Video games are unique among other artistic mediums. The interactivity allows the player to truly participate in a story and can be used by developers to create a dialogue between the artists and the audience. Games that talk directly about art are rare, and often not very successful at delivering their message. But the story of a dog and a rabbit dealing with the expectations placed on artists breaks this mold. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is one of the best stories about art in any medium, not just video games, and is an essential experience on PlayStation with its addition to the PS Plus library.
Everyone’s a critic
Painting is something that most children do. Often it begins with finger painting, then some brushes, perhaps they even get to a stage when they use nicer paints and a real canvas. But it is understood that art is not going to be a lifelong pursuit for everybody.
Those who don’t put down the paintbrush become artists. They are seen as these great pillars of culture, tasked with creating something out of their own being that speaks to something about the world.
Chicory, the titular character but not the player character, is the traditional artist. She is classically trained and lives with high expectations of everything she does. But she reaches the peak of her career young and burns out. As the Wielder, she is responsible for bringing color to the world, but as she falls into a deep depression, she gives up her title, and the color is taken from the world.
Over the course of the game, we watch her struggle to find the love for art that she once had, but on her own terms. Her journey is a raw and powerful depiction of the intense burden placed on artists by the rest of the world and themselves.
The player character is a dog (in my case, Pancakes), who starts as a janitor in the Wielder’s tower. Pancakes decides to pick up the Brush, the tool that brings color to the world. Pancakes is not an artist, at least not traditionally. They are just going through the world trying to enjoy the role of the Wielder despite constantly being told that they aren’t good enough to be a “real artist”.
Chicory and Pancakes act as foils to each other, revealing two aspects of art. It is the story through observation and the story through experience. Chicory: A Colorful Tale finds difficulty and values in both the creation of art as an artist and as a hobbyist. Every boss in the game is an “evil” reflection of yourself, moving in mirror steps to yourself. The game’s biggest villain is doubt. Pancakes' most powerful trait is their self-confidence, the same trait we see Chicory search for in hopes of reconciling her own self-doubt.
Outside the lines
While Chicory: A Colorful Tale is predominately a story about art it also creates a world that breaks away from traditional game design beholden to our own realities in a capitalist society. There is no money in the entirety of Chicory.
Instead, other citizens of the world offer you items in exchange for serving your community. By finding lost children or picking up garbage you are able to gain a stylish collection of outfits for Pancakes. Nobody is looking to exploit their neighbor and get a leg up in the world by gouging prices for necessary items.
“We avoided any kind of renewable resource, which means there is nothing for players to grind on forever, which changes the relationship with the game a lot," designer Greg Lobanov told Eurogamer.
In a medium often obsessed with acquiring skill points, currency, or even paying real-world money to gain an advantage, Chicory stands apart. The likes of Tom Nook are not welcome in the world of Picnic.
This anti-capitalist approach comes down to Lobanov’s desire to make freedom the defining characteristic of Chicory. This adventure game about a little dog is also a blank coloring book, and it lets the player fill in each page as much or as little as they want. This limitless freedom brings color and joy to the world and the player.
A map of the world can be checked on at any point through your playthrough, it shows your progress through the world. You can watch color slowly make its way into different corners and eventually the map is filled with your work. You have left your mark on this world, and it is unlike any other person’s playthrough. Chicory: A Colorful Tale puts the player in a position of power and creation that no other game does, bridging the gap between developer and player to make something unique.
It is a product of the artist and the hobbyist, and it is beautiful.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is free for PS Plus Extra and Premium subscribers. It is also available for Nintendo Switch and PC.