One of the best story-based games of 2018 comes to Nintendo Switch, and brings with it one of the strangest fantasy worlds ever conceived.
Despite what you might imagine from the screenshots, Forgotton Anne deals with a dystopian society ruled by uncaring elites and opposed by an anarchist collective rebelling against enforced servitude. The game is filled moral quandaries and ambiguities, and shows that while great power should ideally come with great responsibility its more often accompanied by detached apathy. Oh, and the main characters in the game include a talking lightbulb and a sentient blanket.
Forgotton Anne (thats not a typo but how the title is spelt) is a very strange game. Wed say weve no idea how Danish developer ThroughLine Games came up with the idea but it seems fairly obvious that it was inspired by the scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit where Judge Doom kills the cartoon shoe; with the developer placing you in the role of Doom, as youre given the power of life and death over the animated world around you.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Forgotton Anne is that it plays all this completely straight. There are a few in-context jokes here and there, but as absurd as the games setting seems the issues it deals with are taken deadly seriously. The game takes a surprisingly nuanced look at both the class struggle and the question of moral absolutism, with characters that are painted only in shades of grey. Even when they are a cartoon mop.
You play the game as Anne, one of only two humans in a mysterious fantasy world where everyday objects – referred to as Forgotlings – find themselves transported if they became lost by their owners. As soon as they arrive they become fully sentient and able to move, whether theyre a single sock or a chaise longue.
The problem for them is that the human in charge of the world is running a police state and the majority are forced to work at a secretive factory plant in order to generate energy called anima and help construct a bridge back to the real world – which trusted Forgotlings are vaguely promised they will be allowed to use when its finished.
Anne may look like a generic anime heroine but she starts the game off as a sort of amoral Gestapo officer, who most Forgotlings know only as The Enforcer. The device on her wrist is able to distil a Forgotling and turn it into raw anima, something she seems happy to do with very little provocation. Or at least she does unless you stop her.
Forgotton Anne is a difficult game to pigeonhole but its somewhere between a Life Is Strange style graphic adventure and a 2D platformer. Some of the moral decisions are made by choosing between binary dialogue choices and others by what you do, or dont do, to an offending Forgotling. But their outcome and importance are rarely obvious until the decision has already been taken.
The game has a keen grasp on the fickleness of human (or Forgotling) nature and never misses an opportunity to show how even good intentions, and trying to put the needs of the many before those of the few, can have the opposite of their intended outcome.
The platforming aspects of the game can be a little stilted at times, with jump distances that are difficult to judge, but you cant die so they never manage to irritate. Theres also quite a few puzzle segments, that usually revolve around using your wrist device to manipulate energy generators and reroute their power. Both gameplay elements feel slightly more difficult than they are simply because there can be such long gaps between them, so you never get much practice, but that also means they never outstay their welcome.
In terms of visuals, everyone is portrayed as hand-drawn 2D characters in a broadly anime style. The animation is extremely limited though and while the game looks very nice when the characters are zoomed out, in part thanks to the attractive computer-generated backdrops, when they zoom in everything suddenly looks worryingly amateurish. The full screen cut scenes are particularly bad (the intro is enough to put anyone off the game instantly) but thankfully theyre very rare.
A special mention must also go to the excellent orchestral soundtrack and the quality of the voiceovers. Considering the roles theyre being asked to play (Youre a talking shoe whos threatening to murder a group of animated kitchen accessories, is an actual sentence that must have been uttered during the making of the game) theyre all impressive, but Rachael Messer as Anne is one of our favourite performance of the year. She sells every moment and imbues an already well-written role with a great deal of gravitas.
Theres only one narrative misstep towards the end, in a hurried and unnecessary attempt to add in a final boss encounter, but otherwise this is still one of the best story-driven games weve played all year. Despite the absurd setting it touches on some heady concepts and gives a moral ambiguity to its characters and situations that rivals anything from the likes of The Witcher or Mass Effect. And it does it all with talking clocks and bowling balls.
In Short: A bizarre mix of weighty subject matter and cartoon presentation that somehow works perfectly in portraying a morally complex world and its characters.
Pros: An ambitious and smartly-told story that has plenty of thematic depth and a well-written script. Great visual design, superb soundtrack, and excellent voice-acting – especially from the leads.
Cons: None of the gameplay elements are particularly interesting in themselves. The story doesnt seem quite sure how to wrap itself up. Animation is very limited when viewed close up.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: ThroughLine Games
Release Date: 9th November 2018
Age Rating: 12
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