When looking at games like Rayman Legends or Child of Light, that use the Ubiart engine for their animated stylings, there’s no denying how crisp they look or how well they handle as a result of great animation. Forgotton Anne has been designed by a much, much smaller studio (ThroughLine Games) than Ubisoft and retains the same high bar as these hand animated competitors. That in itself is something to be applauded. While I have been told by ThroughLine’s Assistant Producer that the funding acquired by the Square Enix Collective has helped the project massively, moment to moment gameplay within Forgotton Anne is a constant reminder of how hard this small team has worked to bring us Anne’s story.
Forgotton Anne is available May 15th for PS4, Xbox One and for PC on Steam
Forgotton Anne’s story places us in a world that will slowly reveal itself to have real depth and thought put into it. The Forgotton Lands is a realm where all items loved by their owners go once they’ve been forgotten or lost. Here, thanks to the anima energy of the realm, these items find life. They can speak and behave in a such a way that reflects their past life as an inanimate object back in the real world. As we begin exploring the Forgotton Lands, it can feel a little weird talking to lampshades, boots, suitcases etc. Yet, the voice acting prowess on show quickly dissipates this feeling. The more time we spend speaking to these Forgotlings, the more they feel like real characters. As we progress through the story, we’ll learn they each have their own political ideas about the king of the realm, Anne’s supposed father, Master Bonku. As such, The Forgotton Lands are imbued with a convincing sense of politics, as we speak to more Forgotlings throughout the troubled land.
The unrest among the Forgotlings is presumably a result of their desire to go home to their masters and fulfill the purpose of their existence once again. However, things aren’t that simple. Despite how, through old age, some Forgotlings will crystallize and cease to be, there are groups that enjoy autonomy over their own lives and would rather stick around in the Forgotton Lands. With two opposing ideas looking for outcomes that do a serious disservice to either side, the populace of the Forgotton Lands are politically divided (a bit like Brexit) with Anne in the middle of it and ultimately responsible for their fate.
Such responsibility will tie into Forgotton Anne’s gameplay and serious choices will be presented to the player out of the blue. What makes a great choice based system is one that presents two options, neither of which are easy to make. Forgotton Anne excels at this then takes its time to inform the player whether or not a decision made much earlier was the right one. Particularly impressive was Anne’s very first decision (at least a decision I made) coming back to do her a disservice around the halfway point in the game. This impacts on dialogue and the choices we see characters make. While the story itself follows the same loose direction, it’s how we reach its final conclusion that will vary. If we were to deconstruct this kind of story formatting into say, a spider diagram, it would be pretty darn complex when we consider how hard the writers would have had to work to ensure there was not a single continuity error from start to finish.
The overall feel of Forgotton Anne’s story is just as refreshing as its visuals. When we think of Studio Ghibli productions like Howl’s Moving Castle, we always remember just how zany it is. Yet these stories display a quintessential understanding of “the fairytale” and Forgotton Anne has the same feeling. To compare it in a such a way stands as testament to a quality of world building in Forgotton Anne rarely displayed in the indie scene.
Forgotton Anne’s gameplay elements consist of puzzle solving, platforming and choosing dialogue options. While this may seem a little spartan in terms of what the player can do, Forgotton Anne’s storytelling would suffer under the weight of a bloated gameplay mechanics. By keeping the level of player interaction fairly limited, ThroughLine Games has been able to focus on the mammoth task of hand animation and that decision has frankly paid off. Forgotton Anne never suffers from handling issues. More importantly, the team has clearly been aware of the simpler gameplay options running the risk of tedium, as they have implemented a consistent set of surprises for the player. Be that a sudden change in the surrounding environment, a clever variation on the gameplay you’ve gotten used to or an unpredictable twist in the story. The game will even transition from gameplay to a fully animated cutscene seamlessly, never suffering from janky pauses, giving the story an added fluidity as we play through. Stagnation of player engagement is not a risk here.
Platforming is particularly tight, especially after Anne gets her wings near the start of the game. These allow for bigger jumps that are always easy to gauge. In other words, if you keep falling, it’s never going to be the game’s fault. In fact the platforming is so tight (reminiscent of Abe’s Oddysee's platforming), I felt it was a shame there weren’t more parts of the game that pushed the player’s understanding of it. There was one segment in a factory that involved a good sense of timing and forward planning to get from one end to the other. It was a refreshing moment that differed from the slowing of momentum that puzzles bring on.
That’s not to say the puzzles are ever a chore. Even the more difficult ones never really feel cheap as you have that moment of realisation – the solution was more simple than you thought. More than that, Forgotton Anne’s puzzles will surprise you from time to time. Just when you think you’ve seen all the puzzle formats the game has to offer, it throws something new at you. Most involve transferring Anima from one place to another and manipulating energy flow to different places but players will also get one-off puzzle types that keep things fresh and engaging.
Graphics And Audio
As I’ve mentioned several times already, Forgotton Anne is visually the videogame equivalent of a Studio Ghibli movie. The Forgotton Lands enjoy such rich colours despite how it always seems to be gloomy and raining. Every part of the hand drawn environment has a distinct sharpness to it, making most areas very nice to look at indeed. This crisp level of detail is punctuated wonderfully by the game’s lighting. Most areas having to be well lit in this gloomy land makes for an added lease of life in Forgotton Anne’s visuals.
As for Anne and all other characters, their in-game movements are not fluid. Although, again, this isn’t a bad thing. Take a look at any cartoon that hasn’t been generated by a computer. This is how characters move in anime and other hand drawn cartoons and that we see the same kind of minimalist movements in Forgotton Anne only serves to further its authenticity when presenting a “Studio Ghibli-style” game. Occasionally, foreground areas can give the player a confused sense of perspective, making it hard to tell what’s in the foreground or the background. I had assumed certain jumps were blocked by pipes that were actually just in the background. These brief moments of confusion were admittedly very few and far between, however.
It’s unclear to me just how many voice actors ThroughLine had on hand for Forgotton Anne. Each and every Forgotling we encounter (and there are many) sounds as different as the next. With great voice acting comes a real sense of personality for each character in the game and, assuming ThroughLine don’t have as many voice actors as they do Forgotlings, there’s some real talent on show here. Anne will encounter Forgotlings with all kinds of accents and attitudes. Although, most impressive is the musical effort. Performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra, Forgotton Anne enjoys a distinctive theme tune that bolsters its fairytale themes fantastically. ThroughLine have also taken care with when they implement powerful musical flourishes. Action packed scenes enjoy a dramatic flare, emotional scenes are underscored with emotional piano notes and many spaces in between are left in silence (and to good effect).
When I think back to my younger years, I remember the Broken Sword franchise. It was a puzzle game genre that, like others of its time had to fall back on many of the qualities Forgotton Anne does so well. In a time where lavish visuals and crazy deep gameplay elements where not financially or commercially viable, games like Broken Sword had to fall back on great storytelling, writing and character design to keep its audiences engaged. Other games of the time like Discworld Noir or Monkey Island had to employ the same tactics and it felt like an era of gaming that enjoyed a purer kind of creativity. I miss it. Forgotton Anne is, in some ways, a revival of that design ethos. As an older gamer, it’s a kind of game design I truly appreciate and I’m sure other gamers will feel the same way. After seeing ThroughLine’s aptitude for this kind of 90’s game design brought to the here and now, I keenly look forward to seeing what they cook up next.
|+ Excellent world design, beautiful to look at||– Occasionally unclear level design|
|+ Top notch story telling||– Would benefit from more demanding platforming|
|+ Plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes|