Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a story-focused fantasy platformer that takes you through the stages of grief. Taking on the role of Izzie, as well as her fictional heroine, players must navigate the fantasy world of Estoria as well as face the reality of losing a loved one - a theme I didn’t expect to be so invested in until I found myself close to tears during my playthrough.
The game is divided between reality and the imaginary world of Estoria which, after receiving a journal for her birthday, Izzie begins to create as a means to help her grandmother who is recovering in hospital. As you navigate the pages of Izzie’s journal jumping from thought to thought - and using interactive elements to better illustrate Izzie’s words - you also explore her made-up land through a new protagonist who is fighting a dragon that has destroyed her home.
Best of both worlds
When Izzie is struggling to cope in the real world it’s reflected in her story. At the start of the journey, her Estoria alter ego has just been made ‘guardian of the fireflies’ and is gifted a book to store all the magical words she finds from village elder Elder Ava. Then a huge dragon burns down the entire village leaving you with the enormous task of finding all the lost fireflies and restoring the world, with only her book of spells to aid you
What made these fantasy elements so engaging were the puzzles which require you to use the magic words to gain access to things or escape from situations you’ve found yourself in. Most of the time these instances are self-explanatory, for example, you’d use “rise” to make a platform go up, or “burn” to burn away an ivy-covered archway - however, there were other times when I’d have to be smart about the words I used, like using the verb ‘ignore’ when facing the menacing dragon to stop his fiery breath from chasing you away. It’s instances like this that made me wish I had a magical book of words to help me ‘ignore’ my alarm, or ‘swap’ my workday with a cat.
On the other side of this adventure, in the real world, Izzie gets the unfortunate news that her beloved grandmother has just had a stroke. Absolutely distraught by the tragic news, she begins to journal her thoughts which tell the story of her grandmother’s recovery, how her family is dealing with the bad news and her grandmother’s eventual passing - which features some of the most heart-wrenching narration I’ve ever heard.
The pages of the journal which show Izzie’s initial reactions to her Grandmother’s passing are so well executed that they were harrowing to watch play out. I’m not known for crying at fictional stories however I definitely felt my face get warm and my eyes get prickly during this scene. I think it’s especially heartbreaking for those who have lost someone close, who knows exactly how these situations play out. I remember reading the journal entry which featured: “It’s 5am, Gran died in the night. Mum got the call a few hours ago, she’s still crying. I just feel numb.” and being immediately taken back to the times in my life when I had been given the news of someone’s passing and just totally sympathizing with Izzie as I knew exactly how she was feeling.
Just can’t put it into words
The part of this game that stood out the most to me, is Izzie’s diary segments which show her experiencing the several stages of grief. The pages which detail her family’s struggle to handle the news of her grandmother’s ill health, as well as her grandmother’s funeral made me reflective of my own childhood experiences where I also experienced the loss of my maternal grandmother, as well as another close family member a few years later when I was around Izzie’s age.
You genuinely feel the weight of this character’s grief whilst navigating these sections of the game, which also makes the Estoria elements that much more rewarding to overcome as Izzie explores her feelings within her fictional world.
As mentioned during its appearance at the Future Games Show: Spring Showcase, Lost Words: Beyond the Page’s developers, Sketchbook games, relied on research from The Wellcome Trust who gave the game’s writer, Rhianna Pratchett, an insight into child psychology and trauma. Pratchett also mentioned that she took this opportunity to sprinkle in some of her own experiences of loss and anecdotes from her childhood memories which I feel definitely helped to give the story a layer of relatability. I felt as if I knew Izzie’s grandmother just through the stories she told of her, despite never actually interacting with her in the game.
After playing through Izzie’s emotional journey first hand, I feel I now have a better understanding of how I must have been feeling after losing my loved ones many years ago. As the game perfectly explains: “Maybe there’s a part of me that will always be sad. That will always miss her. But maybe, that’s ok. And that’s the way it should be.”
Lost Words: Beyond the Page is now available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia.