Forgotton Anne Review
After playing Forgotton Anne for 5 minutes, I’ve already witnessed an anthropomorphized sock be judged on the merit of it’s stitching, and a pilot’s helmet sneaks into a factory to plant a bomb. At this point, it’s fair to say that ThroughLine Games’ 2D adventure game is anything but conventional.
The game itself, presented as a modernized 2D anime is beautiful. It’s early scenes play out like they are ripped from a children’s storybook and the accompanying orchestral score reinforces such an association. You play as Anne, an enforcer and apprentice to Master Bonku, a de-facto king of the rainy realm in which you live. This ‘forgotten realm’ is inhabited by objects forgotten in the ‘ether’ world. As an enforcer, it is up to Anne to oversee the ‘validation’ of forgotten objects. These ‘validated’ are given a green pin and put to work towards the creation of an ‘ether bridge’. This same bridge, to which certain objects have been granted priority, is meant to return them all to the ‘real’ world.
Bonku, whose enigmatic character fuels much of the story, is regarded as the chief ‘creator’ of the realm. It is under his supervision that the living objects or ‘forgotlings’ have learnt to harness the Anima which infuses them. Bonku is also the creator of many engineering marvels. The premise is simple, yet underpinning it are complex questions:
Where do the forgotlings and their two human supervisors truly belong? How much can be sacrificed to build the ether bridge?
There’s an ominous juxtaposition between the colourful aesthetic of the characters, the bleak background art, and the intrusive regime Anne plays a role in. This comical spin on a dictatorship makes itself apparent through many portions of the 7-8 hour campaign. During an early-game walk through a crowded train, Anne stops at every carriage and demands that all forgotlings identify themselves, display their validation badges, and state the purpose of their travel. While Anne is self-righteous in her role within the realm, the quivering of every forgotling when you approach is a rather dark visual.
This fear makes a lot of sense when one considers the weapon Anne wields, the Arca, which allows her to transfer Anima out of forgotlings, effectively killing them. In similar fashion, the humour and lighthearted nature of seeing a pistol and camera play the role of cops on an investigation scene is balanced with the subsequent violent interrogation of a rebel forgotling.
Using anthropomorphized objects to tell human stories is a surefire way to keep the player engaged. While themes of supervision are abundant in the gaming industry, those of Forgotton Anne come out in particularly well because of the ‘object spin’. Having arguments with a shoe and a mop about supervisory devices is surprisingly quite refreshing. It really helps that Anne’s own curve, as she learns more about the world and its inhabitants, is well thought out. While rooted in a comic tale, her confusion which she camouflages through aggression or sheer determination is relatable.
“You’re not good with words, Little Hawk. But who needs words when you have the Arca”. – A taunting forgotling
This struggle between Anne, her master’s oversight and the forgotling is at the heart of the story. The ‘rebels’ which refuse to live under the regime seem to understand something that even Anne is unaware of. Whether the player chooses to give them the benefit of the doubt or remain loyal is up to them. This storyline is reinforced by strong antagonists. Not only are their voice actors fabulous at conveying their characters. Their motives are believable, as are those of the other forgotlings rebels.
Furthermore, ThroughLine Games has crafted a great system for telling their story. There are multiple outcomes to several encounters during the storyline. An early encounter finds Anne discussing with a forgotling scarf who claims to be a welder. You can choose to accuse him of being a rebel, but this will only lead to a confrontation, and his escaping the tower through a window. While the option not to accuse him exists, there are also alternate routes which involve negotiating with him when he panics, as well as different endings based on the players’ use of the Arca.
These narrative spins are well executed. They invite the player to replay the game to witness the story and its possible endings.
The attention to worldbuilding is also very impressive. The density of the world becomes clear as one progresses in the main story. One segment of the game has you meander into a bar occupied by some shady forgotlings. The brilliance of their world is communicated not only through the assigned roles of staff, but also the cartoon movies which are presented to a crowd through a projector. While this may seem dull, the film which the crow watches lasts for minutes on end without a loop. This seemingly unimportant detail provides a ton of ambience as the player disturbs the moviegoers. It’s in small details like this that Forgotton Anne really shines, building a believable world from such a fanciful premise.
