One of the most striking scenes I encountered while playing Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion came from the beginning of the game’s third chapter. After wandering around its minimalist, monochrome world for hours, moving between its light and dark variants, I was greeted by an unexpected sight: color. Trees with bright red leaves surrounded one of the many stone monoliths dotting the landscape, replacing the ornate structure that once stood in its place. It was beautiful. I spent a long time sitting there, just taking it all in. I’d been awestruck by Bokida’s sights before, but this one was different. It wasn’t just another wonderfully framed work of architecture, but one of the few instances of life and color. A rare moment, to be sure.
But what is Bokida? A self-described minimalist open world adventure, Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion is a love story between two realms. A vast, open ended light land, and a dark, mysterious one. They’ve been apart for some time, awaiting the day they can be reunited. You, as a Messenger, do this by traversing the two worlds, solving puzzles, and slowly bringing them back to life.
You´re dropped into the game with little guidance. Partially to encourage you to explore, and because you don’t really need it. Black monoliths lay scattered about, either broadly displayed or hidden within caves or temples. If you wanted, you could quickly move between them and finish the game immediately, with little effort. But doing so would rob yourself of the joys of exploring Bokida.
Of the two, the light one is where you’ll be spending the most time in. It’s large and seemingly boundless, housing countless secrets in its many crevices. Massive buildings and underground chambers hold writings from past civilizations while alcoves and footholds along rock faces hide black orbs – remnants of the dark realm – to collect. The sheer size and scope of the world alone makes it worth seeing, but the discoveries to uncover and the collectibles help provide additional motivation.
And they’re not just for the sake of achievements or mere busywork. The pieces of writing you find expound the philosophy of the people who once inhabited this land, providing some level of insight into its history and nature. The black orbs as well play into the larger goal of merging the light and dark worlds into one. Bokida vaguely gestures toward their importance, the voice of the dark land only stating they may play a role. I sought them out not knowing what purpose they served, but that only fueled my desire to find them.
You traverse the two sections of the game largely on foot. By placing blocks, however, you can expedite travel by placing them as far as you can and fly toward them with a click of the mouse. You can also use them to make staircases and bridges and so on, if that’s more your speed. You can also slice them and push the resulting debris around for your own satisfaction. While these blocks primarily serve as tools for light problem solving, they’re equally useful in making the aimless traversal more playful.
I tried using them to repair what looked to be some wear and tear in one of the first temple-like structures I encountered. Thought filling in all the holes, which all conveniently were shaped perfectly for the blocks to slot into, would do something. It didn’t. I spent a good 20 minutes or so examining every inch of the place trying to fill as many of the holes as possible for no reason. In most other games, I’d feel like that time was wasted. Here, it was simply an impromptu moment of fun. May not have served any greater purpose, but it did add a dash of color to the game briefly.
Where the light land is vast and free, the dark one is small and focused. Think of it as the indoors to the light world’s outdoors. Each foray into the dark realm takes you through abstract spaces or zones that play with size and spatiality. In one instance, I walked through the same room several times, the doors slowly shrinking as I moved deeper. In another, I found myself back in the bamboo forest I started in the game in; only now it was underwater. The excursions are brief, providing just enough time to soak in the sights and marvel at the tricks each trip pulls before capping things off with a quick laser redirection puzzle.
When you return to the light side, your surroundings change. A deep chasm becomes flooded by water, schools of fish making circuits around the monolith in the center. Large ornate buildings that once towered over you now stand in ruin. And, of course, a modest structure is replaced by a lavish forest. These moments act as a perfect motivator to explore everything to its fullest both before and after each transformation.
Every time I finished a trip to the dark, I’d roam around to see if anything else had changed. Nothing had almost every time, but I always found something new in the process. A piece of writing I missed before, another orb to grab, or merely a nice view. It was always something. No matter how small or insignificant it may have been, it always made my constant backtracking worthwhile. Even after finishing Bokida, I spent a bit of timing combing over the game once more. Partially to see if there was anything else I missed, but mostly to take its austere beauty in one last time.