Imagine, if you will, a land where you could find everything you’ve ever lost or forgotten. That very place is the setting, and central theme, of Forgotton Anne, a 2.5D adventure game developed by Throughline Games and published by Square Enix Collective. Forgotton Anne is predominantly a cinematic adventure game with frequent platforming sections and light puzzle elements. It is also stunningly hand-drawn.
You play as Anne, and Enforcer in the Forgotten Lands, a magical world inhabited by Forgotlings – creatures composed of mislaid objects who long to be remembered again. In a world where most sentient beings are forgotten items from the human world (the “Ether”), such as odd socks, lost letters and missing toys, Anne and her elderly guardian Master Bonku are the only humans. As Anne, you set out to stop a Forgotling rebellion that threatens the chance for everyone – Forgotlings and humans alike – to return to the human world and be remembered.
When I booted up the game, I was met with a title screen devoid of music and filled with natural, ambient noise and a beautiful landscape. I instantly knew that this was going to be a pretty game, and I was not disappointed. Once you start the game, you are immediately dropped into Anne’s living space – The Tower. The power, called “Anima” in Forgotton Anne as a catch-all for the energy they use for basically everything, has gone out and from the balcony she can see that the station is on fire.
You are quickly introduced to some of the main mechanics used for puzzling and traversing – using Anima and the Arca. The Arca is a fingerless glove/gauntlet device that Anne wears at all times. By going into Animavision, your surroundings are covered in a blue filter, highlighting any sources of Anima. If your Arca is empty (its capacity is indicated in the symbol at the bottom right of the screen), you can select Anima sources to suck the Anima into the Arca. From there you can carry it around with you for as long as you like, until you wish to fill something else with your stored Anima, such as an empty Anima canister or a power cell for a switch or lever.
Not long after, you receive your wings, which allow you to jump incredible distances. I really enjoyed the platforming in Forgotton Anne because you really get a sense of Anne’s weight and strength as you hang from platforms, pull yourself up, jump, land, and fall. That said, deploying the wings can feel a bit stiff at times. If you try to hold onto the wing activation button and the run button while readying yourself for a running leap, the wings briefly pop out to activate, then pop back in again while staying activated. It delays you for a few seconds and makes you wonder whether you still have everything set up for your next movement.
Your wings are powered by the Arca, which must be fully charged if you want to use them. A lot of the puzzles you encounter require you to think carefully about how to use the Arca, the Anima stored within, and the Anima in the environment. Other sections simply involve careful timing and deciding whether to run, jump, or used an improved version of either by employing the wings. Transferring Anima into other objects is the only way to deplete your Arca’s supply, while the wings simply draw on the power but don’t actually consume it. Additionally, your Arca holds exactly one unit of Anima, and when you use it or obtain more, you always use and receive the same amount (i.e. the Arca can only ever be full or empty).
Anne was given the Arca by Master Bonku, who rules over the Forgotten Lands with the promise of a return home to the human world. Master Bonku found her as a baby on the shores of the Forgotten Lands and has since raised her as his own. Bonku has promised a return home to “validated” Forgotlings – basically those with valid identification papers – who have been lucky enough to receive tickets to the Ether Bridge following its completion. Non-validated Forgotlings who disagree with Bonku’s idea that everyone wishes to return home to the human world make up the rebellion. These Forgotlings try to sabotage the construction of the Ether Bridge at every turn and release propaganda to poison other Forgotlings’ view of Bonku.
At the start of the game, after restoring Anima power to her home, a Forgotling breaches the Tower’s security and enters Anne’s home. In Animavision, Anne can choose to distill Forgotlings, which means draining their Anima lifeforce and leaving them inanimate and, for all intents and purposes, dead. Here you are faced with your first choice of many choices in the game – do you distill him or not?
Forgotton Anne provides the player with constant choices. A lot of these boil down to what kind of character you wish to give Anne – abrasive, cold, and mercenary, or warm, naive and unsure. Other choices, such as the first choice to distill the intruder, have real weight in the game later on, which pleased me to no end. So many games that prompt the player to make definite A vs B choices like these often have no plan for how it will later develop the story or character. I also appreciated how the game wastes no time in introducing you to its core mechanics in a simple, easy-to-understand way, as well as throwing you into the deep end of making tough choices. I also really enjoyed the fact that the puzzles were suitably challenging, but not hard enough to make you frustrated. There was at least one time where I thought I would get stuck, but there were few enough options to try that I was able to easily deduce where I was going wrong and finally succeed.
