Forgotton Anne is a puzzle / platforming game that blends dark and whimsical themes almost perfectly, which is a difficult thing for a storyteller to do. I think I know why Throughline Games' effort to combine the opposing themes works, though. It's because Forgotton Anne starts with a screaming sock.
As Caty outlines in her review of the game, Forgotton Anne is the story of lost things converging in an alternate universe populated by discarded items. Anything that can potentially be lost or thrown away might find themselves pulled into the Realm as a "Forgotling." That includes televisions, paint rollers, guns(!!!), boots, and mops.
And socks. Hundreds of thousands of socks separated from their mates. "Don't worry, there are lots of your kind here," a one-armed mannequin informs the earlier-mentioned screaming sock as it's recruited semi-willingly into a lifetime of indentured servitude at a mysterious plant.
At this point in the game, we don't know why the plant exists: We just know it's hot and crowded, and the furnaces within its sooty walls burn constantly. We're also given the impression that better-built Forgotlings (an antique table who checks in before the sock, for example), are given preferential treatment over commonly-lost items. Our sock pal disappears into the bowels of the plant, and boy, does that scream of his set the stage for everything fated to happen across the seven-ish hours you spend with Forgotton Anne.
Obviously, I'm reflecting on Forgotton Anne's opening scene with the rest of the game's events behind me. I laughed when I first saw poor Socky slip from under its master's bed and down into the Realm with a traumatized wail. I believe Throughline Games crafted Socky's fall specifically to induce chuckles, though; you can't take a screaming sock seriously. At the same time, your heart also goes out to the little dude when he's told to go ahead and find a job at the plant even though he's still wearing a confused and unhappy frown (yes, Forgotton Anne will make you believe a sock can frown).
Forgotton Anne's tone doesn't waver much from those opening moments, which is vital for keeping players engaged with its story. When you're trying to sell players on a revolution organized by abused household products, consistency is damn important. It's what allows you to sink into Forgotton Anne's story and become invested in Anne's journey while also forming emotional connections with literal piles of lost laundry.
It's like riding in an airplane. Provided you're not someone who's terrified of flying, once you reach cruising altitude and the in-flight service begins, you soon forget you're suspended thousands of feet in the air. But even if you're a veteran flyer, a bit of turbulence is all it takes to jostle your brain and remind you you're riding in a contraption that shouldn't work according to the laws of gravity and nature. Forgotton Anne's story doesn't run into turbulence, though. Ridiculous as the Realm sounds as a concept, it's never a strain to believe in its existence, its denizens, and its problems. The game had my full attention when it asked me to diffuse a potentially volatile argument between a rebel mop and a fascist shoe favored by the Realm's iron-fisted ruler. That sounds bonkers in hindsight, but it's true.
Ni No Kuni 2 is another whimsical game that aspires to tell a sometimes-grim story using visuals influenced by Ghibli films. It ultimately fails for reasons Kat went into at great length when the game arrived a couple of months ago, but the main problem—and the exact problem Forgotton Anne avoids with its consistent storytelling—is Ni No Kuni 2's inability to commit to a message or a tone. A game that begins with a nuclear blast annihilating a major city Terminator 2-style and then slides into a bloody coup shouldn't have its heroes merrily talking and laughing as they search for cutesy sprites called "Higgledies" not an hour later.
Forgive us for dumping on poor beleaguered Ni No Kuni 2 again. It just offers such a good example of what could have gone wrong with Forgotton Anne's story if Throughline Games hadn't maintained the crucial balance between whimsy and conflict. Again, it's no small feat for a storyteller to keep those scales at an even level through an entire game, and I sincerely hope Level-5 manages to do so in the next Ni No Kuni game (and I also sincerely hope there's another Ni No Kuni game).
If anyone at Level-5 is reading this somehow (hello!), or if you're just a person like me who's interested in the art of blending themes, I advise you to look at how Forgotton Anne performs its craft. Above all else, remember the screaming sock. Embrace the screaming sock. Imprint him on your soul.
This Week's Notable Releases
It's a heavy release week for the Nintendo Switch, so if you're jamming with Nintendo's latest, there will be more than enough on the eShop for you.
- Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection [May 29]: Capcom and Digital Eclipse follow up the excellent Mega Man Legacy Collections with a similar one aimed at Street Fighter. Include the arcade editions of every Street Fighter title from the first game to Street Fighter III: Third Strike. If you're an avid fan of the series, this release is for you.
