Last time I reviewed Metro 2033, a Ukrainian made glimpse into the nuclear fallout and submerged societies. This time I’m looking at Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, a Japanese glimpse at a young boy traversing a barren world and decrepit undergrounds. While both are atmospheric adventures across a haunted wasteland, only one can also wedge ‘anime’, ‘somber’ and ‘Wii-mote’ into its summary. I’ll let you guess which one is which.
You are Seto, a navy-clad child venturing away from his cozy observatory for the first time after the passing of the old man who mentored him. As he heads to a rumoured gathering point for other survivors he encounters Ren, a blanche-haired girl with fair skin and no pants. To make sure she isn’t just a mirage, Seto touches her, and because that is legitimately kind of off-putting she scampers away. From here, Seto is on the pursuit of the first girl he’s ever met, encountering ghosts, living computers and mischievous amnesiacs. It’s a simple story, true, it’s not like the basic love story has yet to be exploited, but given that the typical Japanese game is an endless pile of unexplained rhetoric slathered in thick impenetrable backstory, yeah I think I’m totally A-OK with ‘boy likes girl’.
The game’s atmosphere is bar none the high note. The people behind Fragile Dreams clearly lay in their beds at night, staring at the ceiling, dreaming of full moon nights sparkling with dancing fireflies and lightly rustling wild grass. They set out to create a quiet, yet captivating experience and achieved it effortlessly. Empty locations are lush with details of long leftover litter, posters and rusting memories, while on the other end character and enemy design is colourful and inspired, brimming with personality. Seto can also pick up ‘memories’ from scattered junk, with quick and humble monologues from dead souls. Those who have given Japanese titles the cold shoulder for so long may finally be reminded of what magnificent things they bring to the table. Even the localized dialogue seems a bit more poetic than usual, if only more so than usual bad translations and worse metaphors. Yes, the art, sound, and inspiration factor is absolute primo. If only these great efforts were put into a great game.
Fragile looks wonderful but plays awful. Combat is boiled down to hitting things with sticks and awkwardly trying not to get hit back. There are a variety of sticks, brooms, wooden swords, pipes and even twigs that all frustratingly break. There are also projectile weapons like bows and arrows and slingshots, though they don’t make you any more agile and you lose the integral flashlight when branding them, leaving you in the dark and welcoming the Doom 3 jokes. While there is a leveling system, you’d have to be really trying to lag behind the difficulty curve. Jellyfish that look like Limbo and screaming spidermen are more bark than bite, and will do little to lock you into contra. The enemies are so passive and plentiful you’ll eventually rush by every one of them, saving your weapons for more poignant feuds. Also, personal note, but the game has a thing with having you fight feral dogs. Yet you can actually buy items to snuggle with harmless feral cats. I’m not cat hater, but as a dog lover I am totally no-good with this, arms are really crossed here, folks. Seriously, what a bunch of jerks. Dogs rule.
Empty locales are great for atmosphere, but for excitement they are certainly lacking. There are literally minute long stretches of rooms with nothing to see and less to do. The game also shamelessly sends you on time eating fetch quests that force you to backtrack to previous areas for frivolous tasks. As dry as the combat is, the least they could do is make it feel necessary.
This is yet another stiff game, and a total juxtaposition to the unique fantasy art direction. While controlling the camera with a pointing Wii-mote isn’t a bad idea, Seto controls like a log duct taped to a broken swivel chair. Combat can be brutally marred by relentless flanking and wimpy attacks. The things you see and hear are enjoyable and inspiring while the things you do range from boring to frustrating. I can’t think of a better example of ‘a total bummer’ than the positive acknowledgement that a fantastic art team has been paired with a polarized posse of mediocre programmers. If you play games for atmospheric portals into uncanny worlds, there is still good reason to seek a copy of Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. If you play games to, y’know, play them, you may want to sit back and wait for the next bomb to fall.
This review can also be seen on SPACECAST.COM but I am a narcissist and must have attention on all the internet.