As you have all probably figured out by now if you read these reviews on a regular basis (and I can't imagine you'd be starting with this one because, seriously, it's Fragile Dreams. I couldn't be more obscure if I tried), I love games with a good story. A game, after all, is an interactive medium and being able to live out a good story through a controllable avatar is an idea of solid gold. A while back, I watched a video review of Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon on Youtube that said the game handled themes like loneliness rather well. It definitely seemed much different from games that I was used to so, recently, I thought "why not?", went on eBay and got myself a copy. I was right that it was definitely unique but, as you should all probably know by now, being unique does not necessarily mean you're good... Okay, I've definitely used this intro before but shut up; this was difficult to start.
The game starts with the older voice of our hero Seto narrating how he buried his grandfather only recently and now he's truly alone. You see, an apocalypse of some sort happened that killed every single person in the world and the box art says that Seto may be the last human alive which is hogwash because the box art... well, the PAL box art (By the way, I'd like to say that the US box art looks better than the PAL art for a change) clearly depicts a ridiculously underdressed silver-haired girl holding hands with Seto and, if you have even the slightest bit of genre savvy in your bones, you will know she will turn out to be a friend. Anyway, Seto was born after the apocalypse (don't worry, this makes sense with the late-game reveal) and never knew anyone other than his grandfather. I have to say, the narrator has a very fitting voice for this kind of story, being very low and depressed. The environments also pull their weight; they're very detailed with items scattered everywhere and everything being worn down due to no one being around to tend to them.
A lot of effort has gone into these environments.
Starting the game, you get a flashlight and go through a battle tutorial with a freaky mask monster. After that, you pick up a letter from your grandfather, saying he's sorry for not spending much time with you and telling you to go to Tokyo Tower. Immediately after leaving the building, you encounter the silver-haired girl who Seto accidentally touches and who therefore remembers him as "the boy who touched me" before leaving, causing Seto to abandon the Tokyo Tower in favour of going after the girl. This is the part where things begin to take a turn for the worst. You see, I was expecting this game to be appropriately oppressive and dark and really show Seto being truly alone as per the loneliness theme. What I was not expecting was for Seto to find a robot backpack called a "Personal Frame", shortened to "PF", built especially to help their user. Mind you, this could've worked if PF was manufactured in the Uncanny Valley or was established as untrustworthy. However, not only does PF has a ridiculously human voice and a ridiculously human personality, she is completely trustworthy. Hey, uh, Fragile Dreams? Don't you have some sort of loneliness theme to stick to?
I have to say, I don't know exactly what kind of story tri-Crescendo are trying to tell here. While the environments, gameplay and music definitely feel like Silent Hill, the story comes across as a straightforward and less narmy Kingdom Hearts. Seto says he's looking for the girl because he doesn't want to be alone anymore, a reason which begins to feel rather dishonest as, by the time he says this himself, he has come across two other... let's please just go with "people", all of which are highly reliable and don't bear any ill will towards Seto, and he's speaking to a third person of such criteria right then. However, one of them is PF, another is a boy and the last one is a ghost, which makes me think that his motivations for pursuing the girl are less about loneliness and more about hormones. Jokes aside, it feels like the development team was split into two individual teams that made their own work on the game with no method of communicating with the other team only to later come back together and find out that their visions differed greatly. Actually, scratch that; there was a third team composed of one person who thought they were funny. Get this: at one point, PF explains that fireflies hover around items you can pick up. Seto asks why. Do you see what happened? The game hung a lampshade. Oi, Fragile Dreams! Stop thinking you're funny and flex those drama muscles! Yes, it is the only instance of its kind but it's so jarring that I will remember it forever!
No! Naughty game! You do not lampshade here!
Fittingly, though, characters do die. However, they're never killed; they just kind of pass away. Typically, the scenario is like this:
Character: I'm dying.
Seto: What? No!
*sad music plays*
Character: Generally saying for two minutes that I'm happy to have known you. Remember me. *passes away*
Seto: *looks a bit sad before moving on*
Do I have a problem with this? Yes I do. What is that problem? These death scenes don't need to be there. They serve absolutely no purpose to the story they have absolutely no consequence on the plot. One death scene happens when you enter a room late in the game. You walk into the room and there is a dying person. The dying talks about how they have no friends, Seto hugs them and says they're his friend, then he dies and then Seto leaves the room. He doesn't talk about it and the death is never brought up again. These deaths are pointless and hollow and are there just to wring emotion out of you. Sorry tri-Cresendo but you'll have to do better than that.
