A crushing story worthy of your attention despite its rudimentary aesthetics.
Sometimes life deals you a bad hand. Regardless of how hard you try or the work you put in, there are times when things just don’t work out. That’s part of our time here, and it’s something that we all will have to go through. Actual Sunlight takes that message and gives us an example of the wrong path to go down, with hard-hitting, no-nonsense writing, indicating this title is not the noble quest the genre could indicate. This title is deep and depressive and evokes emotions that will be hard to handle for some, so please keep that in mind if you think this is something you might decide to play. Made in the RPG Maker engine, its top-down views and 8-bit-esque aesthetic are charming, but a lack of polish, super short length, and text-heavy gameplay weigh down an already heavy experience.
You play as Evan Winter, an overweight, depressed man from Toronto who is struggling with being a disappointment to his family and not being able to get the girl he loves — all while trying to find a purpose in life. Presenting an office worker’s lifestyle where monotony, low pay, and the constant fear of layoffs are evident, Evan doesn’t have a ton of positives in his life. As you experience the story through text pop-ups when interacting with objects and people, you see what he’s thinking, how he is processing all of these negatives, and some seriously harsh commentary. The writing is incredible. It’s so hard hitting and difficult to experience due to its honesty. Evan doesn’t care if he throws himself into a pit of despair if it might be true, and the message is felt loud and clear. However, the entirety of Actual Sunlight is given in short dialogue bits and unappealing text that scrolls through a black screen. If you are not a fan of long-winded reading sections, then you will probably have trouble getting all the bits of story needed to totally encapsulate what is happening with Evan.
Since this is an interactive story, the gameplay can feel a bit lacking. Beyond moving Evan around while selecting objects and characters, the remainder of the gameplay is clicking through several screens of text. This isn’t a negative since the focus is on the story, but everything here is presented in a way that shouldn’t get you expecting anything but a great read. The RPG Maker building tools are very limited, so sprite-work and environments are mostly basic. That’s not to say this isn’t a fleshed-out title, but there are some issues. Movement can have you clipping through items placed around if you position yourself properly, which doesn’t break the game, but isn’t ideal. Harsh transitions between scenes, locales, and text also make for an experience that can feel rushed, as you make your way through Actual Sunlight in around an hour. The soundtrack also isn’t something that will knock your socks off, as music repeats itself often and hits some notes that feel out of place and drone-like.
Actual Sunlight is a story worth experiencing, even if the format chosen to tell this tale is a little rough around the edges. Limitations with the engine, as well as a short story that feels rushed, make for a video game that won’t impress in many categories. Lengthy text-based sections will also cut some players out of the equation, but if you can get through this fairly rudimentary experience, then you will find one of the deeper and more necessary stories available.