Return to Return of the Obra Dinn

I’m happy to report that my second playthrough of Return of the Obra Dinn confirmed three things for me:

1) The entire game is solvable through observation, logic, and deduction. There is no point where identifying a crewman or their fate requires any sort of guesswork.

2) The game is even better when played like that than it already was, which is to say, “very plenty good”.

3) If you’ve already solved some percentage of the game through guesswork, like I had, playing the remainder of the game “fairly” doesn’t make you feel like you missed anything. In essence, you’re going back and playing what you skipped the first time.

This is good news! It doesn’t fix the critical flaw of the game — that it naturally guides you towards making guesses and then confirms those guesses magically — but given how difficult it would be to solve the problems this flaw creates, and given so few adventure games actually take measures to dissuade brute forcing, maybe that’s okay. The main point is, I was afraid the ease at which guesswork solves the game meant guesswork was the game. And that’s not the case.

Whether you’ve solved Obra Dinn already or are going into it your first time, you might want to apply what I’ve learned to your playthrough.

The Mechanism

I said in my critique that Obra Dinn has some mechanism by which it knows which crewman you have enough information to identify, and which you don’t. Here’s how the game does it:

The sketch you start the game with blurs out all the crewman’s faces. This is the game’s shorthand for “you don’t have enough to go on yet”, and will tell you that explicitly if you try to name someone. (It doesn’t actually stop you from naming someone, though.) Once you have enough info to pin someone, their face in the sketch comes into focus.

How this works is, many crewmen have x clues you need to find to deduce their identity. These clues are peppered throughout the various memories you unlock as you play. If a crewman’s clues are in, say, memory #3, memory #12, and memory #26, that crewman’s face un-blurs once you’ve unlocked memories 3, 12, and 26.

Other crewman don’t have clues as such; you have to infer who they are through process of elimination. (The game tells you this.) These faces become un-blurred once you’ve identified those men who, once pinned, should leave only space for the one you’re looking for.


This does mean, if you’re blitzing the game unlocking each new memory as soon as you can, the game mops up its clues as you progress. Say you’ve found memory #5, but not memory #6. A crewman whose clues lay in memory #5 will come into focus once you see that memory; this is your indication that memory #5 is important to that crewman. If you don’t check your sketch for new faces between memories, though, you can lose that piece of information. Once un-blurred, the face remains un-blurred for the whole game, and you can never again pinpoint exactly when someone “opened up”.

This isn’t a terribly huge problem. The search space for all crewman across all memories is large, but isn’t so vast you can get lost. The game offers lots of good tools for narrowing your focus to just the things you want to look at.

One way to make this a little more elegant may have been, upon penciling in a new memory for the first time, making a little dramatic show of each crewman whose face becomes un-blurred. Draw direct attention to when each man becomes solvable, to guide the player towards factoring these key moments into their gameplay loop, rather than just running from memory to memory.

This would be a minor change and some players might still prefer to just blitz the memories. They’re the most exciting part of the game, after all. The game still works fine as it is and it’s not possible to land in an unsolvable state.


Here’s how you apply this knowledge to your (next) playthrough. Play the game with these self-imposed rules in place:

1) Don’t place any information you’re not certain is correct, and that you can back with evidence or logical induction.

2) Make careful note of which crewmen become un-blurred during each new memory you find.

3) If you find someone new, resist moving on to the next memory until you’ve placed those men you should already know.

4) At the completion of each chapter, scrub the sketch to see if any background faces became focused that you missed, and apply 1-3 above.

Or, you know, just play the game however you want and find enjoyment wherever you can in this crazy, mixed-up world. Thanks for reading!

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