Genre: Adventure, Virtual Reality
Release date: August 19, 2016
Firebird: La Péri, developed by fledgling company Innerspace VR, isn’t really a game. It isn’t really a movie either, or a dance, or a play. It could best be described as an art piece that combines elements of ballet, theater and fairytales, and uses Virtual Reality to showcase its glittering, gliding vision. If you’re a fine-art fanatic who also happens to own an HTC Vive, you’ll probably delight in Firebird: La Péri. But that’s a niche sector of the market.
La Péri derives its loose narrative from the music and story of a one-act ballet of the same name. An old Magi, Iskander, is in search of the Flower of Immortality (for obvious reasons) and finds it in the possession of a Peri, a fairylike creature from Persian mythology. When he tries to seize the flower it splits into four parts, and he must catch these petals to reconstruct the flower again. To even reveal that much of the basic premise feels like giving half the story away, so if you need something more than the stripped-down classicism of a myth or parable, you’ll want to keep looking. The narration is masterfully provided by John Rhys-Davies (you’ll know him as Gimli from the Lord of the Rings movies) who gives the story a gentle, meditative timbre.
This story takes place around you largely in the form of a ballet set to classical music. The Peri is a human-sized woman who dances just out of your reach, and other creatures circle near in possession of the petals you must grab. On the whole I expected a game about dance to involve more movement (especially since the Vive already has many games that encourage different kinds of exercise and athleticism), but there’s very little to do besides grasp occasionally at a nearby petal. It’s easy to learn, sure, but not altogether demanding.
The game’s visuals are immediately arresting, and the imagery is the real draw here. I’ve played several VR games on the Vive, but this one still sparked a feeling of surprise and delight. The movement of the stage pieces felt organic, and everything from the colors to the vast scale of the backdrops felt immersive and impactful. Even the in-game controller designs are stylized and interesting. I couldn’t help feeling, though, that the experience seems to be showcasing the majesty of an existing art form — ballet — without using the technology to add anything new to an existing piece of music and dance.
Firebird: La Péri has the distinction of complicating my notion of what someone should pay for in a game. A single playthrough — roughly 15-20 minutes of gameplay for $10 — strains the upper limit of decency in my subconscious equation of worth (where a game’s value equals its total play time, divided by its price, then multiplied by a vague coefficient equal to my raw enjoyment). The result isn’t a conclusive valuation, of course, but often guides my feelings on whether a game is worth the money (as do considerations of its genre, originality, cultural and artistic merit, politics, storytelling, mechanics, and so on). But Firebird: La Péri just isn’t a game and can’t be measured as such. It’s priced more comparably (in a dollars-to-minutes ratio) to a museum visit or opera ticket.
Is this game just as culturally worthy as those kinds of institutions? Possibly, if you’ve always wondered how it feels to be on the stage during a ballet or to live in a place without access to a talented dance troupe. But on its own, it hasn’t created anything revolutionary. Firebird: La Péri is a slight but promising effort. Virtual Reality could increase access to less approachable types of art but, to enhance the art form, developers will need to be brave enough to incorporate the technology in a new, meaningful, significant way.
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Skilled narration by John Rhys-Davies
+ Pleasing music
- Incredibly short
- Minimallly interactive
- Played it safe with the game's concept