Child of Eden: A Synaesthete’s Review
I’ve you’ve been reading my articles, then you likely know that I have synaesthesia, but what is it, really? The best way to describe it is that – though the most common manifestation is that one’s letters and numbers are color-coded – your senses interact with each other. For instance – and most relevant to this article – I can see sound. Rock music typically looks very hot to me, with lots of blistering oranges, reds, and the occasional browns and blacks. Describing my special sight as “seeing shapes and colors” was the best I had until recently, but that can conjure many kinds of images, some not even close to accurate. It wasn’t until I started playing Child of Eden that I had a parallel to the “visual journey” aspect of a song. I was thrilled to be the first to give people this comparison until someone gave me an unusual response; evidently, this was intentional.
Finishing the game, I found it to be true; there is someone listed in the ending credits as “Synaesthesia Artist”. I hadn’t known this when it came out, though; my focus was upon the absolutely stunning visuals, especially for a Seventh Generation game. The game has been reviewed by quite a few sources, but few address its synaesthetic qualities, and I think I know why: as far as I am aware, it has never been reviewed by a synaesthete. It also certainly help that the “synaesthesia trailer” for the game does an abysmal job of displaying the synaesthetic qualities of the game. This is not going to be the typical review; I can sum up its qualities as a game by simply saying, “This Rail Shooter has an interesting dual-ammunition mechanic, gorgeous visuals, and a soundtrack with JPop so excellent that I want to go out and buy every Genki Rockets album right now!” While there is not enough material for a standard review, the potential to dissect each archive (what the game calls its stages) synaesthetically is more than present. With each archive, I will provide a YouTube link to the song that is featured. EPILEPSY WARNING!!!
The first archive, Matrix, is the most accurate synaesthetic experience. No, not all synaesthetes react the same way to every stimulus – and, in fact, not every synaesthete has every possible sensory interaction – but it is the most like a musical journey. You start out descending a narrow corridor filled with cubes, which go back and forth between being outlines and being filled with images. Creatures approach you, and as you lock on and fire your laser weapon, it makes a sound and sends a ripple through the corridor, causing each cube to be completely white as it passes. Most everything that appears makes some kind of sound unique to it. The scenery shifts gradually into different environments; they are all very clearly part of the same world, but sometimes, when listening to a song, it can take you to places quite different from where you started. The finale has you blasting a sphere with sparkles all over it, and when you do, you hear Lumi – the Genki Rockets’ lead vocalist, so to speak; the band has an interesting backstory – singing as her image flashes upon the screen. It is very rare that a person’s voice looks like anything, but to hear someone talk or sing, I can sometimes see the person, whether or not that visual representation happens to be accurate.
Second is Evolution, which has an undersea theme. This one does a fairly good job, as well, relegating most of its sounds to low bleeps and bloops – which, to me, are even blue – until the screen becomes a little busier. The screen does, indeed, become busier and busier, and as it does, the song comes in stronger and stronger. By the penultimate area – in which you’re purifying a gorgeous, jewel-encrusted, translucent space whale – you hear Star Line (easily my favorite Genki Rockets song) rockin’ pretty hard. At its conclusion, the whale turns into a massive orange phoenix, and the song gets louder and – perhaps coincidentally – more orange to me. What makes this experience simulate the visual journey so well is how whimsical it all is.
Third is Beauty, which is an ironic title, as it is the least beautiful, to me, anyway. This is a fairly standard romp through a surreal garden, not unlike Grass Land from Hyperzone on the SNES. Some of the reactions are neat, like the butterflies that emit a higher note with the purification of each of their eight wings, but aside from that, the stage is comparatively boring. The boss is a gigantic flower with some very intricate patterns, and is this game’s “wake up call” boss. While this stage is easily my least favorite, this sort of thing almost had to happen, or else Child of Eden wouldn’t have been much of a game, so I understand why it was created.
Fourth is Passion, which is my favorite stage, despite being a bit less on the synaesthetic side; the most you get in terms of synaesthetic reaction is battling the recurring orange and purple energy, which must be attacked with different weapons, which produce different kinds of sounds. You go back and forth between beautiful colors against a black backdrop and beige areas. At first, I’d written this off as some sort of boring obligatory hi-tech/steampunk area that happens near the end of many games, but playing through it a few times, I realized that it had a sort of Yume-Nikki-like quality to it that also reminded me a bit of Wallace & Gromit in A Grand Day Out, particularly the inside of their rocket. The final area is my favorite: neon outlines of a machine with rotating gears all around, for which you have to light three honeycomb matrices by purifying yellow and purple squares that dance around a pair of nearby grids. This is perhaps the most thematic; it is about the passion of creation, which is why the archive is filled with gears and inventions and the like. The neatest thing about this game for me is that while most people see the archives as totally abstract, they all make perfect sense to me.
The fifth and final archive is Journey, and it is absolutely that. Most of the archive is a review of the bosses of the other archives, but presented in interesting new ways. This is the longest of the archives, but not quite as difficult as Passion. When you reach the boss’s final form, the music starts to play like a broken record. This aural corruption does a great job of drawing in the player’s emotional investment in saving Lumi, whose face is held captive in the center of the sphere. When you finally do, you’re treated to one spectacle of an ending as she sings Heavenly Star, and if you know any Genki Rockets song, it’s likely this one; it was also in Lumines 2 and No More Heroes, and is something of a flagship song for the band. There is an ending sequence in which you purify lights on a tree, which turn into snapshots of memories, and Lumi begins singing Flow; it’s the perfect ending to the experience.
There is also a sixth archive, known as Hope, which is a challenge mode. This is a far more raw synaesthetic experience, more along the lines of something you might see in the game’s debatably spiritual predecessor, Rez. It’s interesting, but not nearly the spectacle of the other archives. Also of note – though rather off-topic – is that this is the first thing to ever make me feel old. I don’t feel old about things like “Mario turned 25 this year” and the like, so it’s not something that is easy to achieve. No, what made me feel old was Lumi, herself; instead of the normal reaction I’d have to such a beautiful young woman (I think you can figure that one out), mine was overwhelmingly maternal. Physical age is only a number, so my maternal instincts raging over a twenty-something – or, at best, a young woman in her late teens – makes me feel my age far more than something I liked when I was younger celebrating its silver anniversary.
So, to whom to I recommend Child of Eden? Everyone. It’s not the perfect 10/10 game, and it’s likely not going to be too many people’s favorite, but the experience alone is worth the price of admission. It seems like this one is doomed to drift in the oceans of obscurity, known only by a select few that experienced it in its youth, but that’s not all bad; it means that you can pick up a copy for dirt cheap. Don’t worry if you’re not good at Rail Shooters, because I’m pretty bad at them, and with a little practice, I was able to consistently beat every archive; Passion took me the longest, and I think it took me less than five tries my first time. If you’re somehow worse than I am at this kind of thing, fear not; there is also a Feel Eden difficulty setting in which enemies do not fire at you, effectively making you invincible. I don’t know if you can unlock the Lumi’s Garden elements on this setting, however, since I never used it.
One final thought before I wrap this up: many people ask me what it’s like to have synaesthesia. It’s a pretty big question, and while there are reactions that I dislike – many cracked surfaces (spiderwebbed glass is the worst) make me nauseous, for example – it is something that enhances my world in ways that I’d never want to give up. The numbers/letters thing helps me immensely with remembering things, sorting, and basic math, and the rest adds to the beauty of my reality. I can, however, show you a very accurate representation of sound-to-sight synaesthesia that mirrors my own reactions almost perfectly. Just watch the screen in front of the astronaut DJ (Japan, I love you).