Into The Spine of: Afterparty

Leave the bottle

Few pitches have been so compelling as Afterparty’s. Two friends are sent to hell without any recollection of what happened moments prior, and the only way back to the land of the living has a particular request: They both have to outdrink Satan in a competition. It takes the intricate and rebellious dialogue feature of Oxenfree as a foundation, and builds a new story from there where you switch between Milo and Lola, a pair of inseparable highschoolers that slowly discover they haven’t been that kind to each other, or themselves for that matter.

Oxenfree is one of my favorite games – I wrote about it for the first ever post of the site relating to its depiction of teenagers, and it’s been living rent free on my mind, as they say, ever since. After playing a short demo of Afterparty last year, I was left a bit skeptical of the final game, given that it was only a couple months away from release. It let you take part of one of the initial moments of the story, where you end up in a bar and have to take part of a beer pong competition in order to gain access to the upper floor and talk to the demon of interest. Something about it felt off, even though the sounds, the music, and the charm of the characters all worked well individually. It was also a bit clunky, but not in a way that bothered me much.

Truth be told, I started it a few days before launch, but it took me a while to pick it up again and actually see it through, despite its short length. In some ways, I’m glad I endured, but some of its most interesting moments couldn’t quite match the overall experience I was hoping for.

I remember sitting there right after the installation finished with a beer in hand, excited to dive in following the same spirit of this portrayal of the underworld. The in-game culture around alcohol is as present as it is in our own side – almost every location you visit has a bar, and you pretty much frequent all of them for several purposes. It’s integrated in the task at hand, as you search for key inhabitants of hell, called Monarchs, to give you their seals of approval so you can present the challenge to Satan at his home. But it’s also a part of almost every moment of the story.

As well as continuing using the dialogue from Oxeenfree, where you select from blurbs on the fly that can actually interrupt conversations, or add silence to them, the main thing in Afterparty presents itself around booze, interconnecting with its past influence. You can get drinks for free (it’s hell after all) and use them to unlock new dialogue options as long as you have alcohol running in you. If you’re running low on it, you can just keep drinking until you run out, or ask for a refill. There’s several drinks and, at least on their descriptions, they all offer different results – some might make you aggressive, while others are perfect for cheeky commentary. But this is never expanded further an interesting premise – regardless of what you pick, you’ll never hit a wall during a conversation, and the choice becomes purely an aesthetical one fairly quickly.

Everything else is rather straightforward from there, and the story is slowly unraveled in a more streamlined way than Oxenfree, where you could investigate certain parts of the island. At one point the game opens up as well, but the replacement of mystery with a fairly hollow representation of hell doesn’t make repeated visits that tempting. I felt the same sensation that I had with the demo, only in a prolonged term – this underworld, as dead as everyone is, doesn’t feel that rich outside of story moments, which led me to remain as close to the main path as possible.

Conversations are constant, and they help to fill in the blanks as you slowly walk from point A to B, with the occasional mini game in between. They are often fun and Very Millennial, which I came to appreciate. Over time I got exhausted of the constant outsourcing in references for a quick joke, as I realized I was not part of the chosen demographic to understand them, but I enjoyed the performances well enough to get past them. There’s also a social media app called Bicker that is Twitter-esque in nature, but it’s completely optional to use.

The more I think about Afterparty, the more I realize that not much of it left a lasting impression, even if I tried so hard for that to happen. But there were a couple moments that stood aside that gave me a semblance of order, where these interesting individual elements finally came together to deliver a compelling interaction, and even reflection, to how us human beings behave ourselves.

Most of these were lead by Wormhorn, a so-called Personal Demon that manifest itself mostly to bother Milo and Lola. What’s interesting is that the character serves as a morale compass of sorts after completing tasks, showcasing you the choices you’ve made, and the choices you could have made instead. There’s always a judgment involved, and over time Wormhorn actually picks up certain tendencies in the way the player acts or behaves in situations, which are then laid out to you in the story’s climax. But every interaction is interesting, and provides depth in the true intentions, and problems, of the protagonists’ friendship. Quite ironically, the most terrifying moments came from the pressure of a being capable of digging inside someone’s buried memories, and portray them in front of them in vicious, mockery ways.

The other happens closer to the end of the story. After many obstacles you finally stand in front of Satan ready for the drinking competition. But as it turns out, his family has been planning an intervention for a while. Satan has been, well, drinking sorrows for millennia, not quite forgiving God after their last indifferences. This leads to a series of conversations where you are given the choice to play along and be done with the competition as soon as possible to return home, or stand with the rest and try and stop him.

The might of this hellish figure is slowly unmasked, and I was impressed on the ways this is shown – first as denial, then as mere jokes, but as you continue going through the competition you see Satan stumbling on the floor, barely able to keep it to himself. The constant sense of partying and drinking to your heart’s content of the underworld deteriorates. But I was also able to see interactions that happened with close friends portrayed for a brief moment, giving the situation much more meaning in return.

As I watched the ending credits of Afterparty, I felt conflicted about the experience as a whole. The few moments that impressed me were not successfully wrapped up afterwards. The ending felt rushed, and almost cliché in a way. Some of the anecdotes and brief portrayals of real-life problematics, as well as showcasing how complicated relationships can be, especially as one is growing up from a young adult phase, are at times tangible. It’s a story that feels conflicted with itself, almost as much as the main characters are with each other.

I don’t have many lessons to take from my time with Milo and Lola, but if there’s one thing that’s gonna stay with me, is that is okay for plans to fail, or don’t quite come together as one would expect. That diving in the what ifs is pointless, but reflecting and learning from the mistakes behind them isn’t. And that is important to talk things through with the ones whom we are close to, either for things that happened a long time ago but we couldn’t put it into words until now, or to try and help someone close from keep burying themselves in toxic practices. Perhaps, in the end, that’s all that matters.

By Diego Nicolás Argüello

Founder and EIC of Into The Spine. Probably procrastinating on Twitter right now. Talk to him about pinballs, Persona, and The Darkness. @diegoarguello66

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