It's a Ghibli Life - Forgotten Anne (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Sometimes a special indie game comes along that leave a lasting impression, for me that was titles like Limbo and Bastion, games that are great achievements in game design and narrative while living in a world of triple A titles full of DLC. Forgotten Anne from ThroughLine Games and published by Square Enix Collective, the indie arm of RPG giant Square Enix (obviously), stands high among these compact giants.
Forgotten Anne tells the story of the titular character Anne and a slowly unraveling tale of rebellion. The game's core narrative takes place in a fictional world called the Forgotten Lands, a magical parallel universe where lost objects come to life. While most of the world's denizens are inanimate objects like a scarf or a light bulb, Anne and her guardian Bonku are the sole humans living in this plane of existence. For Anne, the Forgotten Lands is all she's ever know; she was abandoned as an infant and Bonku raised her to be his Enforcer. Bonku stands at the top of the tower, governing this realm while actively building the Ether Bridge... a device meant to transport he and Anne and a selection of the world's denizens, called Forgotlings, back to the real world.
The very first thing anyone notices when looking at this game is the visuals. But the whole presentation is just a masterclass in world-building. The game's visuals are like a Studio Ghibli film come to life, you navigate a side scrolling world that feels huge despite sitting on a single plane. The game zooms out and zooms in, whether looking at a full view of the game world or a close crop of Anne... the game consistently looked gorgeous. The few cutscenes never pulled you out of the experience, the choice in art style make this one of those titles that will live on for generations. While it's clear to see that the game drew serious inspiration from Ghibli films for the art direction; the beautiful orchestral score, colorful characters, and the story of a young girl smack dab in the middle of a world-defining conflict... it's all very Ghibli to me. Regardless of what you may think of the gameplay, this game has all the style and charm to make this an instant classic.
Anne's story opens with an explosion, the Rebels attacked the plant and Anne is forced to find answers. This is accomplished by means of the game's core gameplay mechanics. Forgotten Anne is a puzzle-platformer with no “fail-state,” basically... you don't “die” and the main roadblocks in gameplay are in the form of progression halting puzzles. As the Enforcer, Anne is armed with the Arca; a device she used to manipulate Anima (the powersource of the realm) and to distill (kill) Forgotlings that stand in her way. Along with the Arca gameplay, Anne can also run and jump to reach her intended destiation... eventually gaining wings she can use to jump further and higher. The game's puzzles require Anne to manipulate the energy of the world around her, powering up devices that allow her to progress or rerouting the energy to different parts of the puzzle. The game never holds your hand, and while I did eventually figure out the game's puzzles... many of them were only solved after rigorous trial and error. One of those “you have to fall before you can fly” sort of adventures. Puzzled were challenging but the solutions were simple enough to find, usually I end up having an “ah-ha” moment when I finally figured out a solution.
While I loved the game's art direction, I felt that the game's platforming elements suffered because of it. Controlling Anne is simple enough, she runs and jumps... basically part and par for the course when it comes to platformers... but the game's cinematic presentation, and low frame-rate, made for some frustrating moments. Simple jumps I can accomplish easily in other platformers ended up feeling like a chore here. Some points where I got stuck on puzzles wasn't because I was lost in how to solve it... but the platforming required to complete it ended up working against me. Platforming controls felt janky and rarely were as intuitive as I wanted them to be. Jumping and running felt stiff, a far cry from the snappy controls I'm used to, and most of my frustrations with the game came from these “come on!” moments when I miss a simple jump thanks to these controls. While I can appreciate when a game doesn't want to compromise its artistic vision, I just wish the controls felt snappier.
While traversing the Forgotten Land, you are given quite a few choices in how you interact with the world. From choices like whether to distill a scared rebel Forgotling or whether you are able to convince a Forgotling to open a door. You can play the game as someone who distills anyone who gets in your way, or go full pacifist and try the road less traveled. Despite largely being a puzzle game, I was rarely bored. I pressed on because I was so enthralled by the story and by Anne. The final choice feels weighted and one that, despite being a choice between what's behind door number 1 or door number 2, both felt like they held real consequence.
Forgotten Anne is a gorgeous romp through a magical world. The game's puzzle mechanics were challenging but rarely felt debilitating, I just wish the game's controls felt snappier. I do give it many points for style, usually style isn't enough but in Forgotten Anne I can forgive some of the game's more egregious short-comings. This is a beautiful game, a treat for the eyes... the ears... and the heart, I just with it controlled better. While the story is about forgotten things, this is surely one title I will not forget.
3.5 out of 5
Like a Studio Ghibli film come to life