Transistor is one of my favorite games of all time. Upon completing my first playthrough I was enraptured by the atmosphere, visuals, soundtrack, characters… and that I understood next to nothing of what happened over the preceding six hours.
Transistor is clearly not meant to be easily understood. Its story is presented in a manner that’s somewhere between “avant garde” and “infuriatingly vague.” The game shows a world dramatically different from our own based on unexplained rules that defy all physical and metaphysical rules. This world is populated by quite strange individuals who not only never react with as much shock as one would expect from, say, having one’s soul become trapped in a giant sword, but also never bother to just sit down explain whatever insane event happened two minutes ago, like, say being attacked by a sentient, semi-organic building.
Yet I love Transistor dearly. I not only love it for the aforementioned atmosphere, visuals, soundtrack, characters, and bewildering narrative, I love it for the vision. It blows my mind that a group of people actually conceived this idea, sketched out every component of its otherworldly presentation and utterly unique combat, raised money from investors, and then made a full-fledged video game product out of it. There simply is nothing like Transistor1. It looks like nothing else, sounds like nothing else, feels like nothing else, and therefore stands out as the type of singularly-envisioned creation that the characters of Cloudbank would be proud of.
One of the things I love most about Transistor is that it is maybe the densest game I have ever played. For one thing, I managed to write 29,580 words about a game that takes about six hours to play through. So an experienced Transistor player should be able to play through the game again in less time then it takes to read my analysis of its world, plot, and themes. But that’s just the nature of the game. You could freeze any single frame in the entire game and spend an hour talking about the implications of every detail, from the architectural designs to the characters’ clothing. I’m not sure there is a narratively-based game out there which packs so much content into such little space.
I didn’t set out to make this work so long, but the piece just kept extending itself. Every time I tried to write about one tiny aspect of the game, I had to go back and write about five more things to put the original item in context or fit it into the larger narrative and world-building structures. Honestly, just trying to figure out what, how, and when to explain every mechanic of Cloudbank and how it fit into the general plot was enormously challenging and rewarding. So if at any point during the analysis you find yourself not understanding a particular explanation, I suggest making a note and coming back to it later after you’ve read more; the added info might make the pieces fall in to place.
Furthermore, I am completely open to suggestions on where I have made mistakes or overlooked important details. Feel free to send me a message about anything worth changing or adding in this analysis.
This analysis is broken into four parts:
Part 1: Blank Canvas – A description the nature of Transistor’s universe and the backgrounds of its key characters.
Part 2: In Circles – A quick timeline of events during Transistor’s gameplay.
Part 3: Impossible – A completely walkthrough of the game’s entire narrative.
Part 4: Old Friends – An evaluation of Transistor’s themes and what is ultimately the point of the whole game.
1. Except maybe SuperGiant’s other games – Bastion and Pyre.↩