What Comes After (Review)

This is not going to be a happy review.

Buckle-up, everyone. We’re heading to Wrongsville. Population: What Comes After.

I probably shouldn’t even buy releases like this, since they’re not my thing. But, when you can’t even be bothered to read the descriptions on the eShop page and go off just the pictures and maybe one screenshot, you end up with a library full of these non-games. I bought What Comes After because I thought it might be an interesting game where a person dies and goes to the next life or whatever. So, what’s it really about?

It’s about a girl having suicidal thoughts.

Uh oh.

Yea, this is a subject anyone, even someone with the best intentions, should tread very lightly with. I’m kind of proud that, in the 2020s, society has come around to the point where we don’t fuck around with suicide anymore. We joke about it a lot less. It’s not done for comedy anywhere near as much. I’ve lost more than one friend to it. I lost my God-nephew to it earlier this year. I think that’s what it’s called. My Godfather’s son’s son. God-Nephew? It’s such a weird sounding thing. Well, the point is, he called me Aunt Cathy, or at least he did, before he killed himself. I’ve spent the last several months trying to shake the images of sprinkling his ashes out of my head. I was close with him once. He even helped me with a couple reviews on this very blog. He was just a teenager. Hmmph.

So, yea, with suicide as a video game story, you have to be delicate. This wasn’t delicate. This is a shotgun blast of “look at the bright side of life!” to the face. Okay, poor choice of words, but I’ll explain why this is wrong below.

These Disney sequels are getting out of hand.

In What Comes After, a girl named Vivi, who is having thoughts of ending her life, falls asleep on a subway. When she wakes up, she finds the train is populated by the ghosts of everyone who recently died within 10km of the train station. This apparently includes a giraffe and an elephant. I’d like to think this is setting up some kind of bad ass Mortal Kombat-like prequel showing how that happened on the same day. Anyway, there’s no “game” here. You just talk to the ghosts, and they wax philosophically on the meaning of life. Some are okay with being dead because they’ve lived full lives and felt complete. Many have regrets. They all feel happy for the girl that she’s still “so full of life.” Sigh.

Okay, so, I’m going to be blunt: the dialog directed to the girl in this game largely talks to her in a way almost all the experts agree YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK TO A SUICIDAL PERSON LIKE! You’ll note there’s four links to such experts there, and a fifth one coming. There’s so many links because, just to make sure my instincts on this were right, I Googled this subject, and read multiple experts on this. They agree:

  • You LISTEN to person. That is the most important element by far, but this game mostly directs dialog at Vivi. Even give and take conversations have almost nothing to do with why she’s having suicidal thoughts, or the pain she’s in, or anything. Even the three main spirits who help her out come across like they’re preaching AT her instead of conversing with her. You also let the person know you’re ALWAYS there to listen. Now, obviously the ghosts in this game can’t do that, but they could tell Vivi to open up to her mother and sister that she lives with.
  • When you do talk, you ask a lot of questions without judgement, about how THEY feel.
  • Most (but not all) experts say you can encourage the person to get help, which literally not one character does. In fact, the angle the game takes suggests that being suicidal is something that can be fixed with gestures. It’s not. It’s a chronic condition that needs to be managed, often long-term.
  • You don’t tell a person to think of the bright side of life or think of everything they have to live for. That serves to diminish the real pain they’re in. It trivializes it. It’s also patronizing and judgmental. Though this isn’t universally agreed on, most experts say you can offer that things will get better, but honestly, “things will get better” is hugely lacking in What Comes After.

Here’s where I take issue: it’s never completely stated why main character Vivi is thinking of killing herself. It hints that she’s depressed and feels like she’s a burden on her family and has no prospects in life. By keeping it so vague and generic, it sort of implies that it doesn’t matter. Which, I’m guessing the “why” matters a great deal to the person. But the What Comes After treats suicidal thoughts as if what can bring someone to this point isn’t incredibly complicated or nuanced, and even if it is, it doesn’t matter because you just have to appreciate what you have and set a goal for a gosh darn happier life. I get that developer Mohammad Fahmi probably wanted to keep the details as minimal as possible so that anyone in a similar position could insert themselves into Vivi’s shoes. But, the overall problem is, any expert will tell you that what helps people who are contemplating suicide the most, statistically speaking, is just having someone listen to them. This is a game about a train full of people talking AT a suicidal person and not WITH them.

For God’s sake, ONE OF THE GHOSTS IS A BABY! A baby that comes across as preachy and guilt trippy, and it’s so cringey and wrong. This whole thing is just wrong. This is the type of game you need to make in collaboration with accredited experts in the field. There are aspects of this game where characters talk to Vivi in ways you are specifically told not to talk to a suicidal person like. Why is this subject matter rare in games? Because it’s the kind of thing most people don’t want to take a chance of getting wrong.

This is the point in the game where I threw up my hands and said “what the fuck? Really?” If a person is suicidal, having the ghost of a dead baby making them feel like shit because they don’t appreciate enough that they actually got to experience life ISN’T GOING TO MAKE ANYTHING BETTER! What Comes After mostly isn’t tone deaf. It’s just very uninformed and misguided. But, this part here? This is where the game got tone deaf.

By the way, there’s absolutely no malice in What Comes After. It’s a game made with the most beautiful of intentions. The whole experience is a one-and-done, no replay value “game” that you can complete in under an hour. To its credit, the story was compelling enough that I never got bored with it, though I think that Mr. Fahmi could have cut the amount of passengers by half and the experience would have been better for it. There’s a tiny hint of broken English (the developer is Indonesian), but nothing that wrecks the experience. And I do genuinely appreciate that the game tries to present a positive message. Hell, I even choked-up a little bit during a conversation with a ghost dog that made me think of my beloved service dog Cherry, who passed away Christmas morning 2018, and how much she would have hated how sad we all were that day.

At the same time, having animals.. and then even plants and trees.. guilt trip a suicidal girl into looking at the bright side of life? YIKES!! Just don’t do that. Why are we even talking about how circus elephants are mistreated? How on Earth can a plant relate to the pain a human being in crisis is in? It’s an important subject FOR HER, but now we’re talking about something completely off topic. It doesn’t exactly come across as insensitive or tone deaf. It feels like a bad way of getting a good message across. I wish I could recommend every game that had its heart in the right place, but that’s not how this job works. And this is a game about helping someone in a crisis that doesn’t follow any of the guidelines recommended by experts and ends with her cured of her thoughts through the grand gesture of having her look over a box of kittens. I found it incredibly misguided and frustrating to read. As charming and heartfelt as the characters come across, it just completely misses the mark. It’s rare that I say a game shouldn’t have been made, but this game SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE. Because people who are not experts, who have NOT devoted their lives to studying this stuff, are going to take away from this the wrong ways of helping people. It’s wrong.

Again, was What Comes After made with the best of intentions? Sure. But, so is the road to hell, or so the philosophers say.

What Comes After is not IGC Approved

What Comes After was developed by Pikselnesia
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.19 (normally $6.99) noted this game came out April 1, 2021.. YOU RELEASED A GAME ABOUT SUICIDE ON APRIL FOOLS DAY? JESUS FUCKING WEPT.. in the making of this review.

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