Thoughts On Standstill Girl

Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of JRPGs. And that’s putting it as lightly as possible. Technical limitations of yore becoming design decisions of today is what bothers me the most about them, and it does so to no end. The scrolling text, the endless, unsophisticated menus, the insignificant random encounters, the lack of mouse support... It’s all a load of bollocks is what it is. I say this only to try to put the following statement in perspective: Standstill Girl is bloody brilliant.

You play as Alice, one of two humans living in the Land of Time and the only one that isn’t a Time Warden. The great clock that governs the Land of Life (that’s us) has broken down and time has stopped. Of course, the clumsy clock-keeper would appreciate your help in finding the fragments of the broken hands. And so your journey begins. The Obligatory Drab Opening is surprisingly succinct; the briefing is actually brief and you get to play the game posthaste. There’s a tutorial after that, one you should probably play through - not because of the valuable lessons learned, but for the loot and experience that will come in handy.

The turn-based combat almost never gets old, thanks to the tactical diversity the mile-long list of skills and items offer. Note the “almost”, we’ll get to that soon enough. The enemies are programmed to counter your play style as best as they can with what they’ve got, instead of just pulling the same tricks all the time. Another sound decision was making all of the attacks worth using drain health upon use. That way, you have to plan three steps ahead but still be able to improvise if your foes survive long enough to counter your tactics efficiently.

Halfway through the game an unreasonable spike in difficulty breaks the near perfect pacing, and the game never recovers its flow afterwards. It is so infuriating and unfair that all my notes on that particular part of the game are written in all caps. One of the bullets reads simply “GRINDGRINDGRINDGRINDGRIND”. I’ve spent far too much time trying to break through that particular ceiling, scrutinizing items, experimenting with skills, not willing to admit I’ll simply have to grind my way through it. I gave in after an hour of fidgeting and my reward was being ridiculously overpowered for the rest of the game.

Now is a good time to remind you that Standstill Girl is amazing, thanks mostly to the superb writing that went into it, raw as it may be. It starts out as the usual fantasy fare - Random Young goes on a quest to help restore Balance, slowly find out there’s More To It. Young seems to be more enmeshed in Conflict than we thought, turns out to be [REDACTED]. All steps we’ve come to expect from works of fiction. But Standstill Girl then puts a personal spin on it - the hero’s intimate story is both beautiful and dark, making the fantasy tropes segue into a touching, believable and relatable tale, melancholic and deeply humane. A story of suffering, surrender, sacrifice and love, with none of the sugary, soapy coat games usually serve us. The moment I started connecting the dots, realizing what I was really going through here, my eyes swelled with tears. The revelation came early, but not early enough to stop the general air from being set as “cheery”, making it all the more impactful. I spent the rest of the game hoping things would turn for the better, knowing full well they wouldn’t.

What made it bearable was the supporting cast, made up entirely of slimes, the archetypal villains of JRPGs, who were either into high-brow musings on the meaning of existence, or being remarkably playful and silly. Their sincere lightheartedness provided much needed relief from the weary bleakness of the world.

And that is its biggest strength - it is all about contrast, whether it’s the clashing of the cheesy high fantasy and a gut wrenching private narrative or our expectations of slimes and their subsequent subversion. We need more games like this. Games that explore uncomfortable subjects with due devotion, not making light of them but helping understand by making them endurable. Standstill Girl is a painful and earnest journey that should be taken regardless of the bumps in the road.


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