Forgotton Anne Review – Staircase to Heaven (PS4)
2D cinematic adventures are reasonably common in 2018, nevertheless the bar for which they’re set only continues to grow as ThroughLine Games reach new heights with their gorgeously-drawn Forgotton Anne. Looking like it has been pulled straight from a Studio Ghibli project, it’s quite astonishing to see how far the design can be pushed and how much it can elevate the whole storytelling dynamic. Still, the concern beckons that, is this all style over substance?
In the Forgotton Lands, objects that are misplaced, lost, or forgotten dwell with one another as they search for a way to return to their human proprietor. Here we meet Anne. Anne lives in the tower acting as “The Enforcer” on behalf of her father-figure – Master Bonku – and carries out “justice” to rebel Forgotlings that aim to thwart the two humans plans to return to the Ether (Earth). A wacky mythos, yes, but one that is so well entwined and introduced that within hours you’re already invested in this dystopia.
Waking in the middle of the night from a flurry of explosions, Anne begins her investigations into what caused the power disruption to the Ether Bridge. A cause of the disruption means Master Bonku cannot complete his work and cannot return the chosen few back to the Ether. Using Anne’s Arca device, immediately you’re forced into a decision of whether to distil (render lifeless) a red scarf with glasses named Dilly for aligning with the rebels – including their mysterious leader Fig. This decision is one of many you’re forced to make on your journey. One of which that suffers consequences that feel hauntingly real, as you suck the life out anthropomorphic creatures like an unlimited usurper, only to see the unsettling text of “this outcome could have been different.” The chaotic nature is reminiscent of Sophie’s Choice, but with Disney characters.
Most surprising (on first playthrough) is that not until a decent portion of the way through the story, Anne herself is pretty unlikable. She is rash, moody, scathing, unforgiving, and a threat to everyone around her. She has the power to distil every Forgotling, and you truly believe she will if her hand is forced. Anne’s journey is certainly compelling – if not predictable in some ways – albeit one that does feel convincing and earned until the end.
Sophie’s Choice With Disney Characters
Setting itself up as a cinematic story-adventure, a large chunk of gameplay is spent climbing up and down staircases as Anne travels to her next destination. Otherwise, there is an abundance of puzzles sprinkled together with light platforming and branching narrative choices. The main puzzle encountered has you instilling Anima (the energy of this world) into dispensers and cylinders to power circuits, therefore allowing you to progress. Next to this there are the underutilized placement puzzles where the objective is to move circular doodads into their appropriate slots. Both are satisfying and fun.
As mentioned, there is light platforming involved (besides endless staircases) where Anne uses her mechanical wings to reach towering heights. Again, these are enjoyable segments that break up the narrative in good fashion. Levels are well designed too, apart from one section near the climax which requires some misplaced backtracking; though the control layout doesn’t help this issue. Using O to jump, X to interact, L1/R1 to prepare wings and L1/L2 to run, you do occasionally become all fingers and thumbs. Perhaps, automatically readying the wings whilst sprinting would have suited better? Among no option to map buttons, it’s a little curious why these specific choices were made.
Propelling the story forward can sometimes be troublesome for developers, however thanks to the anime-like approach, transitioning from gameplay to cutscene is seamless. Used sparingly throughout, it makes most impact when changed to Anne’s eyeline along certain other inventive shots. With death not an option though (and possibly due to a long playthrough), FA did crash at a reasonably critical moment in the story. Cleverly the style uses perception in smart way with stages given much more depth. Put this together with no loading screens and the 6-8 hour plot that flows swimmingly – so much in fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking this tale could feature on Crunchyroll.
Taking British influence for the world of the Forgotlings, you’ll notice the diverse range of accents alongside the amusing chatter about putting the kettle on. Some gameplay elements transcend this too, as one scenario has you attempting to gain entrance to a theater showing by using a public dial telephone to enter the name of the play. Then we have local radio presenter – Stan Haw – whose role is to keep the public informed on current affairs in a role very resemblant of the 6 o’clock announcer for the BBC news. It’s a world that feels lived in, but one you’d still rather not.
All of this diversification and the obvious hilarity behind talking objects makes for some funny moments. Ironically this is all set to the backdrop of a depressing realism that for some objects they can have nothing more than a monotonous life, that if they somehow survive will end crystallizing (dying of old age). Unexpectedly the political aspect of it all is addressed in a smart manner, as a mannequin questions why he would want to return to the Ether for one meaningless job in opposition to a sock dying for the feeling of a foot once more. It’s really quite humorous albeit bizarre. Another example found was relating to a lava lamp coming home on the train after a long night shift. Empathy for a lava lamp! Who knew it was possible? Lastly, not to mention Inspector Magnum (a .357 Magnum handgun) would be criminal considering the better parts of laughs came from his direction.
You’re Not Rotten, Just Forgotten
From pitter patter of rain drops to echoing machinery, all-encompassing music spurs Anne on to find the truth is at the focal point of the game. The light tapping of footsteps as Anne roams around the city – even changing when she switches between concrete and metal – is something to marvel at. Regrettably though, for every character that carries strong voice-work like Anne or (expected fan-favorite) Inspector Magnum, there are others that feel out of place, making crucial moments less credible. This coupled with the fact that the music/audio overlay has been poorly implemented means dialogue will often be missed (if not for subtitles). Conversations will have one-character speaking in a steady volume whilst their companion will be yelling and another will be whispering, making the whole exchange slightly tone-deaf.
Reaching the conclusion wields ultimately two decisions with one standing out as the clear choice from the perspective given and experience gained. As strictly narrative based, once complete you do get the useful feature of being able to revisit previous decisions to see alternative outcomes. On top of this, Anne carries a diary documenting her experience which gives you a more personal perspective of what she is going through mentally. Mementos additionally can be discovered as extra collectibles to give the game some nice replayabillity and further clarity to the land.
Engaging puzzles and colorful personalities set to a negative landscape make Forgotton Anne a delightful tale that is accessible to anyone vaguely interested in the genre. The superb balance of both humor and serious tones make this adventure wholly originally, despite the fact that the audio and voice acting can occasionally be below par. Some slight hiccups and decisions made with the control scheme can’t stop this quirky cinematic adventure from being charming, refreshing, and fundamentally memorable.
Forgotton Anne review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please see our Review Policy.