By God, do they try that. Scattered around the game world are "mystery items" that typically take up huge amounts of space and can only be opened at save points. These mystery items can be special items that are immediately converted into money, undiscovered weapons or miscellaneous items that hold the memories of those that died, which are narrated to you upon being read. Sometimes these items are part of a set or just on their own but they all tell the story of their previous owners. Note, however, that these stories have nothing to do with the plot and you can skip them, which I frequently did because they always struck me as melodramatic and I was getting a bit tired of all the existential whining come item number 6, without ever feeling lost. Actually, no you can't because you'll be lost anyway, provided you pay close attention to the story. You see, there's quite a lot that doesn't get explained throughout, like what the hell that mask monster's deal is, and it even got to the point where the developer was interviewed just to fill some of the gaps (no, I am not kidding).There are enough plot holes to fill in with a sequel but the problem lies in the fact that the game is most likely not getting one.
Apparently, everyone in the world of Fragile Dreams is amazingly poetic.
Okay, those are the efforts of the first team. As for the second team, they worked on the gameplay which can be most appropriately called "Silent Hill for kids" so, if you're maybe thinking of getting your children into the survival horror genre, this would be an adequate segue. Then again, I am easily scared so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, the gameplay is about scouring the very detailed environments for various interpretations of keys to open various interpretations of doors. At least, that's for the first half of the game. The second half just consists of going from Point A to Point B. This might seem rather weird but get this: the final fetch quest of the game, taking place roughly six hours in, has a girl make you fetch an item from another area and then bring it back to her. This wouldn't be so bad if you hadn't already been to the areas before and it would be even less bad if she didn't make you do this three times in a row. I know there's a reason for it in the story but it's still a very big chore. Still, while I was very thankful that that quest was the only one of its kind in the game, having no more fetch quests or even any other "puzzles" for the rest of the game feels like giving up a bit too easily.
As for the environments, they have definitely been made with a lot of attention. The first three environments, not including the starting observatory, are an underground mall, a theme park and a hotel. What I like best is that the environments actually look like they were a part of a society rather than a generic dungeon skin like most JRPGs do. The mall, for instance, has litter, abandoned stores and even posters you can read by zooming in on them. Unfortunately, the environments after the halfway milestone drop this almost entirely and are about progressing down the correct narrow, empty corridors until you get to Point B which, judging by how long it takes to walk there, must be in an entirely new solar system. This is rather disappointing because I did actually enjoy exploring every nook and cranny of the environments, looking for mystery items and checking out what movies were going to be broadcasting after the apocalypse had passed.
This part of the game is actually called "The Endless Corridor". No, I am not kidding.
Of course, there is combat, although to call it "combat" may be stretching it a bit. You have precisely one combat-related button and it lets you attack. You have four different weapons; the blue ranged weapons that strike your opponent from afar but deny you of your flashlight which is necessary to see most enemies, orange heavy weapons that are slow but powerful, red lance weapons which have a long reach but aren't good for attacking very close enemies and the green sword weapons which let you perform combos of up to three attacks, each of which having a certain amount of power depending on the timing of your button presses. There isn't a lot of strategic value in the weapons; I only ever used the green weapons because they didn't break apart like they were made from chocolate and I never needed to use anything else. Also, you don't have a dodge button but the enemies telegraph their attacks in obvious ways and you can dodge them easily anyway, not to mention I'd hardly expect Seto of all people to be that agile so I'll let that slide. Still doesn't change the fact that the combat is really boring.
Combat basically comes down to waiting for the enemy to get into striking range or a vulnerable state, attacking them, them hopping out of range or into an invulnerable state, waiting for them to get back into a state where you can hit them and doing it again until they fall over dead. This is the case for every single enemy, including bosses, and it gets really annoying really fast. Fortunately, virtually every enemy in the game can be bypassed or run away from (except for bosses because, well, bosses) because it's possible for your weapons to break here. Before I expand on that, I'd like to mention that, if my team split hypothesis is true, then both teams handled monster designs. Had they kept tabs on each other, I'd doubt they'd be so schizophrenic. You have ghost jellyfish with faces on their tops, floating ghost ladies that have some sort of giant eye on their backs, pairs of legs with ghost flames blazing from their waists and even weird spider things that shoot really cheap and hard-to-dodge homing fireworks from their hands but then you have dogs, crows, doves and automated security robots equipped with tasers. Do we have a running theme here or not?
