Review: Fire Tonight

11 Aug 2021

You know, seeing media set in eras that you’ve personally lived through (even at a very young age) is weird. On one hand, you’re already accustomed to many of the aesthetics and everything else surrounding it. On the other, it’s a window for those who haven’t actually lived through it. No matter how you slice it, it’s always important to either accurately reflect the era or just use it as a base to produce something entertaining. I’m fine with either of these things, but these days a lot of focus in popular and indie media is the era of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s not unlike the dearth of nostalgic media focused on the 1960s and 70s that aired in the 90s, though it hits in a strange way for me nonetheless.

Even with some of these misgivings, I can’t seem to turn down a game that gives off good chill vibes. There’s a time and a place for it, obviously. Sometimes you’re in the mood to be Ripped Badass McShooty Man, sometimes you’re ready for something a little less active but still a bit fun, and sometimes just kicking back and relaxing to something easygoing in the vein of VA-11 Hall-A. Even a simple puzzle game will work for some. Having that diversity to suit whatever mood you’re in is one of the joys of this hobby of ours.

Fire Tonight definitely falls into the category of “chill game to vibe out to,” and it’s nice to see developer Reptoid Games dip their toe in what seems like a cute little experiment to see what they can do in the space. Sure, we’re awash in period pieces of this area purely on the aesthetics alone. But just because we might be slightly overloaded on it doesn’t mean that it still couldn’t be a good time.

Published by Way Down Deep, Fire Tonight will launch on PC (Steam) and Switch on August 12, 2021. The Steam version was played for this review.

United in Song

Set in an unnamed city, the focus of the story is on our main protagonists Devin and Maya. Both of these twentysomethings live separately, but are in a pretty committed relationship. The game opens on some deep existential conversation wrapped in a little bit of character exposition before the plot of the game moves forward proper, but it’s pretty obvious that despite what transpires throughout the game that the tone does stay lighthearted despite that. The bulk of the main plot focuses on them reunifying in the midst of a city on fire, and both of them simultaneously coming to terms with the gravity of the situation as well as the status of their relationship together.

It’s most definitely an easy to follow plot, so it’s not surprising that it’s not an especially deep one. Though given that the entire game bases itself on the lyrics of the identically titled Information Society song, this starts to make a little more sense. It’s made obvious from the start that Devin and Maya are big music nerds, so the story is a nice complement to who they are as people. I’ll admit that I’m a little more slanted towards more complex plot structures, but I can’t say that the plot here wasn’t cared for at all. While the story is lighthearted, sometimes that’s enough for those who need a little bit of easygoing escapism.

One of the things I do appreciate here plotwise is how likable everyone is in this city. Our protagonists are generally chill people stuck in a messed up situation, but their exposition and dialogue lets their personalities shine through and I quite honestly appreciate that fact. Even the secondary and ancillary characters are generally pleasant to be around. While many of them may be more in service to the gameplay than the plot, interactions here are not something I tend to want to skip.

Light as it is, I can dig what’s going on here. What’s here may not be amazing in terms of writing, but I can appreciate that there’s some thought and care with everything they’ve put out here for the plot. It also falls in line with the low asking price for the experience, so expecting something super deep for the $5.99 asking price is a little strange when you put some thought into it. It wants to be casual and easygoing, and I’m okay with that. It’s doing what it set out to do, and those looking for something deeper might be slightly disappointed if they were expecting that sort of thing here.

Making My Way To You

Given that the game is a lighthearted affair, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the gameplay is not especially complicated either. Since the ultimate goal throughout it to be reunited with each other, each protagonist has a different gameplay focus and you’ll be swapping between each of them the further you progress in the game. In terms of complexity ratio, Maya absolutely wins on that front while Devin’s segments are even less complicated than that.

With Maya’s segments, this is where most of the puzzle gameplay will be found. She tells Devin to stay in his apartment, and as a result has to navigate all manner of problems to advance the plot. With simplistic controls, you’ll be guiding her throughout the flaming city and using your noodle to get to where you need to go. Initially, it’s just simplistic navigation that requires the usual problem solving elements. But as the game progresses a couple of tools will be made available to you as things get slightly more complicated. Sometimes this will involve stealth, other times it’ll be using your tools (and refilling the batteries that you’ll find in trash cans to power them), and sometimes it’s tracking down a key to open a gate. You know, real run of the mill video game stuff.

Maya will be the one who directly interacts with fire and more complicated puzzles throughout, but her segments aren’t exactly what I’d call hard to figure out. It’s not brainless, mind you. It’s just that putting a little bit of thought into what you need to do will get you through. Towards the end, she does get a very short “vehicle” segment of sorts. But even this is sort of “blink and you’ll miss it.” Playing through her segments are by no means bad or even brainless, it’s just in service to the lighthearted nature.

