Or to give its full title, “adventures in making my spell-checker really upset.” Forgotton Anne is a game that’s really been flummoxing me about how to approach a review of it – I couldn’t even really pick out what genre it was without some mild assistance from the press kit, and I liked experiencing it’s world first-hand without any prior knowledge so much that I feel like the very existence of this review could bring someone’s enjoyment of the game down (not for the first time I’m sure, do ho ho). So that said, I’ll try and be as insightful and informative as always while giving up as little potentially spoilery information as possible – which is like trying to walk a tightrope while wearing greased crocs, but I like a challenge. This was also my first run-in with “Square Enix Collective” and it must be said the idea of big companies directly and publicly supportive indie devs is neat, to put it mildly – not least because it thins out the amount of neon spiky-haired, bug-eyed Japanese teenagers in their intellectual property portfolio, which was starting to look like a 12 year-old’s DeviantArt page.
Anyway, the game, yes – I forgot. Forgotton Anne stars Anne (thanks, Sherlock), a girl who’s clearly been rummaging through Dorothy’s wardrobe. She’s the Enforcer to Master Bonku – runner-up in the 2017 international silly-name championships – who together preside over and strive to maintain the peace in the Forgotten Realm, home to objects that were forgotten by their owner, or Forgotlings. She does this by harnessing the Arca; a special glove that controls Anima, which is a sort of “dew of the universe” power source that Forgotlings are made of and can be distilled into – Playing with Power indeed. Bonku is constructing a bridge to the Ether, so he and these objects can return home, but a group of rebels (who should be intimidating but aren’t due to being “a scarf”, “a bowling ball,” etc., and come of as delightfully whimsical instead) are trying to impede construction. If all this sounds like the cheese-est fueled fever-dream ever to you, you’d be right, but instead of getting smooshed down into a paragraph the game lets its world-building unfurl at a natural, comfortable pace, so that you’re always learning but never overwhelmed – and always keen to experience more.
The other thing that aforementioned lark might sound like is the plot of a hypothetical movie by legendary Japanese animation squad Studio Ghibli – and in every aspect of production this is very much both apparent and deliberate. The art style in particular, if you hadn’t gathered from the screenshots yet, follows in the footsteps of Professor Layton and Ni No Kuni of showing just how gorgeous this particular hand-drawn, cel-shaded style is for video games. The colours are moody and beautiful, really capturing the essence of this dirty, gritty industrial city bursting with characters (which is saying something, for a game about animate inanimate objects), and the animations, too, are loaded with personality and smooth as Morgan Freeman’s voice-flavoured butter. Similarly, the completely dynamic soundtrack, provided by the Copenhagen Philharmonic and the Danish Composers Society, transitions seamlessly from one track to another for an end result which is more like a film-score than anything else; the music swelling behind you as tension builds, making the world come alive. Finally, of course, a Ghibli-esque aesthetic necessitates (trying saying that three times fast with a mouthful of beans) regional British dialects; who could forget by far the funniest part of Ni No Kuni, Mr. Drippy and the village full of Welsh fairies, who couldn’t have been bigger stereotypes if they ate exclusively cawl and did unspeakable things to sheep. Forgotton Anne is no different; the game is fully voice-acted and it’s all exquisite, but special mention must go to a Quill named Quill you meet a couple hours in who sounds exactly like David Tennant doing an impression of David Tennant. Just marvelous.
The gameplay in Forgotton Anne, while secondary to the overall plot and cinematics, doesn’t fall into the trap of other artsy games of making the gameplay feel tacked on; Throughline Games, the devs, describe it as a “cinematic adventure game with light puzzle platforming elements” and mean it. The gameplay, in practical terms, mainly consists of moving Anne around and solving circuitry-style Anima puzzles, both of which have plenty of strengths but also are where I draw my main flaws with the game (and also navigating dialogue trees without getting your head stoved in by a talking lamp or feather duster or similar, but that really falls more under cinematic stuff than gameplay). While platforming for the most part is fun and serviceable, Anne having a nice floaty long-jump that’s fun to just use, she’s also got a pretty weighty movement delay that takes some getting useful, and can be annoying when jumps get a little more precise later in the game. Equally, the beautiful foreground art can sometimes blend into the beautiful background art, so at least twice I missed a ladder or passageway because I didn’t realise it was interactable. The puzzles, again, are mostly enjoyable, some of them are real brain-benders, but some can be a little obtuse in their logic, and some drag the pace of an otherwise tense or dramatic sequence. These are only minor gripes but it would be remiss not to mention them; they can make the first few moments with the game a little irksome until they’re suitably grappled with, like trying to eat a sandwich in a train carriage full of hungry, mischievous ferrets. I could totally write a Studio Ghibli movie.
Overall, Forgotton Anne is a success story. A success story for some upstart indies and Square Enix, who now have this tasty little game nestled in their bonnets. A success story for the Switch; while the game has been out for a few months on Steam, curled up in handheld mode is absolutely the best way to play, the Switch’s bright, detailed screen even better highlighting the gorgeous aesthetics. A success story for video games as a whole, showing just how much can be done with the medium, how far it can be pushed until people question whether this can be called a “real” video game at all – here’s your spoiler alert; it can, and a pretty great one at that.
Forgotton Anne was developed by ThroughLine Games, designed by Valdemar Schultz Andreasen and George Avdoulos, created using the Unity Engine and is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems.