There are moments in Fe where it could quite easily all be a dream. Fe is actually not just the name of the game, but also the name of a small, black, almost crystalline fox who loves to do a bit of singing. But he’s not just howling at the moon, he actually uses music to communicate with his fellow woodland creatures in a way that makes the game evolve into a kind of living symphony for the eyes and ears.
Based on Nordic forests, the world of Fe oozes and glows with pastel colours, not dissimilar to the world created in Ubisoft’s butt-tastic Ode (opens in new tab) from the end of last year. But it’s the polygonal landscape, combined with all those colours that makes it feel utterly tactile, and the sort of place you’ve definitely been to at least once before (in your imagination, anyway).
Unfortunately for Fe, the angular nature of this forest means that it’s fairly unfriendly and nonsensical. Despite a variety of flat surfaces, you can’t really just explore the open world hubs that the game creates. Instead, you’re forced to follow specific paths because you can’t just leap up that rock and head up to the cliff you need to climb; it’s a case of discovering the very prescribed routes and then following them. The map doesn’t exactly make that clear either. It’s technically top down and does provide you with a vague waypoint indicator, but there’s no sense of terrain or accessibility from looking at it. This makes the fact you can’t really explore the world properly a bit of an issue when you’re trying to get through the story. I spent far too much time knowing where to go but having no idea how to get there.
The game does equip you with different skills in an attempt to make traversal easier though, starting with tree climbing and going through to the ability to soar for short periods of time, because Fe is also apparently part flying squirrel. Well, that’s if you manage to collect enough pink crystals to unlock that particular skill and realise you have to return to the mother tree in order to actually get access to it. Yes, because that’s another problem with Fe, it doesn’t actually tell you anything. There are a few button prompts in place to tell you that you have the ability to jump and sing, and hide in bushes from the evil things that want to eat you, but little else.
That’s a bit of a problem when it comes to working out exactly what to do, and when Fe turns from platformer to puzzle game in one - almost - smooth motion. It’s not technically pitched as a puzzle game, but you’ll certainly end up scratching your head at various points. The only way to figure out exactly what to do is to sing at everything; animals, trees, that weird rock over there… oh wait, that’s a clue. Who knew? No-one.
But it’s amazing how quickly all those frustrations melt away when it all works. When you’re riding on the back of a dog-type animal through patches of mushrooms that glow when you howl, or when you’re perched on top of a tree watching the gigantic deer you’ve just freed stomp around against a backdrop of blue mist, or even when you’re flying through the air across a pastel sky on a scaly bird. The world developer Spoink has created is incredible, and regularly takes your breath away if you let it. Singing with the creatures is a wonderful thing too - especially as they all operate at a different pitch, which you’ll need to control using R2 - and figuring out yourself how the different songs and abilities change the world around you is part of the delight of Fe, and I strongly advise to let your ears pay particularly attention to the soaring orchestral score that melts in and out of existence (if Fe isn’t getting an iam8bit vinyl (opens in new tab), I may cry).
For a six hour game though, there’s plenty of story packed in. Pick up the orbs that occasionally fall out of dead enemy heads and you’ll get a monster’s eye view of the forest and the horror at the devastation they’re causing. Because, for all the tranquility in the singing, and the animals, the game is meant to be about our relationship with nature, and up until the very end (which is sadly disappointing) it’ll make you question what we’re doing to our planet. There’s some seriously powerful narrative wrapped up in all that colour and cute, and fighting faceless beasts - known as The Silent Ones - is just part of uncovering the secrets of the forest.
The traversal may be problematic - don’t even talk about the red hot rage that came from trying to leap from tree to tree on the back of that giant deer - and the way forward may not be entirely clear, but it’s certainly a journey you’ll remember. Fe sometimes misses the mark, but overall it’s a delight. If you want something that like Ori and the Blind Forest crossed with Shadow of the Colossus, this is it.
Reviewed on PS4.