This piece contains spoilers for Far Changing Tides.
What would you cling to in a world where you have nothing? The future, perhaps? The hope that one day, someday, this too would pass? What would it take for you to keep putting one foot in front of the other when nothing in this frigid place can rustle up enough enthusiasm to care if you live or die?
It turned out to be a carousel that I clung to. A carousel, then a duck, then a crudely carved deer, and finally a tiny ballerina in a box, the figure forever frozen in a pirouette. I hung them on the hooks placed strategically throughout my caravan-cum-ship-cum-best-friend, but always on the ones farthest away from the furnace, as though storing them far away meant I'd never have to burn them. It's not that I didn't care about the things I did sacrifice to the hungry engine. It was impossible to gather the discarded luggage and not wonder about who packed them and where they were now. But the deer and the duck and the ballerina symbolised something else, I think. By storing them separately from the rest of the junk I picked up along the way, I was making a choice. I was choosing to keep them safe for the future. Because there was a future - and I was choosing to survive.
Ostensibly, Far Changing Tides is a travel adventure, a game where you puzzle over rusty levers, curious buttons, and odd little pressure plates to work out how to keep on truckin'. Your strange locomotive is delightfully mobile, able to glide across the water, roll across the sands, and even dive beneath the waves as you work your way across a broken, silent city. And like its delightful predecessor, Far Lone Sails, Changing Tides weaves a painfully brief and briefly painful tale of love and loss and grief.
But survival is what sits at the heart of Far Changing Tides. Survival is what keeps you putting one foot in front of the other, even when it feels hopeless: especially when it feels hopeless. The metaphors will not feel particularly abstruse as you slide into inky depths and trample through empty homes where there's nothing and no one to help you piece together what the hell went wrong here.
But later, just as things feel impossibly grim, a patchworked balloon unexpectedly picks you up. It lifts you up through the water, then the waves, then up, up - all the way up! - into the clouds. For one brief, glorious reprieve - floating so close to the pale blue sky you can almost touch it - you realise you can rise above it all; the darkness, the coldness, the hurt, the loneliness. It's miles away now! Suddenly, your world is vast. Endless. Bright and warm. You begin to think that you may make it.
And then the balloon sinks. Imperceptibly at first, but then less so. You realise that the crude scaffold that was holding your ship together - holding you together - is crumbling away. The euphoric respite ebbs away as your on-screen companion physically and metaphorically floats back down to earth again.
But you'll survive this. Just like the last time. Just like the next. Whether you choose to cherish the duck or burn the carousel or simply throw away the carved deer, it doesn't matter, does it? Stuff is just stuff, and you'll do whatever you have to survive. To keep fighting. To keep moving. Because someone somewhere is out there waiting for you. And that's what makes this unassuming little puzzle game such an absolute delight.