I can't talk about this game without mentioning the drastic shift the game takes in the last chapter…so for that reason, there will be some spoilers in this article. However, I will keep them confined to one section only and have it marked. There is also a screenshot in that section.
Just be warned if you want this to remain a surprise!
The Story and Gameplay
In Hoa, you are a fairy-type creature named (fittingly) Hoa. The player really doesn't have much to go on as you begin Hoa's journey, and that is a large part of the fun of the game. You are piecing together the story as you go.
It opens as you arrive on a boat and immediately are greeted by a friendly beetle who knows you. You obviously lived here once before, long ago. In fact, this is your homeland that you left as a child.
As you journey through the story of Hoa, you are playing through fairly simple side-scrolling puzzles and interacting with animals of the world. You don't really have any enemies other than a couple of robots. There isn't any way to die for the majority of the game, so it is simply a relaxing journey. The story slowly unfolds before you much like a book. You are greeted by creatures who know you and loved you. They reveal they are the ones who rescued you.
But rescued from what? That is the mystery the player comes to discover.
Hoa is gorgeous. Seriously. All of the artwork is hand-drawn, and for most of the game is just so incredibly peaceful. You get caught up in it and feel almost meditative from its beauty. At least, until the last chapter (more on that in the next section).
The art feels very Studio Ghibli-esque in much of its style and plays like a storybook. In fact, for much of my playthrough, I was thinking I would have to get this game for my niece. It all flows so beautifully with such a charming setting and atmosphere.
And the MUSIC. Wow.
The soundtrack for this game is absolutely mesmerizing. Just listen to some of this music! It is a soundtrack that I am getting immediately.
SPOILER AREA: The Last Chapter gets WEIRD
Now, this is where my entire opinion of the game changed.
Up until the final chapter, Hoa was a beautiful journey through a peaceful land. Then you go through an area where suddenly there is darkness and danger all around you. The land of the robots. There is a striking contrast between the stunning beauty of the forest and nature areas and this new area you find yourself. The machines are noisy, the feeling is chaotic. Then, you are forced to run for your life from lasers. This scene actually plays out as a cutscene, like some horror film was inserted into a children's cartoon.
Then things get really weird. You are transported to a psychedelic world of black and white with controls that play tricks on your mind. Seriously, do NOT play this area if you have a headache. The very ground is twisting and turning so that pretty soon you are walking on the ceiling. If you jump to the right, you go to the left. It is suddenly not only more difficult but also an astonishing contrast to the meditative nature of the rest of the game.
Gone is the beauty, gone are your friends. Gone is your sanity and peace.
I mentioned earlier how I had considered getting this game for my niece. She is still young and I thought that the beauty and peaceful nature of this game would be perfect for her. The last chapter quickly put an end to those thoughts, however.
It did make me shift gears to instead recommending it to my philosophy major husband. This game is an absolute work of art. I very much enjoyed playing it and highly recommend it…to a certain audience. I feel that there is a deeper story to this than even I was able to get out of it, especially as most of the game I was just peacefully playing along without thinking too hard.
Is this a game for children? No, at least not for most of the children in my life.
Is this game one that I would recommend? Yes. Absolutely. It is beautiful and highly thought-provoking. Definitely, it is one to experience. Just would have been nice to be forewarned.