Genre: Visual Novel, Walking Sim
System: Steam (also available for Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)
Developer|Publisher: UN JE NE SAIS QUOI, UMANIMATION | Focus Entertainment
Age Rating: EU 3+ | US E
Price: UK £12.99 | US $14.99 | EU € 14,99
Release Date: June 13th, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Player Two PR.
Dordogne is a walking simulation game with a deep story and a lot of feels. This game is made entirely from watercolor paintings, and it has the beautiful feel of a fleeting summer day.
The Story and Gameplay of Dordogne
I don’t want to give too much away about the story of this game; Dordogne is all about the narrative. However, I can tell you it’s about a woman named Mimi. She leaves Paris to drive down to the home of her very recently deceased grandmother, a woman she cannot remember. All her memories before age 13 are just gone.
But as she goes over to her grandmother’s house, she begins to pull her memories back together a little at a time, and the story unfolds before her. Long estranged from one another, there are still plenty of clues to unravel the events that happened 20 years before.
Players will travel through landscapes made from watercolors, experiencing the memories as Mimi slowly begins to get them back. You can interact with adult Mimi’s phone, speaking with her father, mother, and a friend or significant other. As both an adult and a child, Mimi has run of the house, picking up and reading letters, shuffling through memories, and embracing loss of all kinds.
There are segments where you play as young Mimi, visiting her grandmother Nora for the last time in the summer of 1982. The other half of the game is adult Mimi, sifting through her lost memories of that summer in the very same house in 2002. Players get to dig through Nora’s home, uncover truths, and question everything she knew as older Mimi, while younger Mimi will play games, take photos, and build a journal in the past.
The Scrapbook Filled with Memories
In the summer of 1982, Mimi fills a notebook with memories from her summer. Players can take photos, collect words and stickers, and record sounds to add to the pages. After the day’s end, players get to put all of these items together into scrapbook pages, glue them all together, and even build poems out of the found words.
Players get to live through young Mimi’s fun summer in Dordogne in brilliant colors, cute puzzles, and fun interactable.
2002 Mimi, however, has a more muted color palette, her walk slower.
In order to choose dialogue options with other characters, players will need to click on one of the floating words, each giving a hint of how Mimi will reply to the other character’s previous line.
There are even tapes in Dordogne that players can collect and interact with. Each tape holds a memory recorded by Nora and her deceased husband Edouard. We get peeks into the torrid family troubles that began tearing their family apart even before that summer.
This is Heavy
While Dordogne seems like a sweet game on the surface, it does deep dive into some very harrowing subjects. Players will have to relive some painful memories with Mimi, will have to grow and learn and discover in a way that feels intense.
The total playtime of a complete playthrough of Dordogne was only two or three hours, it took me days to finish it. I felt the need to digest everything that I had learned before I kept going. While the game is super fun and very beautiful, it was also taxing in a way that only a deep and touching story can feel. There’s a lot of realness here, and some of that reality isn’t pretty. I don’t want to reveal too much because of spoilers, but if you have trouble with certain family traumas, I would avoid Dordogne or ask someone who has played for a full list of content warnings.
I think the story was so successful because of the juxtaposition of imagery, the depth of the story, and the flawed-though-loving intense realness of the characters. There were scenes of carefree beauty shoved up against stark, dark imagery, or muted palettes next to wild, natural vistas.
The Watercolors Make Dordogne
The watercolor artist responsible for the look of Dordogne, Cedric Babouche, describes watercolors as “messy, just like emotions.” There is something to that; each of the paintings looks a little fuzzy, like memories filtered through the lens of a child seeing it for the first time, then remembering it as an adult 20 years later.
There is a lot of truth in the game as well; if you look up photos of the real French town called Dordogne, the architecture, rivers, plants, and feel are all beautifully and lovingly rendered.
I can’t really explain to you what it’s like to play Dordogne and experience the artwork, characters, and heartache, but I hope this at least conveys a little bit of the awe I feel for this uniquely amazing project.
The Downside of Dordogne
There is one thing I could not stand about Dordogne: some of the weird movement puzzles. There is a lot of jank in the hitboxes, a lot of just weird things that happen when playing that ruin the spirit and the immersion of the game.
Simple things like opening the door either happen quickly, or I get stuck on it for minutes trying to wiggle the mouse around at just the right angle to smoothly get a door to unlatch or get that garlic finely chopped. There were a handful of times I almost quit playing because I was frustrated with a movement puzzle’s lack of polish.
I can remember one in particular that really rankled me; there is a part where Mimi is pouring cereal out into a bowl. You have to aim the cereal box over the bowl, but no matter where you pour it, it falls all over the table. Like, even though the bowl has a red mark around it of something you can put something else into, it just goes everywhere instead.
Furthermore, I kept pulling the box of cereal back up, readjusting, and then pouring again, only to have it still pour out everywhere. I kept pouring, stopping, pouring, stopping, until the box was out of the cereal, and then the scene moved on. I was so frustrated at that point, I was unsure why Nora wasn’t yelling at me for spilling them all over the floor.
Dordogne is as close to perfect as a game can be. There is a little jank, and a little weirdness in the UI, but the beauty and depth of the game make that absolutely forgivable.
I don’t think I will be playing Dordogne again any time soon; I think I need to recover emotionally from the story. But I do want to try it again from the beginning and see what other hidden wonders might be around the corners of Dordogne.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up: