Just over eighteen months ago, Square Enix Collective, doing what they’ve so often done these past couple of years, revealed to the world one of the latest projects to fly the Japanese veteran’s more actively-promotional flags. A flag that, as it’s turned out, has become synonymous with boundless variety and opportunity for ideas of all sizes and scale to get a little of that spotlight. While the nature of the division’s crowd-supported (to strike a major difference to crowd-funded) proposition to developers large and small does lend well in an industry as competitive as this, needless to say it’s Collective’s portfolio thus far that is a better testament and representation as one of the more diverse but interesting ensemble of smaller titles released over the past two years.
It was around this same time — actually it was the exact same day of the announcement; one of the many reasons for my trip down to EGX that year — that I got the chance to go hands-on with an early build of a game by the name of Forgotton Anne. Serving as an introductory prologue to this cinematic-honed, adventure-platformer, we are introduced to the titular Anne, a woman flung from our world into this bizarre, yet whimsical inter-dimension of similarly-lost, similarly-forgotten objects now brimming with animate life. A cross-over, if you want some tangible comparison to be made, of 20th century Disney magic and Studio Ghibli passion, the fictional Forgotton Lands as it’s referred to, tugs at the heartstrings of those of us who’d grown up on a [hopefully] healthy diet of feature-length animation, regardless of its county-of-origin.
While there are elements of choice-based decision-making and investigative room-trawling to consider in the gameplay department — and one you would hope expands a little more in the latter parts of the final release given the introductory level’s basic set-up — it goes without saying that Forgotton Anne’s immediate appeal, as much its joy, is in its aesthetic and its delicately-animated art-style. A whimpering, industrial hum of blue-and-green hangs over the environmental story-telling here — punctuated to incredible effect in one segment in the very first few minutes, that has you simply staring out a rain-drenched window — a point in the demo where the line between video game and TV animation blurs to the point of almost disappearing entirely.
But it’s one decorated in the kind of odd but fantastical mystery that appeals to all corners of the globe, be you Western or Eastern-originated alike. Part of Forgotton Anne’s pull as a result, which developers ThroughLine Games nail with surgical-like precision, is the warming-if-odd juxtapose the game carries through from start to demo’s end. And I’m not just talking human characters interacting with brightly-colored objects that can somehow talk to the same capacity as their two-legged counterparts — even if they do still have difficulty performing the most basic/mundane of jobs. The way Anne’s frame-by-frame animation, especially when she’s climbing up or down a staircase, contrasts with the slow-crawling but transitioning parallax of the environments as you gradually move from one side of the screen to the other.
While I wouldn’t put Forgotten Anne in the same arena as something like Octopath Traveler in regards to its hybrid nature of visuals resonating as much, there’s a definite quirk and intrigue with the way the sharp character art clashes with the seemingly blended-together, melancholic lull of the world surroundings. It’s difficult to surmise what exact tone the game will go for, or even how far it’ll be willing to push itself. No doubt there’s a somewhat unsettling and uneasy undercurrent about the set-up — rebels acting out against whatever and whomever they deem is ill-treating them. Not exactly the freshest take on things sure, but if we’re to see more of this surreal reality of now-animate everyday objects cast against a bit more of a socially, morally-frictional story, then I’m all for it. Screw happy tales about happy things climaxing with a happy ending; give me something more downtrodden, please.
Above all else, I’m eager to see what the game makes of its moral choice system and how the ability to drain particular objects of their life-force, referred to as Anima — which may or may not weave into the accompanying puzzle-solving, also requiring the use and/or extraction of Anima from particular devices. There wasn’t any sense of consequence from one of the demo’s early choices on show, but who knows just how big a ripple that might make. In much the same way there’s the option to be empathetic or otherwise apathetic in your dialogue, one would hope ThroughLine Games let their newly-imagined world blossom into one with meaningful player-choice with just-as-meaningful an impact. Because from this latest, expanded demo, Forgotton Anne is sure to bowl many over with its visual design alone. The question now is what it does beyond that. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Square Enix Collective may well have landed themselves another charming little title to add to the roster. Forgotton Anne is out May 15 across PS4, Xbox One and PC.