Chicory can’t finish her work. She’s an artist, and an important one at that. She’s the wielder of the brush, a magical artifact that brings color into the black-and-white world of Picnic. But she doubts herself, her ability to paint creatively, and her worth as the brush wielder. Chicory starts to paint but erases her first strokes. She starts over again and again, never progressing as color naturally fades across the land and a looming darkness approaches. When she can’t stop what’s coming, the rabbit finally gives up. She abandons the brush and locks herself inside her room.
This is where Chicory: A Colorful Tale begins. The player character, a dog that I named Oreo, is the first to find the magical brush after all the color in Picnic suddenly vanishes. Oreo is just Chicory’s janitor, but they aspire to one day be the wielder of the brush. Though they haven’t exactly been training. Chicory is a distant friend at best, and other aspirational wielders are (as we find later) studying art … at an art academy. But Oreo is nothing if not optimistic. They pick up the brush and set forth to find their hero and help bring color back into the world.
REVIEW: A coloring book come to life, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a must-play
Over the game’s first four chapters, Oreo begins to learn some of what was weighing on Chicory. The brush wielder has many responsibilities to individuals in different towns (each named after various meals). Oreo is asked to design a new shirt for the café, and to color in the sky of a childhood memory. Wielding the brush also comes with a larger responsibility to a community. Color is important; it contains memories and wonder. The wielder is the only person who can maintain the world as everyone knows it.
Oreo also meets previous wielders, like Chicory’s mentor Blackberry, a standoffish and abrasive deer. She guides Oreo early on but does not help them directly. Later, we find Blackberry’s mentor Cardamom, a friendly lion who tells Oreo, “When you become a wielder, you aren’t drawing for yourself anymore.” None of the three previous wielders still paint; they’ve burnt out. The pain each of them felt at the end of their time seems to be contained within the brush.
Image: Greg Lobanov, Alexis Dean-Jones, Madeline Berger, Em Halberstadt, Lena Raine/Finji
After adventuring around Picnic and trying unsuccessfully to fight back the darkness taking root, Oreo returns to the wielder’s tower in the game’s brief middle chapter. But something is off. Twisted trees encroach on the building, and when Oreo enters Chicory’s bedroom, they find it completely inverted. As in previous fights against the creations of the dark, white has become black, color replaced with a glowing palette that quickly fades from the dark surface.
Oreo moves deeper, screen by screen, until they find Chicory hunched over and in visible pain. She looks tired.
Then Chicory experiences what is explicitly described by the game’s content warnings as a panic attack, verbalizing her most self-destructive thoughts as she spirals ever further inward. A toxic color seeps from her body, the darkness materializing as paint that starts to grab her, pulling her in. In pain, she cries out, “Please FORGET about me!!! I’ll just make everything worse …”
The color transforms her body, taking the shape of a monstrous rabbit that cries out in pain before moving to attack. As in previous boss fights, Oreo must dodge the oncoming attack, but when Chicory’s body emerges from the paint, Oreo doesn’t strike at the opening. Instead, Oreo pleads with her to listen, trying to pull her thoughts out of a self-destructive spiral.
In this sequence, there are no offensive mechanics. Rather, your player character — and Chicory too — has to survive until the “fight” is over. This exclusion, a limit on player and character agency, represents a startlingly familiar experience of coping with a panic attack. Sometimes, you just have to hold on and do what you can to make it out the other end, and a friend can help keep you afloat.
The encounter ends with a deep exhale, and the two reemerge outside the tower. Chicory finally tells Oreo she needs them to wield the brush and makes a promise to mentor them as a proper successor. We’ll learn later that the rabbit’s own doubt began to take hold after her mentor failed her, overcome by fear that Chicory could not handle the station. Oreo knows Blackberry was probably scared of putting such a great obligation onto the young girl and sharing the pain carried by the brush, but neither could express that through the hurt. Chicory fled and tried to fake it on her own, just as Oreo had done, and Blackberry turned to isolation in her own attempt to heal.
In all its boss fights, Chicory insists that mental illness and creativity affect the world around us, and it shows how this drives characters apart. Chicory also shows these same characters rebuilding their relationships back stronger, together. In Chapter 5, Chicory begins to uncover the source of her pain and sets out to help the new wielder. They’ll help her, too. At the end of Chicory, color is freed, unburdened by cycles of past traumas and democratized across Picnic. In a world where anyone can wield their own brush, Chicory and Oreo can finally paint a new future together.
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