for yourself and for those around you.
The Last Campfire provides an excellent narrative that is bolstered by thought-provoking puzzle gameplay that is simple, yet challenging enough to not detract from the rest of the game. The soundtrack, narration, gameplay, and atmosphere all combine to make an unforgettable and inspiring experience.