Developer: Throughline Games
Publisher: SquareEnix Collective
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Review by Jay Borenstein
A charming game with deceptively dark themes
When I first saw the trailer for Forgotton Anne, I was completely smitten by the gorgeous hand-drawn graphics showcasing a world where forgotten objects come to life. What I was certainly not expecting was for the game to ultimately tackle ambitious themes, such as living under an oppressive regime and the moral pitfalls that arise from enforcing its status quo. Basically it’s like Animal Farm, but with objects.
At its core, Forgotton Anne is a narrative-driven game, not unlike a Telltale outing, that kept me intrigued throughout the game’s 7-8 hour playtime. The situations and narratives are gripping, the animation and puzzles unique, but the gameplay mechanics feel a bit shallow at times.
Ghibli With an Edge
You play as Anne, an enforcer for the only other human in the world of forgotten objects, Master Bonku. Upon arriving in that world, Bonku reimagined society by providing the so-called forgotlings with a type of energy source known as anima. He’s building a bridge back to the human world, and promises to allow the forgotlings to travel back with him to find their missing human masters.
However, things are complicated by a group of rebel forgotlings who just want to tear everything down. Red flags are raised when you learn that those who are loyal to Bonku must wear “validation stickers” at all times and have to earn their ticket back to the human world through service. At the beginning of the game, you are staunchly loyal to Bonku, but you naturally start to question the nature of your service as the story progresses.
Forgotton Anne pulls no punches in this pretty but dreary world where forgotlings talk about being oppressed, about their fear of you and of each other, and about blind loyalty. As the enforcer, you wear a device called an Arca on your hand, which allows you to draw and redirect anima from contraptions or forgotlings. You won’t get far in the game before you’re faced with a choice to spare a rebel or “distill” them, which essentially means executing them by drawing out their anima. By forcing you to actually push a button to draw the anima out of a forgotling, you’ll feel the full weight of these decisions every time.
Some Puzzling Gameplay Mechanics
Decision making and puzzle solving are the core of your experience. Forgotton Anne bills itself as part platformer, but the platforming in the game is fairly light and a little clunky. Anne’s movement and jumps takes a lot of getting used to, and by the end of the game I still couldn’t confidently tell if she would be able to make a jump. That being said, the world is aesthetically gorgeous and fun to explore. The game is linear, but there are still some nooks and crannies to explore, and you can find hidden artifacts and achievements if you walk off the beaten path.
The puzzles in the game involve a fair amount of thought, but vary in how satisfying they are to solve. Many of the game’s puzzles involve transferring anima to a power box for a switch or device, and then manipulating the flow of the energy to the right places. For such a character-driven game, I would have loved more puzzles involving the various NPCs. There’s a few, and they’re definitely part of the game’s highlights, but more often than not you’ll be pulling levers and shifting orbs in a door puzzle.
Decision-making is also a major mechanic. You’re able to choose your response to plenty of the NPC queries in the game, generally reflecting either the “status quo” or “rebel sympathy”. While choosing to be a jerk or be sympathetic has some bearing on the narrative, you won’t be making any glaring changes to the story. Anne will go on the same journey regardless, but I was satisfied later in the game to see that some of my decisions did come back to haunt me.
A Gorgeous, if Bleak, Narrative
This is still a well-told story that hooked me all the way through, even if the gameplay and narrative-branching wasn’t as strong as I hoped. The hand-drawn graphics and occasional animated cut-scene give this game Ghibli-level cred, and the musical score (played by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra) could easily be listened to on its own.
The true joy of this game are the characters. Every forgotling you encounter is infused with personality and (for the most part) voiced perfectly. Throughline has effectively created a living, breathing world that’s easy to get lost in. You’ll develop relationships with characters instrumental to the plot who drive the emotional resonance of the game, such as Fig, a mannequin with a face inexplicably placed in his chest. The narrative still manages to leave an impact despite being short and makes plenty of statements on what it means to be forgotten and forging an identity when you’re told to be like everyone else.
Play it if you’re into animation, narrative-heavy games, or visual novels. If you’re looking for a game with strong gameplay mechanics, this is probably not what you’re looking for. The world of Forgotton Anne is infused with life and worth your time – just don’t expect a lighthearted outing.
Forgotton Anne launches on May 15, 2018 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Rogues Portal was provided a code for the PS4 version of the game for the purpose of this review.