Serena is a very brief yet powerful point and click game that leaves a large emotional impact on the player. It has received a lot of support from the adventure fan community and has had some high profile people involved such as former Sierra staff member Josh Mandel, and the character Serena being voiced by Sarah Wilson, otherwise known as Pushing up Roses. This game was also the first to be developed by Senscape, who is headed by Agustin Cordes. When compared to Agustin Corde’s previous game, Scratches, Serena’s story is far more compelling and deep yet the game itself also has far less content. The one important aspect to note about Serena is that the game can be beaten in less than an hour. However, the game is free to play, and as a result, I cannot think of any reason not to recommend Serena.
The main story of Serena stars an unnamed protagonist who is alone in his cabin as he reminisces about his relationship with his wife Serena. At first, our protagonist does not remember his relationship with Serena, but throughout the course of the game, his memories start to return as he examines the various objects around him more. He goes from remembering the moments that had him fall in love, to the moments where their relationship started to fall apart and caused them to hate each other, to learning the horrible truth about their relationship. Despite being less than an hour long, Serena makes excellent use of all its time and does an excellent job at summing up every emotion that our protagonist is feeling and shows a lot of attention to detail.
What is particularly impressive is how this game manages to take a relationship that likely formed over the course of multiple years and manages sum up all of it in less than an hour without losing the emotional impact. It is even more impressive when you consider that there is never a change of scenery, and that the entire game takes place in the same room without any flashbacks. The entire plot of the game is advanced by examining the various objects around you. The protagonist will have specific descriptions for each item that is based on when you examine them and what the protagonist has remembered. In fact, the isolated setting is something that really adds to the feeling of loneliness that permeates the game.
Also it really makes things interesting to see a game tackle the subject of a failed relationship. Considering how many games there are out there where romance is a huge theme, it is not often that you see it fall apart considering that it is downright depressing and naturally would not fit most games. In a way, the subject of two people who once loved each other slowly hating everything about each other can be considered even more tragic than one of them dying. The reason that this could ultimately have a worse effect is because there are a lot of happy memories involved in two people falling and love, and the idea of those things changing is something that would leave both members of a relationship in utter chaos and despair, and Serena is a game that handles this subject very realistically. In fact, it is handled so realistically that I am concerned about recommending this to someone who may have gone through a similar experience in real life in fear of it bringing back painful memories.
However, what really sets the story in place is its ending which is shocking to say the least. Of course I obviously cannot spoil what this ending is but I will say that the ending manages to succeed at making Serena a game that is more than just a guy reminiscing about his broken relationship. Although one complaint I had was that it is easy to be left confused about the ending if you do not examine certain objects by a specific time seeing as how the credits will roll abruptly leaving you unable to see what it is that heavily hints towards the game’s major twist. This is made more annoying because you cannot save during the game and it is all played in one sitting so if you want to see it, you need to start everything from the beginning or just look it up online.
The graphics in Serena are naturally effective seeing as how the entire game takes place in the same cabin, and that there is very little animation given that this is in a first person perspective. There is some excellent use of lighting in some scenes, especially towards the end in one specific instance. The graphics are obviously not impressive on a technical level but they are effective enough to get the job done.
While there are only two characters in the game that were given voiced lines, the voice actors for those two characters did a fantastic job. The emotions of the protagonist and Serena were expressed very well and really added to the experience and the game may have actually been less effective without them. In regards to the music, well let’s just say that there were five people credited for the five songs that were heard in game. The music in Serena is very emotional and is yet another aspect of this game that does a great job at conveying the mood.
In terms of gameplay, there is not much that really happens other than clicking on things to either move or examine something. There are no puzzles nor are there any items. Really all that you do is you click on most objects in order to get a description and check on something else in order to advance the plot. The game also takes place in only one enclosed room so there is pretty much no exploration. While this does leave very little for the player to do, it also does serve its purpose as a storytelling tool.
In order to silence the snobbish critics who always respond to these games with “why not just make it a book or a movie,” I feel I need to challenge this assertion. Simply being something that can be done as another form of entertainment does not mean that it has to be done that way. Games already use a large amount of cinematic and literary elements, and most games would not have memorable stories without those elements. Furthermore, a well written story is a well written story regardless of what form of media it inhabits. If Citizen Kane was a visual novel, it would not lose its artistic value simply for not taking advantage of the interactivity of games.
Even if I were to ignore the previous paragraph, Serena is still a game that would not be the same as a movie or novel seeing as how it would be incredibly difficult to shoot a movie similarly to the perspective of this game, and a book would not be as effective due to the lack of interactivity that comes from checking out the various items around the room. Despite the fact that there is not necessarily any gameplay, there is still interactivity involved that makes you feel like you have control.
Serena was a short lived, yet incredibly powerful work of art. As a game, Serena is not good, but in terms of artistic value, it is amazing. The only things that keep me from giving this game a higher score are the short length and the lack of gameplay, but that still is not an excuse to ignore it considering that the game is free. While it is may be a game that would be difficult to remember much of, there really is no harm in trying it out, not just because it is free, but because it takes a short amount of time to beat and will not take up much of your time. Serena comes highly recommended to anyone who considers themselves a fan of art.
This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on January 30th of 2014, and has since been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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