The afterlife is a subject that humans are pretty much obsessed with as a whole. What actually happens when we die? Do we just shut off and fade to black, or is there a place for us to go afterwards and see the loved ones who came before us? I tend to be a sucker for games that deal with questions like these, especially ones that seek to tear at your heartstrings at any given opportunity. This is what initially drew me to What Comes After, a game that attempts to discuss this question in a very intimate manner. I do think it succeeds in elevating this conversation overall, but the gameplay leaves a little to be desired.
In What Comes After, you play as Vivi, a young woman who barely manages to board the train on her way home. After she successfully finds a seat, Vivi accidentally falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds herself still on the train, but everything feels and looks just a little different. While exploring the train car ahead of her, she learns that she is on a train full of ghosts on their way to “what comes after.” At first, she believes she is dead but is quickly assured that’s not the case. The conductor promises to take her back to the land of the living after the train drops off its current passengers, and Vivi is left to kill time until then, deciding to do so by talking to the passengers who have passed on.
There’s not really a ton to talk about when it comes to gameplay in What Comes After, as pretty much the entire experience is spent in one side-scrolling corridor filled with NPCs you can talk to. There is no variation on this whatsoever, meaning the game as a whole suffers from a fair bit of tedium, and what will determine whether you can put up with that is largely going to be based on your personal taste in games. What Comes After is a narrative game through and through, and makes no effort to pretend it’s anything else.
The writing is actually this game’s biggest strength, though. As Vivi explores the train and has an opportunity to talk to the souls of those who pass, every NPC feels unique, even when most of them are not all that visually distinct. Every person has their own story and even their own outlook on the fact that they’re dead. Some are angry that this has happened to them, some are glad the suffering they’ve endured is finally over, and some are even pleading with the universe to undo their death. Subjects like suicide and grief are handled very respectfully throughout, and for that reason the game did resonate with me personally. However, some of this wisdom is hamstrung by a spotty translation at certain points. It is never so bad that you can’t figure out what the character was trying to say, but I would frequently encounter sentences where tenses had been mixed up or certain words were just wrong, throwing a small wrench into the works of the story.
In terms of visuals, What Comes After isn’t sporting any kind of unique art style, but for what it is the game looks overall interesting and memorable. While the first half of the game is made up of regular train cars full of ghosts of different people, eventually Vivi can wander into the section of the train where the non-human souls go, changing up the visuals in a colorful and fun way. Some of the later designs of these creatures and the stories they tell form the most interesting section of What Comes After, as they provide some points of view that are often missing from stories about the afterlife.
Overall, your mileage is going to vary in What Comes After. It is a very short experience, clocking in at just around an hour long, so even if you find the gameplay to be a tad tedious, the game at the very least does not overstay its welcome. If you’re more interested in narrative as opposed to gameplay, you will likely find some enjoyment here, but those who are more interested in gameplay should probably steer clear. What Comes After has a lot to say, and even if a shoddy translation takes the impact down a bit, it’s still worth a look if its premise has caught your eye.