Hey guys, can you tell me where the hell the Great Danes came from?
Anyway, yes, weapons break but only if you use them extensively. Don't worry about weapons that break after five or six hits and don't worry about changing weapons in the middle of battle because weapons only break after the battle. What you should worry about is keeping backup weapons on hand because, surprisingly, weapons are extremely rare and your only constant supply comes from a mysterious merchant who pushes a pram, wears an oversized chicken head with a missing eye and comes across you whenever you're at a save point. Speaking of save points, saving in this game takes the form of Seto sleeping at a bonfire. This makes sense given the environments and how it's often night but, unlike weapons, bonfires are extremely abundant to the point of sometimes being only one room apart from each other and it gives the impression that Seto needs to sleep every fifteen minutes. Also, he'll most likely say something when you use the bonfire but the developers apparently didn't get that people don't say "Uh... am I starting to talk to myself" every second time they use a bonfire.
As one would expect from a survival not-horror, the inventory system has more complexity behind it than your average game where you walk over something and it's added to your list of items. Rather, this game uses a grid system where items take up a certain number of squares. Healing items vary but green weapons are always two blocks long, reds are three, oranges are in an L shape and blues are in a T shape. If I have a problem with this system, it's that the item sizes make no sense. A bottle of water is longer than a bamboo sword by a half and a slingshot takes up the same space as a crossbow. Also, you have a very limited number of spaces. Even with the two story-acquired expansions, it never feels like you have enough space, especially since you're going to come across a lot of mystery items in your adventure that will prove to be useful. You know what? I don't mind this, and neither do I mind the breaking weapons. Resource management is something I like in a game. Not only is it a good deterrent from combat (because you shouldn't be looking forward to fighting in a game about survival and picking your way through post-apocalyptic locales), it actually challenges my ability to prepare for future events.
A bottle of water is apparently as long as a broom.
The soundtrack's nice and it's good to know that the developers had the sense to know to not play music when you're just walking around. When the music does play, it's almost always a quiet, melancholy tune that fits the game perfectly. However, the developers made the mistake of having combat music that plays when hostile monsters are around and ready to get thoroughly whooped by you and not playing when all the monsters are either dead or eating your dust because you ran away because you couldn't afford to break your weapon. Also, before you actually see the monsters, if you shine your flashlight in their direction, you will hear their noises from the Wiimote speaker. I still have no idea whether the game is trying to scare me, enthral me or teach me something but, just in case it's the first option, I would like to bring up that the best kind of horror is the kind that the player doesn't know about. As the saying goes, "nothing is scarier". If you don't have that music playing and you don't know where the monsters are, the paranoia builds up, you see.
Then again, this game is for kids. As one full-power combo with a green weapon is all it takes to kill most enemies, combat's a bit easy but that's not the kind of thing I'd expect a seven year-old to pull off easily. Also, while I doubt this game could scare any fans of horror any more so than Pokémon, this probably would be unnerving to say the least for a kid. The optimistic half of the game's tone also makes sense because I doubt a child would be sleeping very well after a story in which every single person in the world is trying to kill them or their best friends. So, if you're looking for a game that will finally shut your kid up and stop them from asking the same inane questions over and over for at least a decade, this would make a good Christmas present. Still, I have to say that I admire a game that's clearly designed primarily for children but was also designed so that it can be enjoyed by all age groups. Nothing bugs me more than watching what passes for children's entertainment these days, complaining about how stupid it is and then being told "It's for kids, not you." That's true but I still enjoy Spongebob Squarepants and the old Thomas the Tank Engine episodes narrated by Ringo Starr.
The gameplay says "eerie" but the story says... Actually, I have no idea.
Unfortunately, if you're not getting this for a kid, there isn't much reason to get this game. The gameplay is a chore, the tone is inconsistent, it's riddled with plot holes and, while it does have the potential to be brilliant, it doesn't really deliver. The final boss and the cause for the apocalypse actually have a lot of interesting ideas behind them that could leave people contemplating for months but the game never really explores them. This is a game that I'm happy to have played but not a game I was happy to play. It's definitely a unique game but it's not worth getting for that. Picking bananas with your feet while standing on your hands is unique but it's still a chore, not to mention you have to be careful not to handstand on stray shards of glass.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
I wonder if I'll get comments this time?