One of the surprising highlights of my recent visit to EGX Rezzed this year was the new release from Square Enix Collective. As a big fan of point and click adventures, I am always on the look out for a new modern twist on the genre but was not expecting to find this little gem as I turned into the Indie Zone at Rezzed. I was instantly grabbed by the visuals but then charmed by the world and immediately put this top of my watched list.
Ever wondered what happened to that one sock you just cannot find or the old TV and furniture you threw away? Well they most likely ended up in the Forgotten Lands where the things human beings forget come to life with their own distinct personality becoming ‘Forgotlings’ and live and work yet remember their human owners and purpose before coming to this world. The game opens with an attack by rebel forgotlings who cause an explosion which cuts the power to various parts of the city including the Tower, home to our main character Anne. Anne is human, and instantly senses that something is wrong and sets to work to restore power in order to contact her Master and fellow human, Bonku.
Straight away I was hit by the anime art style similar to what you would see in a Studio Ghibli animation but was then taken back by the fluid transition from cut scene to gameplay which never takes you out of the game or story. Visually this is a beautifully animated game that just transports the player into its world so effortlessly but not to be bogged down by additional loading screens really helps to keep the player in the world throughout. The art style is then perfectly complimented by an equally stunning musical score that helps set the tone by being as emotive as the animation of each character and location.
The first surprise in gameplay comes in the form of ‘Player Choice’, an element many will be familiar of as fans of Telltale games. The player will have an opportunity to shape how Anne reacts to other characters via their dialogue exchanges, much in the same way MASS Effect using the Paragon and Renegade system in dialogue to shape the personality of Shepard. Here it is used in the same way but has a far deeper way as how you respond to other characters will shape how Anne is perceived by others in the world. Anne is known as The Enforcer, responsible for making sure Forgotlings follow the rules set out by Master Bonku, the leader of this world and designer and builder of the Ether Bridge, a device that once completed will create a way for everyone to return back to the real world. Forgotlings are given jobs to either help build the Ether Bridge or to sustain the world. Dialogue choices basically boil down to replying ‘Nice’ or ‘ Not very nice’ and depending on which you choose and how often you use that kind of response will determine how the world will see Anne which will also determine the outcome of certain encounters later in the game.
Puzzle solving plays a big part of the gameplay and for this we are introduced to the Arca. The Arca is seemingly a weapon that both Anne and Master Bonku posess, it is a glove with a gem stone that is capable of taking the energy from an object and to transfer it to another such as taking the power from a fuel cell or power unit and move it to another. Many of the puzzles are designed around this mechanic to find power and transfer it to a mechanism that needs it in order to open doors or operate lift platforms for example. It does also have a more sinister use in that Anne has the ability to ‘Distil’ Forgotlings by removing their energy and essentially killing them. This aspect makes Anne a feared person in the Forgotten lands with a reputation of killing any Forgotling that breaks the law or goes against the work to construct the Ether Bridge. This aspect is something that players will need to bear in mind when choosing how to deal with situations as the impact Anne’s reputation will have is something player choice can change as the player progresses through the story.
Platforming also plays a big part in how Anne navigates around the world as she can climb up or down as well as needed to jump across platforms. To help, Anne has a device or Wings that can help her jump higher and further whilst aiding in a fall by softening the landing. Her wings are powered by the Arca so must be fully charged in order to use them adding another element to the puzzle solving as in some locations, transferring power to open doors and activate switches will prevent the use of her wings. This mechanic as well as using the Arca for both good and evil is a subtle but powerful way of putting both puzzle aspects but also consequences in how Anne interacts with Forgotlings and the world.
As impressive as Forgotten Anne is both in story telling via gameplay and the visuals, there are moments when its strongest elements also become its biggest weakness. The platforming for example in the beginning of the game is sensible and straight forward but in the later stages it can stop the flow of the game and story as sections requiring precise jumping can be frustrating with the feeling that these sections were just put in to slow progress down. Another is that some of the puzzles allow the possibility to fail leaving the player stuck in that moment unless you exit to the main menu and reload the game to try again, the game will not acknowledge that the puzzle is now unsolvable or offer a chance to restart. If it just had a little more self awareness it could keep the player connected instead of forcing them to admit the screw up and then exit the game just to try again.
But overall Forgotten Anne is a wonderful game with a emotional story that firmly puts the player’s choice and responsibility at the centre of driving the narrative. My first playthrough came in at just under seven hours but the ability to revisit certain encounters to see how different choices would have effected the outcome, an option once the main story has been completed, serves to show how even a simple conversation choice can change an event in the game. The voice acting of the key characters really helps to lift them of the screen and there are times when the blend of story telling via cut scenes and then gameplay makes this game something rather special indeed.
Blending the worlds of anime and action adventure games, Forgotten Anne is a beautiful but thought provoking game and certainly worth a look at and niggles aside, Forgotten Anne is a game experience you will not be forgetting in a hurry, and at the very least, I made sure all my socks were paired correctly!