Wandering through the decaying monuments to civilization that litter the world of Fragile like dead museums, Seto attempts to give words of justification to his obsessive search for a survivor, Ren, the girl with silver hair, who leaves a trail of cave art chalk drawings on the crumbling walls like breadcrumbs meant to lead the player toward understanding the abandoned landscape.
Reflecting on the sight of a pale moon against Fragile’s chilling sky, Seto realizes that if he can never tell another human about that sight, never share the feelings it stirred within him with another living person, that the memory and moment will never achieve meaning and ultimately be lost.
Fragile Dreams is a game possessed of a goal, a hope of making a connection with the player. And while this is ideally the goal of any release, this particular title continually reflects upon this need as the only way in which the experience of the game can achieve a sense of meaning that extends beyond the disc containing that hope.
I shouldn’t need to delve into the furnishings of philosophy or religion to pitch the idea that the length of any life is, at its simplest, a line of time – it’s only when we wish to draw meaning to events occurring along such a line that we need the framework of “isms”. As much as I want to get away from any school of thought here, Fragile seeks to build upon the idea of that line, at least insofar as seeking truth in the notion that meaning only exists where two such lines cross – where two lives share a moment to create meaning within the stretch of time.
Imagine looking at a painting, of being moved by elements of its brush work or some other features within the strokes, of having feelings stir within you as a result of having looked upon it. In the absence of another person with whom you could share those feelings and ideas, the moment is lost within you, and lost forever with you. And perhaps this offers an idea toward my need to share my experience with the game, to see that time and the feelings it stirred within me achieve some meaning.
This pursuit isn’t mine alone, or the game’s alone, but is the driving force of civilization. Or perhaps better yet, preserving the instances in which lives do intersect to create meaning is that force, and Fragile Dreams draws it into focus by ending the world to expose the most basic and core desire of our character, more visible and clear with the layered complexities it has created rotted away to see it emerge as the one truth of the human condition – the need to connect.
Fragile is a game capable of giving flight to such fancy notions as I’ve listed. It is also capable of bringing the player to the known ends of frustration via a design intended to achieve a connection in a territory that wants for the word “unique”. In the same way this review will either be a better use of my words, or a disposable submission from a writer who has often attempted to also achieve a connection that would see some sense of meaning emerge.
I’ll use a few more words to say that the sparse and sometimes repetitively designed world of Fragile is not always a beautiful place. It’s quite easy to view elements of that world as one encountered many times in many other titles, with the painted backdrops that offer little interaction so familiar to the Wii.
There were plenty of times I felt an anxious agony at the endless corridors, repeating pathways, and bits of backtracking that litter the game. And yet I persist in suggesting that even the familiar bits of this world have never been presented in quite the same way, with the same minimalist intention that feeds the isolating atmosphere keeping me on edge and moving forward.
If you stripped the game down to fragments and base elements, you’d produce pieces that inspire loathing – namely melodrama, awkward gameplay, breakable weapons and random items. However, games don’t often come in pieces, leaving me to sort out how the entire experience convinced me to move forward. This is an important question for me, because there was room early on for a hesitancy, space enough to say that Fragile is a very interesting title BUT…
…somewhere between the beginning and the end of the game that hesitancy fell away, and I remain fixated on understanding exactly why that was.
There’s another important scene in the game worth mentioning, when Seto speaks of the need to believe in others, even when given numerous reasons not to. He expresses the idea that the need to believe in people is vital to a sense of self, to being the type of person others can believe in. And at some point early on, as abstract as it may sound, I made the choice, not to excuse the game’s lesser qualities as artistic license, but to believe that the game was directed by purpose, gaining unity from all its elements in order to make the connection with me that it has.
The strength for this leap of faith grew in the quietest moments of the game, around the many small pits of scrap wood that Seto sets fire to, sitting near the flames to regain health, deal with a chicken masked creature for supplies, and save the game.
It’s at these moments that all the random objects Seto has collected along the way are examined, revealing scraps of writing and personal belongings from the people who once inhabited that world.
Some of these objects lend insight into the events Seto is experiencing, and some merely draw back to the game’s central focus of meaning, of the idea that Seto’s discovery of these items, and the potential to share them with others offers meaning to the memories – in turn giving the lives of those they belonged to meaning, an idea fought desperately for by nearly every person who left these fragments of memory behind. Many of these objects offer abstract memories, and also dark reflections of sadness and regret, but also a yearning to appreciate every flickering and brief moment of life as something precious.
The ruins of Fragile include sparse environments such as a collapsing train station, a hotel being slowly reclaimed by weeds and forest, and a theme park rusting back into the earth. Such settings create a strange atmosphere that always borders on horror, so often giving the same instinct of fear and dread, but driven by the unnerving absence of life, countered only by the stray cats that rule over these places, and a silence broken only by the sounds of enemies that break through the WiiMote speaker to warn of approaching danger.
Fragile has a light RPG element layered over it, and at times it seems the designers would have been just as happy to not include it. And yet that doesn’t make the combat feel quite so tacked on as I imagined it would. Enemies include stray dogs and other forms of nature gone wild, stretching to include phantoms empowered by negative memories as well as haunted ghosts at first – later turning toward more purposefully placed foes meant to cut Seto’s search for Ren short.
Combat is where the game stands to take the most criticism, though it works surprisingly well given the premise. Seto’s weapons are random objects found along the way – sticks, iron bars, bows. The game actually has a surprising amount of weapons to offer, the short life of some making it advantageous to try them all, with each adding a different attack strength or advantage to Seto’s rising stats.
As long as enemies are directly in front of you, you’re fine. It’s when things get behind you, or you need to dodge an attack that there’s some longing for an evasion button. But it stands up better than most entries in a survival horror game, which I keep wanting to compare this game to, despite its status as some new genre that begs for “survivor tale” as the only potentially suitable label. What I can tell you is that I have battled and dodged a giant mole beast, and emerged reasonable sure that the controls are well matched with the challenge offered by enemies.
I thought Fragile was going to be a game that needed more justification, but for every part that seemed uneven, there came another sequence that brought a sense of purpose to everything preceding it. Even the dreaded idea of melodrama and forced emotion melded into all the feelings stirring within me while wandering through the ruins of that world.
That didn’t erase moments where I was pushing ahead rather than soaking in the atmosphere – but I did always find something worth pushing through the lulls within the game for, drawn toward greater moments that remain with me beyond completing the journey. Fragile has left me with an experience worth talking about, worth pointing your attention toward a game that wants players, that needs that connection in order to be remembered as something truly significant, and not simply forgotten and lost to time like so many other titles in a disposable, “what’s next” driven industry.
*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review