by Caitlin Roberts
reviewed on PC
Grateful for depth
You like puzzles? Anime? Do you have a strong appreciation of cinematic games, or you’re looking for a game with more substance than your average point-and-shoot? Or do you want something with gamebook-style choice-and-consequence built in? It sounds like a lot to ask for, but if any of the above sounds like you, I have just the game. If ALL of the above sounds like you, then congratulations! You have just hit the jackpot. Forgotton Anne has all of this in spades, and a healthy dose of humour to boot. And when I mention such items as spades or boots, you need to take me very literally. This whimsical, unexpectedly thoughtful game, illustrated beautifully in anime style has drawn me into a world I never thought to encounter. Throughline Games have created something that is not your average brainless escapism game, and I’m grateful for it.
Setting the Scene(ry)
The opening cinematic sequence sets a discordant backdrop for the game, with exquisitely drawn anime illustrating the disposable culture most of us live in today. Discarded coffee cups in the trash, a youth asleep in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street, with the indifferent masses passing by without a thought for his plight. A lifeless sock, forgotten under a bed, poofs out of existence in the human world, coming to life as it plummets into a lake. It’s picked up, plonked on a train, and taken along with the other newly-arrived Forgotlings to the intake point where the top half of a mannequin named Posy makes a decision on the best placement for them. We get a flash of what amounts to a factory town - a bleak, dark, sodden image reminiscent of the depressing images associate with the industrial revolution era.
This is the Forgotten Lands, where Master Bonku rules, and you, as his assistant Anne, are his right hand - the “Enforcer”. You are the only two humans in the realm; everyone else you meet is a formerly inanimate, discarded or lost or forgotten in the human world, and mysteriously brought to life by the power of Anima. Master Bonku is trying to build the “Ether Bridge” that will take him, you and the forgotlings that have been granted a ticket to return, back to the human world - known as the “Ether”.
Most objects are devoted to the cause and anxious to help, vying for the privilege of a ticket home. But inexplicably, some of the objects are staging a rebellion and disrupt the power to large portions of the realm including the workshop; attacking both the watchtower and central station as well. When you awake in darkness, your task become clear - restore power so you can contact Master Bonku, and then assist him to restore order in the Forgotten Lands. Along the way you’ll meet a variety of characters including boots, light bulbs, gramophones and blankets; some of whom will help, and some of whom will try to hinder you. As Enforcer, you have a device called an Arca strapped to your hand which has the power to distill - drain - the life force from these objects. Your first encounter with one - a scarf with glasses named Dilly - actually gives you the choice to distill him or not when he breaks into your house and it becomes clear he is one of the rebels. And this leads to the heart of the game. All is not as it seems, right and wrong are not black and white, the world around you and the world you are trying to reach are not what you thought they were - and your choices will dictate who will survive, and who will cease to exist.
The blend of genres in Forgotton Anne is something I have not encountered in a single game before. When I was first asked to review the game, it was promoted as a puzzler. I learned quickly that it was much more. The controls and movement through the game is platform-style. This was the hardest element for me to adapt to. I’m not a natural platformer (read “I get spastic when trying to use platform controls”). But they are set up well enough that eventually I found that I was manoeuvring instinctively rather than fighting the controls, even on some of the more complex moves required.
The puzzles have been incorporated masterfully and I cannot think of a game I have played that did it better. Problem-solving is intrinsic to every section - every scene - that you play through. While there are the obvious set “puzzles” that clearly lead to a specific cause-and-effect, or unlock the next chapter of the game, nearly every action requires a thought process on what to do or how to move to ensure success. There are several moments where you’ve been so focused on getting through a section that it isn’t until you have completed it that you realize the entire section was one large puzzle with several interconnected mini-puzzles sprinkled throughout.
The final key to the gameplay is the “gamebook” style of storyline. Right from the beginning, when Dilly the rebel scarf breaks into your house, you have to make a choice to try to scare him into submission, or distill him. It is quite disconcerting when the game points out that had you made a different choice, there would have been a different outcome. But it does create a sobering anchor for a game that might otherwise be dismissed as frivolous before the player has even truly engaged. It provides an opportunity to be more aware of your actions and the consequences.
I won’t call it graphics - I’m not much for judging graphic design from a technical point of view. I rely more on the basics - the general aesthetics, and whether or not I think they are appropriate to the game (ie. help or hinder?). I’ll admit that anime is not an art form that I have given much thought to. I likened it mainly to Sailor Moon-style cartoons and manga comics. But Forgotton Anne uses a hand-drawn anime style which has given me a new appreciation for the art. It is truly enjoyable and provides just the right sense of the “fantastical” to allow the player to interact naturally with the characters (animate objects!)
The game transitions smoothly and regularly between cut-scenes and player-controlled play. Normally that just makes me impatient. But the storyline has been intricately woven through the cinematics in a way that I could sit back and appreciate, much to my surprise.
A social commentary
Not a section you would normally expect to see in a game review but it would be remiss of me to leave it out. This is a reflective thinker’s game. There are layers upon layers of social commentary in Forgotton Anne and each time I consider it I realise some new element that I had previously missed. From the wasteful and thoughtless consumer behaviour that bleeds into every part of our society today, to the consequences of trying to control the outcome of something regardless of the price others might pay, Forgotton Anne is full of both obvious and subtle reminders to be more… mindful… of our choices, and the shades that make right and wrong more nuanced than we might like.
Love it or leave it
I’ll say it. This game won’t appeal to everyone. There are those that will look at only the surface and dismiss it. The blending of types of gameplay can be difficult to come to terms with, if you’re looking for a single focussed style. It did take me some time to really appreciate it and part of that was the controls required for the platformer format in which the game has been designed.
Yet in the end I really enjoyed the variety and could appreciate the complexity of such a “well-rounded” game. Trying to figure out how to get from A to B, or how to unlock a section, chatting up a trigger-happy gun, or battling an alarm clock gone mad… deciding which hard choice is the better choice... I’ve yet to determine what the “different outcome” is for many of the choices that I made but I can tell you this - I will be going back to play again, to find out.
Wonderful aesthetics, great blend of genres
Unless you use a joypad, the controls can be hard to get used to.