Where I see some people getting a little bit disappointed is when the game swaps over to Devin. His gameplay points more towards fleshing out his relationship with Maya, and it does help fill in the gaps. He’s basically killing time in his apartment until he can link up with her, so most of his gameplay uses a “find the hidden item” style throughout. It’s nothing complicated. Just basically manipulate the room he’s in while he exposits on his relationship and further reinforce the musical aspect of it all. There is a little bit of interactivity with the room here and there, but it’s mostly skin deep type of stuff that helps establish characterization for the most part.

Separated from each other, I can see how some people could feel a little let down with the gameplay. Smooshed together, though? It’s fine. Personally, I can find enjoyment in a game regardless of how involved it may be. Because of that, I find myself more concerned with how well it executes more than how deep it is sometimes. I feel good about saying that Fire Tonight‘s apparent goal of keeping it simple and chill was executed well enough. While I wish that Devin’s sections were a bit more involved, I’ve played less involved games and felt a lot worse in comparison to what’s here. Nothing amazing, but nothing terrible either. It’s just decent. It’s also worth mentioning that this game is very short. You can finish this in an hour in most cases. Given the low asking price, it helps soften the blow a bit. But more often than not it’s not uncommon to see games in this price range be short in length.

That Familiar Neon Glow

This is the point where I should probably mention my affinity for the aesthetics of the late 1980s and early 1990s. For as rad and tubular as it was, the aesthetics are well worn in the gaming space by now. Since the game is set in 1990, it has the advantage of being at the tail end of synth heavy tunes from the prior decade and also on the cusp of the grunge era. It’s accurately reflected here, and the fashion of everyone involved backs that up. Unsurprisingly, the color palette is swimming in the hot pink and blue hues of the time. It’s occasionally trying too hard to reinforce the fact that it’s set in the 90s, but more often than not it’s not totally overwhelming.

The general visual presentation is a mix of 3D models in gameplay, occasional animated cutscenes, and a dearth of static drawings of various characters do a good job of keeping everything engaging and fitting the neon-soaked aesthetic that permeates throughout the game. However, I’m a sucker for anything related to hand drawn animation. So you can imagine that the handful of cutscenes that are presented here are quite welcome, but the limited amount of them show that there could be more done in what I’m hoping is a future project. Because I’m honestly in love with the art style and presentation.

In between those aforementioned cutscenes and dialogue sections and the static drawings throughout, the cute presentation really does take the edge off of the situation everyone finds themselves in. It’s not trying to be something it’s not, but I can’t help but enjoy how good the art is here. The overall 3D modeling of the gameplay might pale in comparison a little bit, but it’s by no means low effort. Maya’s sections obviously hold the most detail, and there’s not much else you can say about someone’s apartment. There’s attention to detail here, but it’s not going to have you checking for complicated textures or anything.

There’s no voice acting here, but that doesn’t bother me much. Plenty of indie and even some AAA titles get by on not needing it, and it’s not really needed here. While full of personality, most of the dialogue here is pretty curt and cute. For this game, that’s all that’s necessary especially when you take in the game’s length. The best part of the audio presentation has to be the music, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone given everything else surrounding it. Spread thick with the synth and class of the era it spawns from, it’s generally a pleasant listen throughout. In a way, some could consider the soundtrack something they could just chill and vibe to and get enjoyment that way. But honestly, that’s probably the goal. It might evoke memories of slap bracelets and gridlines for me, but others not as involved with the era will find the overall audio presentation here to be a generally good one.

Pink Light in the Sky Without A Sound

It can be a bit conflicting for me sometimes to judge a game that’s as short as this. But really, it ultimately goes back to what you’re looking for in a game. This isn’t a super involved hundred hour JRPG, and as such shouldn’t be judged on that kind of dollar-to-value ratio. Ultimately, we’re talking about a game with an easy price point and a fun time to match. I’ve dug into short games here before and felt a lot worse there compared to what’s here.

What other titles here lack in an engaging experience, I found myself won over by the total package despite the short length. It doesn’t insist upon itself, it’s confident in its own artistic style, and those looking for an easygoing experience will enjoy what fleeting moments are presented here.

When you get down to brass tacks, Fire Tonight won’t be blowing anyone’s doors off. I don’t think that was the goal, either. But just because it’s a compact experience doesn’t mean that it’s an unpleasant one. The entire package is a brisk, cute, and enjoyable time. The solid presentation, the simple but decent gameplay, and the personality throughout help soften the blow of the overall length. There are worse ways to spend an hour, and helping a couple reunite for safety’s sake isn’t a bad way to kill some time at home or on the go.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Way Down Deep for PC. Screenshots and featured image taken by reviewer.