I remember during the last generation stumbling on this game at the local Gamestop. At the time, it looked interesting, but I had other things I wanted to get into, so it wouldn’t be till many years later that I would get it as a Christmas gift from my aunt. Bringing it home I put the game in my WiiU and within a few minutes the atmosphere had me. It was moody, gloomy, and even hinted at the ghostly horrors I would run into. I was sure I would be in for a real treat….
As I finish it, however, I can not say I was right. I wanted a survival horror game in line with the old classics (just requiring you to handle it with junk you could find and swing instead of limited ammo) backed by some story depth. I got a simplified adventure title with a plot written by some EmoMcSadSad who couldn’t even leave a natural somewhat happy ending alone without blacking out the screen and whining before the scene finished (no I'm not kidding). Come on in if you want to hear more. It’s not pretty.
Story: Seto is a 15 year old boy who has lived his entire life with an old man who took him in, but our story starts when those days have come to an end. The old man has died and Seto just dug a grave for the poor soul. He is now truly alone for Seto has never seen another human being in his entire life. With nothing else to do, Seto makes his way through the observatory the two once called home to find a strange blue crystal and a note from the old man saying it was left for the boy to read after his death and instructions to go out into the world towards the red glowing tower in the distance if Seto hopes to find other people.
After an animated opening sequence demonstrating that the world has not had people in it for some time as he wanders the ruins of a village, Seto finds someone… a girl about his age singing to the moon. One awkward first encounter later, and she runs, leaving Seto to chase after this strange silver-haired girl and into the adventure of his life.
And this will be the main point of the entire game. You will help Seto as he chases after this girl, running into various characters as he explores the ruins of civilization left behind when mankind disappeared. In the process he will find himself befriending and helping random people (human or not) who somehow survived the apocalypse as well as picking up clues to what exactly this apocalypse was. And while these clues are sketchy at best, the final moments of the game will lay out what happened to end mankind as Seto finds himself pretty much the only one in the way of it happening again. Enjoy what it gives you as this is one of the few moments that really develops the story rather then just pushing it to the next point. However, it wont explain any of the weirder supernatural stuff you will run into on the way despite it being blatantly and overtly tied to that main story.
Furthermore, this game pushes the theme of loss often as you play, but it does so so ham-fisted and relentlessly, it’s actually almost funny. In fact anyone with a touch technical sense is probably going to laugh at the first time a character dies for just how stupid it is, while everyone else will probably be amazed at how they decided to use no real lead-up to the moment. It just does not hit the right notes to make you feel bad for Seto. Rather you start to feel embarrassed for the writer coming up with this drivel that takes center stage instead of the rather cool plot dropped in your lap in the last act of the game.
Graphics: Fragile Dreams is a game played from a 3rd person perspective directly behind your main character. From this perspective, you will witness his journey in all it’s atmospheric glory, and to that end the game does a remarkable job depicting a gloomy world decayed for a complete lack of human presence over many years.
From a technical stand-point however, the world doesn’t fair as well. These same environments that work well for the art-style are fairly simplistic as often as not and can often make it obvious the developer was working with an underpowered machine even as they tried to mix in some larger environments for the game, resulting in some places looking a bit rougher then one would want.
And yet at the same time, those things you will need to see up close (like characters you will interact with) were clearly given priority as you will not find a single character who’s face and design sacrifice to this. Using an anime astatic, every character looks clean, complete, and is brilliantly expressive, and this is what will stand out from the gloom this dead world pits you against… these characters are designed to come alive.
Sound: Much like this game graphically, the audio department works great to set the tone, but is a mixed back when you get to the detail of it. And let me get this our of the way right away… the voice acting suffers heavily here. There are some characters who are done very well and you can believe them to be who they seem like they should be, but then there are others like the main character Seto, who’s lines seem to more often than not be read like the actor really wanted to emulate Captain Kirk… pausing at odd moments that make him feel kinda artificial at times. It is a real mixed bag performance wise.
Nor is there a lot of music or sound effects in the game. A lot of the time, you are dealing with ambient sounds for background, which actually makes a lot of sense since the game is trying to depict a derelict world where mankind really hasn’t existed in many years and choosing to use background music mainly for when you get into close enough range of an enemy to fight them. And even that will be the same “beware” toned song for just about the entire game. The result is perhaps one of the most effective and appropriate minimalist soundtracks I have seen in a while.
Sound effects are also limited for good reason. There are only a handful of enemy types in the game, limiting what you will hear from them, and aside from that it really needs yells for getting hit/falling down and sounds of hitting back. There is little else in the game that demands and kind of extra sound effect.
But this is a game that understands these sounds are at least half of the atmosphere of a game, and uses them to their fullest. In addition to what you hear from the screen, the Wiimote’s microphone will be a key tool to alerting you of when danger is present, as each type of enemy also makes noises through it, the volume changing depending on what direction and distance you are compared to it. In essence, you can think of it like Seto listening for danger and being able to hone in on what’s around as you point about.
