Forgotton Anne: review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbone, PC
  • Unleashed: 15th May
  • Publisher: Square Enix Collective
  • Developer: ThroughLine Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site: https://www.forgottonanne.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

Although it’s easy to complacently lean on the idea that videogames offer unabashed escapism, this is demonstrably untrue for many high-profile titles. Aspirational grasps for realism are seen with almost inexplicable regularity. Certain companies are determined to offer “realistic” portrayals of warfare, driving, sport, and more; all while ignoring fundamental concessions to the nature of their craft that immediately undermine their efforts. While such games can be enormous fun, it is masterpieces such as Forgotton Anne that understand there is no shame in embracing fantasy.

This is a side-scrolling adventure with an enormous emphasis on story, a fact unusual in itself (it’s only indie games such as this that would usually consider such an approach). It imagines a land where all the lost and forgotten things of our world disappear to once abandoned, sweetly illustrated in the introduction by showing the fate of a lost sock. Inanimate objects find themselves injected with life and personality here, beginning a new autonomous life in the strange new land. Many wish to return to “The Ether” to be reunited with their owners; many others do not.

It’s an incredible looking game, the only criticism being that the camera is usually too far to truly appreciate the detail of the models.

A common comparison that Forgotton Anne drew in previews was with Studio Ghibli movies. It’s an incredibly apt one, but not for the reason that the comparison tends to be made. Aesthetically, the similarities don’t run as deep as it would at first appear. The character designs, although wonderful, don’t often bring to mind Ghibli works. The animation – which, again, is fantastic – doesn’t quite match the typical rhythm and flow of people and creatures populating a Miyazaki tale.

Where this game is similar to quite specifically the more fantastical corners of Studio Ghibli (such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke), is in its world building. This is where Forgotton Anne truly blew us away. The story is told with such unrelenting confidence, taking place in a bizarre world that feels so comfortably real, the experience is utterly gripping for every second, from start to finish.

If you prefer your games to have little to no dialogue, and you skip cutscenes at every opportunity, this is not for you. That’s not to say that this is not a game in the traditional sense. Although the lovingly hand-crafted graphics intentionally give the appearance of an animated feature film, you have full control over Anne outside of cutscenes. It’s part platformer, with many jumps to make and ledges to grab and pull yourself over. There are also puzzles sprinkled throughout the experience; and in these, ThroughLine Games continues to demonstrate its confidence in its vision.

A recurring template for puzzles involves moving nubs along interlocking tracks, positioning each into the correct receptacle in the correct order to avoid trapping any others. Another template relies upon the simple but flexible idea of diverting power along different routes. No puzzle in the game is explicitly explained. There’s no kind of tutorial, the player trusted to assess the situation themselves. This is particularly bold considering the fact that, now and again, a completely new type of challenge will be introduced, used only briefly. You will sometimes need to completely forget the puzzle-solving rhythms you have been taught, and learn a completely new one. Immersion therefore remains untainted, the puzzles logical and fitting seamlessly into the world of Forgotton Anne.

The aforementioned power diversion puzzles rely on a device known as the Arca. This is something that Anne carries with her at all times. It can (within a limited range) not only divert energy, but remove it completely and transfer it elsewhere. This extends even to the “Forgotlings” who populate the world. As the world’s Enforcer, Anne has the ability and authority to remove the lifeforce of a Forgotling, leaving them dull and lifeless as they were in the Ether. This is a process known as distilling.

This idea is not used for combat. Physical conflict is not a gameplay mechanic that this game is interested in. At irregular intervals, you are offered dialogue options. Ordinarily this is simply how you choose to answer a question, but on a few occasions you can choose whether or not to distil the Forgotling you are talking to. This is in the context of a rebel movement seeking to sabotage efforts to return to the Ether. The story soon begins to develop in interesting ways, riding a wave of fascinating twists and crisp, expertly-written dialogue. As a result, you will come to regret some choices, and/or breathe a sigh of relief that things went the way they did before you had the benefit of hindsight. Although your actions don’t quite send an earthquake through events, it’s highly likely that you’ll go back once the credits have rolled to see what happens if your Anne takes a different approach.

Wrapped up in a wonderful orchestral soundtrack, this is a mesmerising experience that you owe it to yourself to try. Naturally, there are a few imperfections – jumping isn’t as precise as you may like, one ending is significantly less impressive than the other, and almost all Forgotlings are artificially protected from the wrath of your Arca – but they fade away in comparison to the rewards to be reaped from allowing yourself to be swallowed by this fantasy.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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