Fragile Dreams: Farewell to Ruins of the Moon
It would be hard to imagine Fallout 3 squeezing a sentimental music video interlude into it’s depiction of a post-apocalypse world, but in Fragile Dreams: Farewell to Ruins of the Moon, tri-Crescendo manage to do just that. It’s fair to say then that Fragile Dreams is a markedly different take on the end of days, offering a strange, often enchanting and unique take on the survival horror genre that makes interesting use of its host console’s unique abilities.
Much like Cormac McCarthy’s excellent novel The Road, the calamity that has befallen the world of Fragile Dreams is unclear; what is apparent is that the majority of humans have been snuffed out of existence, leaving our hero – fifteen-year old boy Seto – alone, vulnerable and searching for answers. In the game’s opening, Seto buries the unnamed old man with whom he lived, and it is here that the game picks up, with Seto clinging to the hope that he will be able to locate more survivors of the undefined event. Leaving the safety of his home, he finds a world in ruin, over-run by animals and haunted by ghosts.
This set up gives the game an atmosphere of uncertainty that is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, it has enabled tri-Crescendo to construct a world and narrative that is intriguing and unsettling; as a player, you often feel cast adrift (mirroring Seto’s own isolation) with every step forward feeling like a step into the unknown. On the downside, the aimlessness of Seto’s quest can at times be a frustration. Objectives can be fairly oblique, and you can spend a lot of time merely wondering around areas hoping that you stumble upon the trigger for the next part of the story to unfold. The game also has an overreliance on fetch-quests, frequently making you backtrack laboriously through previously visited areas; this wouldn’t be quite so bad if the map system wasn’t so poorly realised, as it is not always easy to identify where you are in order to work out where you should be heading.
Gameplay-wise, Fragile Dreams is a mish-mash of ideas borrowed from other games; there’s a smattering a Silent Hill and Resident Evil, a hint of Zelda and a soupçon of Project Zero, but despite these obvious influences, tri-Crescendo have crafted a package that feels like a unique addition to the survival horror genre, and has plenty of tricks up its sleeve with which to terrify you. Central to the experience is the frailty of lead character Seto, who is no heavily armed special ops veteran, but rather a fifteen year old boy with little more than make-do weapons – ranging from sticks to butterfly nets to golf clubs – at his disposal. While you are never besieged by large numbers of enemies, the world has a constant underlying sense of hostility that is amplified by the strangeness of the many dangers that Seto must face; ravenous dogs are an obvious threat, but being attacked by flocks of pigeons proves to be disconcertingly disturbing. The first time you face a corridor full of floating, ethereal jellyfish with smiling faces proves to be similarly disturbing, and the less we say about the childlike giggling of the disembodied ghost legs the better!
The palpable sense of atmosphere is cemented with some excellent production values. Visually, the game is frequently sumptuous with desolate locales scattered with the tattered remnants of human life offering a remarkably effective ghost-train of scares even before the games strange cast of antagonists make an appearance. The skeletal silhouettes of construction and fairground rides looming blackly against a mottled sky and decaying hotel rooms and empty shopping malls are wonderfully realised, side stepping the Wii’s comparative lack of processing power with clear and focussed design.
The game is also something of a showcase in effective sound design, with a masterful layering of silence, sound effects and a minimal music track. For much of the game the only noise you’ll hear is Seto’s footsteps, deepening the sense of isolation, and moments of tension or danger are signalled with haunting piano and disturbing sounds to great affect. The audio also toys with you, often leaving you uncertain if the sound coming out of the remote is the growl of phantom dog, or the croaking of harmless (and unseen) toads.
Further richness is brought to the world with ‘memories’ that can be collected in the form of everyday items strewn throughout the world. These memories reveal snippets of insights into the lives of their un-named owners, many of who seem to have been aware of their impending doom. While a small touch, its remarkably well implemented and adds a great deal to the experience and expands the feeling of loss that punctuates the game world.
It’s a shame that the sense of atmosphere that the game so effectively conveys is undermined by some clunky game design. Controlling Seto is easy enough, and using the Wii remote’s pointer to manipulate your torch works extremely well, but combat is nowhere near as fluid, and is in desperate need of a lock-on mechanism; the timing of your attacks is crucial, but it is often difficult to judge exactly how far away enemies are. While this does in some ways reflect the vulnerability of Seto as a character, it’s disappointing that a more refined system isn’t in place. Managing the contents of your backpack (which has limited space) can also be a chore, and it’s easy to find yourself with insufficient resources to square up to powerful foes as a result.
There is much to applaud in Fragile Dreams: Farewell to Ruins of the Moon and it is undoubtedly well worth experiencing. It looks and sounds lovely, makes excellent use of the Wii’s abilities and, as a slightly more contemplative survival horror it succeeds, scaring in less obvious ways and proving to be strangely thought provoking. Unfortunately when it’s not scaring you, it can feel frustrating and slightly unfocussed, eking out its play time with lengthy revisits to previous locales. What is most frustrating is that most of its problems lie in some reasonably minor issues that could have easily been resolved with a little more design finesse. And this is a shame; Fragile Dreams has the potential to be a classic survival horror, but instead its merely a slightly flawed, quirky, original and triumphantly Japanese addition to the genre.
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