Gameplay: Sadly, this game begins to fall apart when it comes to the gameplay and for various reasons. You will control Seto using the stick in the nunchuck to move around while controlling where he looks by where you point the Wiimote on the screen. Go far enough from the center and he will turn, allowing you to look around at things you have found in front of him without disorientating yourself, but this is where most of the trouble lies in the gameplay itself. While the nunchuck works perfectly, the game has a very hard-line setup for turning. Where much better games about this will give you a smaller space you don’t move in, but how close you are to the center also determining how fast you turn, Fragil Dreams goes from zero to full speed instantaneously, often causing that disorientation they were trying to avoid.
It also doesn’t help that Seto himself will turn around on the screen completely if the situation causes it. You see, the game uses a lighted dot to show where you are pointing and Seto is looking, which works well for the most part, but Seto’s look is based on it’s location, not it’s direction, so if for some reason the camera has an obscured view by something like a column, Seto will turn around regardless of what’s goin on to face that dot planted on that column behind him until you resolve that. This, especially in combat where aiming Seto at the enemy is important, can cause serious issues with gameplay.
And speaking of combat, you will find the system in general fairly simple. When you enter a combat situation, you will see your health appear on the upper right side of the screen as well as the enemies float into view. At this point, depending on the type of weapon you use, you will try to maneuver Seto into position to hit the enemy with it or where you can put the cursor on them to shoot. If you are using a melee weapon, once you have that point, hitting attack is all you need to to. (Ranged require you to zoom in before shooting.)
Now there are different weapon types that can put a different spin on that. For example while basic bashing weapons can have up to 3 hits in a combo with each hitting harder if you can time it right, other weapons like those based on the length of it have a charge mechanic where you can hold down the attack and then lurch forward with more power. Shooting weapons on the other hand, are all fairly basic in that they shoot where you point and that’s that.
However, you will want to stock up whatever weapon you choose for the most part, as they deteriorate over use and ultimately do break. This will never happen mid-combat, but once a weapon breaks, it is basically useless. I did not have a ranged weapon break on me, but anything melee turns into a basic weapon that only adds one damage to your attack power and has no other mechanics, not even the 3-hit combo.
And attack power is very important as it is one of the only two stats you have in the game. The other is your max hit points, and leveling up increase both of these by a static amount each time. This is actually a descent plus to the game for gamers who like to see their power increase. You will be able to gain levels easily, but the amount gained each time is relatively low, resulting in a gradual power-climb. You can actually see the difference a little grinding time makes as enemies who once you dreaded fighting become easy since they lose a lot of their ability to hurt you, and you can crush many of them in one hit before long. But this also comes with a downside for those who like to plan what to equip for what area, as your weapon (outside of type) begins to mean less and less since what they add to your attack never changes.
For example, when you start and find your first bamboo sword, it adds 20 to your attack, which seems huge since it should be at least close to doubling it. But by the time you finish the game, you will be getting to borderline 200 attack before you get a weapon in your hand, which is a problem when some weapon types max out on the ridiculously expensive weapons at about 80. In addition, once you get to this point, you are doing enough damage to basically anything that really, that number added could be 2 or 2000 and you wouldn’t care. It just doesn’t give you enough difference in combat anymore to care if you are carrying a stick or a katana.
Furthermore, you can have as much of anything you want stored away, but you can only access everything at save points. Between these places, you will have a grid of items (that does increase as you play through the game) which require you to think about how much space you can give anything you are trying to hold onto, which boil down to weapons, healing items, and mystery items found exploring or dropped from enemies killed. These mystery items especially demand consideration as you will need to go to these save points to find out what they are and they can be anything from a healing item or weapon you’ve not seen yet to cash for the merchant (who will appear at save points from time to time), to even items that will let you see the memories of someone who has now gone and figure out what was going on when the world ended.
And when you are not beating up monsters, you are exploring the world around you, and that is a term I have to use very loosely. I have rarely seen a game as linear as this one short of a full on platformer. With the exception of two areas in the entire game, you will always have one path with very short offshoots (like either a corridor here or there or a single room) you can explore. You can either go forwards or backwards, and that’s about it, if the game doesn’t remove your way back after some event (sometimes as simple as the boss’ body that you just killed literally blocking your path). This becomes exceptionally true at about the 2/3rds point of the game when it basically becomes “Corridor fights: the game.” Gamers looking to explore this world will find themselves very disappointed.
Bugs: And yet for all the sacrifices above, I can’t even say this game was a bug-free experience. In addition to the issues with where Seto looks mentioned above this game suffers immensely from lighting glitches akin to some old school NES games where a sprite might appear on the edge of the screen before disappearing as the screen moves to reveal what actually should be there. The only difference is here those artifacts are related to where your flashlight goes. It doesn’t actually effect the game, but it definitely takes you out as there is no mistaking what just happened.
Overall: Fragile Dreams is a different take on post-apocalyptic games, giving an interesting and derelict world to the gamer. However, for all the work done to make the environment into something truly unique and memorable, the faults in the game from pacing of the plot, bad voice acting, bad level design, and even buggy systems that can get in the way of actual game mechanics, different in this case most certainly did not translate to better.