“Your reputation as a soul snatcher precedes you, enforcer” – A guitar amp, as Anne interrogates him
Gameplay in Forgotton Anne is summarized by platforming elements, puzzle solving, and the above mentioned social interactions with forgotlings. The platforming largely relies on Anne’s Anima infused set of wings, which allow her to travel large distances; the puzzles on her ability to manipulate Anima with the Arca. The emphasis on player choice is again reflected within these puzzle elements. You might go through a series of challenges to find a way out of a locked room, only to dislodge a potential clue which falls below. Whether you choose to go back for it will have a significant effect on the story. Every element Anne chooses to overlook mares her analysis, which in turn will lead to different social outcomes.
The platforming elements of the game are lacklustre in the first few hours of play. And while level design might appear linear during these portions, it really opens up once you arrive in the city. A layered 2d background allows the player to walk back and forth between backdrops and interact with the world to reveal hidden locales. The gameplay is weakened by a bizarre design choice not to have the Anima sense tracked on the mouse cursor. Instead, the origin point of Anima sense is dictated by where a player clicks in relation to Anne.
This is one of the few visible issues with the control scheme which the studio has chosen. If you’re looking to target an Anima barrel at the edge of your screen, good luck. It’s unnecessarily wonky, but it really is visible because of the rest of the game is so polished. There is also an unexplained lack of key remapping on PC. This is particularly annoying when certain mechanics require you to hold down Shift, Ctrl and a directional key. It’s unnecessarily uncomfortable to play, and remapping should have been offered for mouse and keyboard.
Visually, the game is quite impressive. Initially marketed through a 2D modernized anime, and the studio really nailed that goal on the head. Particular attention to lighting in certain areas of the game adds to a pleasing 3D visual rendering of the spaces which Anne explores. The colour palettes used in certain areas, such as the Theatre, are particularly impressive. Forgotton Anne does a masterful job at contrasting the monotony of the outer realm with the vibrancy of Forgotling culture where they choose to gather.
The musical score which accompanies these locations is quite fitting and has an impressive range. Even as the game transmits dark cautionary tales, the soundtrack manages to provide a degree of levity. The near-constant rain that patters on the outdoor scene windows is often accompanied by soft orchestral music. In moments of action and adventure, it’s suddenly infused with vigour and accompanies the player on an engaging adventure. While a 2D platformer may seem adverse to such moments of furious action, Forgotton Anne delivers on multiple occasions.
While the music is suited to the game, and the sound effects appropriate, the lack of control over their partition is another bizarre choice for the studio to have made. This lack of control over the proportion means that the music often drowns out the voice acting. While players can rely on subtitles, it is an unnecessary oversight.
Character voice acting is really hit or miss. The best example of that fact is both main characters. Master Bonku’s lines are often delivered at a strange pace. An intentional lack of emotion only goes so far to explain the lacklustre performance. Meanwhile, Anne’s character is much more level. The same can be said about secondary characters, who are either liable to make you bust a rib in laughter, or squint at the awkward delivery. More often than not, the performances are adequate. Only rarely are they astounding.
When a forgotling swore to Anne “on the human who forgot [him]”, I couldn’t help but laugh. Forgotton Anne‘s secondary characters are so entertaining to watch. Welding torches swinging on ropes to work on an Ether bridge is quite a sight. Discussing the finer points of Property law with a guitar amp is also an experience in its own right. Ultimately, Forgotton Anne was memorable not only because of it’s premise, brilliant in its simplicity but because of its uniform execution. While I have many gripes with small design decisions, the tale of Anne and the forgotlings was communicated in an intelligent and engaging manner.
Unfortunately, the puzzle mechanics largely rely on an Anima reserve Anne can carry with her. Transferring anima from containers to the glove, and from the glove to a machine. While the puzzles were interesting, they were rarely challenging enough to feel rewarding. While this could be easily forgiven in other games, they played such an integral part in Forgotton Anne that it felt a bit disappointing. However, these are relatively small gripes with a game that is otherwise an absolute joy to play. If you’re looking for a relaxed gaming experience with an appeal all its own, look no further.
- Responsive soundtrack
- Engaging storyline
- Colourful cast of characters
- No Key-mapping or audio levels
- Average voice acting
- Graphics / Sound8
- Lasting Appeal8
- Fun Factor9