- Agony [May 29]: This Kickstarted survival horror sees the player as a demon in hell. Use your ability to possess other demons and souls you come across to order to regain your memories and survive. Can you escape Hell? Should you?
- Ikaruga [May 29]: The shoot-em-up classic comes to the Nintendo Switch. Turn that Switch sideways and enjoy Ikaruga in vertical mode, like it was intended. Treasure might not be doing a lot lately, but this re-release of one of the studio's best games should remind folks why they were so loved.
- Legend of Kay Anniversary [May 29]: Way back in 2005, Neon Studios release this original action-adventure, starring a young warrior cat seeking to save his formerly-peaceful island home. The game was a riff on old martial arts films that found a decent niche following. The Anniversary edition was released in 2015, but now it comes to Nintendo Switch.
- Sega Genesis Classics [May 29]: There have been a number of different Sega Genesis-related releases over the years. The Sega Genesis Classics Pack came in a total of five volumes for Steam, but this updated release brings all those games to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam in a single package. Some games have been removed for this release, notably Ecco the Dolphin, Ecco: The Tides of Time, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic and Knuckles. To make up for it, Genesis fans get a few new additions like Landstalker, Gunstar Heroes, The Revenge of Shinobi, and ToeJam and Earl.
- Harvest Moon: Light of Hope [May 29]: Stardew Valley may have stolen its thunder a bit, but the original Harvest Moon is still out there doing its thing. Released on Steam in 2017, this launch brings that titles to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch for the first time.
Mike's Media Minute
Well, that's a surprise.
I've been soft on Solo: A Star Wars Story for some time now, thinking that the film was in for a $700-800 worldwide take given everything surrounding its release. After this debut weekend though, that's looking optimistic. Solo's estimate for the three-day Memorial Day weekend is $83.3 million, with a projected four-day of $101 million. The film is #1 for the weekend, but context is important. Those numbers are just bad, putting Solo's opening under Hollywood's last marker of blockbuster failure, Justice League.
So, the question is why? I was soft of the film for various reasons already. It was too close to the last franchise film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which itself was successful, but divisive. Star Wars has bowed in December since Disney took control and that slot has been working for them. Solo's release date puts it after Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2, giving audiences a number of options for things other than Solo to watch. And that's before we ask if fans wanted a Han Solo film in the first place.
Worse, the film is far more expensive than originally planned, much like Justice League. Solo was originally directed by 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were ultimately replaced by veteran director Ron Howard. Howard re-shot enough of the film to obtain a full director's credit, but that pushed the film's cost to a reported $250-300 million. Solo needed $600 million just to be in the black and it's not going to hit anywhere near that, unless its legs are spectacular.
It looks like everyone will be talking about this release until the next Star Wars film releases, which is Episode IX. That film is being helmed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams with a scheduled release date of December 20, 2019. Outside of that, Disney's future Star Wars slate is up in the air. The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson still has an entire, unique trilogy of films in development, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are writing and producing their own series, and Logan director James Mangold is reportedly in talks to helm a film focused around fan-favorite Boba Fett. It'll be interesting to see if any of that changes in the future, following Solo's release.
This Week's News and Notes
- On Friday, Quantic Dream's latest game Detroit: Become Human released on PlayStation 4. Mike reviewed it and liked it all right, but found the writing a little bit too on-the-nose sometimes. Like literally. There's a literal "I Have a Dream"-type speech in it.
- Battlefield 5 was officially revealed last week, and with it, lots of details of what we can expect from the World War 2-era shooter. It won't have a paid Season Pass, unlike past entries, and it also won't have a battle royale mode. Hirun got to take a look at it last week too, and wrote up his impressions of all the big changes coming to multiplayer.
- Telltale has delayed season two of The Wolf Among Us into 2019. Somewhere Caty and Matt are crying about this news.
- In an interesting direction for the Montana-based game, Far Cry 5's first DLC, called Hours of Darkness (haha, get it?), will take players to… Vietnam. Say farewell to Hope County!
- In honor of Dark Souls: Remastered's release late last week, Kat wrote a big rundown of the history of bonfires in video games, from Chrono Trigger to, well, Dark Souls of course.
- Caty has a bigger feature coming down the pipeline, and repurposed some unused quotes into a story about The Witcher 3's memorable opening area White Orchard. Mike Laidlaw, of Dragon Age fame, even has some kind words about the onboarding area..
- Axe of the Blood God: Kat is joined by our regular contributor Doc Burford on this week's Axe of the Blood God to finally talk about Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Subscribe here!