Pillars on Poppy Hills is the debut original project from developer Knickknack PJ. On a certain hill, outside a certain town, pillars stand among a field of red poppies, a ruin of something that once was feared and worshiped. When two mortal men arrive, one to paint it and one to research it, an old voice emerges from the darkness. Caught between Something and Nothing, the living and the forgotten must meet somewhere in the middle.
A review for this game was requested via the VN Game Den review request form.
The approach to the art in this game is centered around a very limited, yet eye-catching, color palette. Far from being boring to look at, it’s highly dynamic and visually engaging. The scenes shift dramatically from wide landscapes painted in grays and tans to intimate conversations between The Painter and The Researcher to elaborate depictions of a grand and dangerous deity. And even in these smaller conversations, small sprite shifts and movements not only create expressive dialogue sequences, they firmly anchor these mortal characters to a special place in space. When they bicker and fuss, you can feel that tension between them. When it rains, you feel them getting soaked. In the bigger, broader scenes (flashbacks and contemplations from the deity character, mostly), the contrasts of dark and light and red pack a wonderfully huge visual punch.
The use of those limited colors as a narrative tool is also incredibly well done and beautifully integrated into the text and the presentation as a whole. The visual cues work effortlessly to slot into the places where text simply wouldn’t be able to do the job. From a practical standpoint, even, the use of color-coding also makes the digestion of that text possible in a streamlined UI. Overall, it’s a brilliant use of visual storytelling.
If any qualms with the art were to be noted it would be that the sprite work does feel a little cartoonish when compared with the tone of the writing.
Paired with these wonderful visuals is wonderfully lyrical writing. Its tension ebbs and flows through past and present and past again, simultaneously incorporating many times at once while also not being pinned down to a specific era. It shifts between sweet and tragic and sad and hopeful so elegantly you’re able to sift through this journey of human emotion without it feeling like whiplash.
It also takes a very interesting approach to its narrator’s perspective. At first it feels very detached, and you find yourself trying to determine “who,” so to speak, is the main character. The way they’re described, it certainly can’t be the researcher or the painter. As the story progresses, though, that distance get smaller and smaller, until it finds its physical place in the story. And suddenly we realize who the main character actually is, and it defies the initial expectations in a brilliant, interesting way.
The one sort of weak point in the writing is in in the way the endings are structured. Of the three, two are pretty much structurally identical, and you can tell this is probably the case after completing the first. All of the endings are poignant and well-written, but the impetus was less strong to “get” all the endings because of such a strong mirror between the two.
Pillars on Poppy Hills is, ultimately, a story of longing, and is a short ride over gentle crests of emotion. It’s sweet and sad and digs into some of the deeper, darker places of the human (or not technically human) heart to pull them together into something unique and engaging
Download Pillars on Poppy Hills now for free on itch.io.