We want to like this game, we really do. Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon has plenty going for it, after all – and not just a page-occupyingly long name. It’s an eerie, melancholy game world punctuated with moments of subtle beauty that will make you want to hold it tenderly, like a wounded kitten.
But there’s a big problem – it can be deathly dull. Try as we might, there’s no escaping it. Whole swathes of Fragile Dreams, for all its good intentions, are so unremittingly ponderous that you’ll often feel the need to pinch one side of your body, convinced you’ve suffered a mild stroke.
There’s a perpetual tug of war at work here. At one end you have the post-apocalyptic setting, where the lonely Seto, grieving after the death of his grandfather, sets off through derelict wastelands and dilapidated buildings in search of survivors. The world itself somehow manages to hold within it a sense of loss and mystery that few games can hold a candle to. It might not be the most detailed environment we’ve ever explored, but in terms of atmosphere it’s really punching above its weight and is undoubtedly Fragile Dreams’ most memorable achievement.
Unfortunately, yanking aggressively at the other end are the game’s mechanics. It’s a very simple action game at heart. Very simple and very slow. Seto has a number of skills at his disposal – he can use his torch to light his way through the gloomy world, swipe at enemies with the flimsy weapons he comes across, and, barring having to crouch through holes or walk carefully over broken floors, that’s pretty much your lot.
Underneath these tame action aspects lie some shallow RPG elements – inventory management that restricts what you can take with you and EXP from fallen enemies that levels you up and increases your stock of vitality. This side of things proves disappointingly throwaway though, and if it wasn’t for the incidental ‘level up’ chime that you hear from time to time, it turns out to be pretty inconsequential, at least in terms of adding any extra dimension to the experience.
For the most part, then, play involves exploring the small, cordoned-off locales and looking for items and points of interest that might open up the way to the next area. Any ‘action’ comes from battling the ghostly forms and deranged wildlife that frequently cross your path, or participating in surreal little tasks or objectives that crop up intermittently. As each hour passes, however, you’ll feel like all you’ve been doing is trudging from one gloomy corridor to the next and unlocking doors that lead to yet another maze of dim corridors. And all the while you’re wondering when Fragile is going to pick up the pace.
But the truth is that aside from the increasingly dangerous enemies and situations, it doesn’t really pick up the pace – but then it’s not meant to. Its ponderous nature is integral to its unique appeal. It fosters a nervous energy as you play, as though Silent Hill had all the scary bits removed and replaced by weirder, more surreal, more dreamy elements to hold your attention.
The Wii remote’s tinny speaker, for example, gets quite the workout, requiring you to hold it to your ear in order to find ghosts or seek out characters. It also acts as an early warning signal for approaching enemies – handy for the pouncing dogs, sure, but downright weird when manic giggling signals an ambush by disembodied legs determined to kick you to death.
Likewise, the eclectic cast of characters you meet along the way all attempt to pique your interest, along with the huge amount of collectable items hidden away that, through their unlocked ‘memories’, help to flesh out the story behind this fallen world. Whether you’re going to actually like the characters and memories, however, is another matter entirely.
Depending on your disposition, you’ll either find Fragile Dreams’ dialogue sweet and endearing or sickeningly saccharine. It’s big on love and friendship, musings on loneliness, and monologues backed by stylised cutscenes. If you’ve watched any anime you’re bound to have come across this sort of thing before – ‘human drama’ but laid on really thick. Inevitably, it comes off worse in the English dub, all forced and horribly overacted. Mercifully, you can switch to the Japanese voices which, when taken with English subtitles, make it infinitely more bearable.
For all our negativity, and despite its annoyances and the fact that, really, Fragile Dreams isn’t that good a game, we were still compelled to keep playing, to see Seto through to the end of his journey. That was due in part to the engrossingly moody game world, certainly, but also, in spite of its very real shortcomings, because there are few games like it on Wii. That, at the very least, makes it both memorable and just about worth your while.
Mar 16, 2010