Your choices, as well as general story events, are chronicled in your diary. This helps you keep track of the decisions you have made and the way you have interacted with certain Forgotlings. It’s also useful for remembering what your next move is, should you take a lengthy break while playing the game. Around Forgotten Lands you can also find mementos, which can be anything from rebel propaganda to sentimental items from Anne’s childhood. Mementos give you a bit of extra flavor regarding the world and the characters, but there are also other small bonuses and trophies relevant to this collectable, if you care about that sort of thing.
Now, let’s talk about the big one – audiovisual. Pheeeeeew. This game is, undoubtedly, one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen. Still, it’s not without its flaws, so let’s start with those. The animation and art for the more mobile characters sometimes feel clunky and disjointed, and not as high quality as the rest of the artwork. When Anne crawls through small spaces, the way the animation repeats is painfully stop-start and not smooth at all. It also makes the whole movement feel a million times slower.
Likewise, in later segments where Anne is in a terribly stressful situation, her repetitive motions used to free herself are accompanied with a bored, neutral face, and don’t ramp up in intensity with the music. It really detracts from the seriousness and intensity of the situation. It would also be nice if the infrequent profile picture that comes up when Anne muses on something would actually change depending on the situation. At one point she observes the body of an acquaintance and it still uses the same inquisitive face as always.
However, every single area of the game absolutely oozes character, which is helped by the accompanying music at every turn. The environments are absolutely beautiful, and more often than once I had to call over my boyfriend to gawp at some of the beautiful scenery that I had just discovered. The careful use of light and shadow and frequent use of silhouette in revealing and hiding things in the foreground and background is masterful. The lighting changes not only on the environments, but noticeably on Anne and the other characters as they move throughout the scenery. This careful attention to detail really adds to the game’s charm and gives Forgotton Anne its own unique style while still clinging to that lovely Studio Ghibli aesthetic. I honestly couldn’t get over how nice the art was, to the point that I’m struggling to find more creative ways of saying that it was gorgeous.
The entire score was performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra. Remember how I said this game felt like something from the Ghibli workshop? This was one of the main contributing factors in that assessment. It’s incredible that an indie game was able to manage such an impressive score, performed by a group with such renown. Not only is the soundtrack breathtaking, it’s also varied and perfectly crafted to fit every scene. Not only that, but there are multiple variations on the same theme for different areas of the same building as you swap between planes or move up and down between floors.
If I had only one critique, it would be that there is no way to adjust anything but the master volume, as the voice acting was regularly drowned out by the music during key cutscenes. Thankfully, the subtitles are large and in charge and don’t distract from the visuals. In fact, I was even more amenable to the subtitling than usual because of the lovely yellow color that reminded me of watching subbed foreign movies and television shows on SBS.
The story progresses at an even clip and doesn’t have any slow sections, although if you get a little stuck on the puzzle you may find that you linger a little in some areas. The writing for each of the characters, down to the smallest and most forgettable (hah) Forgotling, is excellent. Even if a passing NPC is only afforded a few lines of dialogue, they are injected with plenty of character and are often quite entertaining. The voice acting is also varied and full of character. I think I only heard a few repeat voices across all the Forgotlings I encountered, and the voices for Anne and Master Bonku are fairly good, although not anything particularly dazzling. The voice of Fig, a Forgotling you meet later in the game, has such a magnificent and dramatic voice (helped by his magnificent and dramatic character) that I could have sworn he had stepped out of a Ghibli movie.
Forgotton Anne was actually way longer than I expected to be, and yet somehow it never, ever once felt slow, or like I could take a good break from it. I always wanted to keep going, although life and the need for sleep will always try to get in the way. You could probably finish Forgotton Anne in a single day if you really wanted, but I think two days would be a better estimate.
While I was able to guess quite a few of the story beats ahead of time, that may be down to being genre savvy. In truth, I don’t think Forgotton Anne is breaking any new ground story-wise on a very basic level, but the world built around the story makes up for it ten times over. Forgotton Anne is the kind of game you want to snuggle up with under a blanket with some hot chocolate while listening to the rain. I should know, because that’s how I had the pleasure of playing it.
After you complete Forgotton Anne, you are also given a space to return to past important decisions and play them out without affecting your current save. From this point you can also go back and pick up mementos that you missed to add to your collection. I have seen both endings (that I know of) and can say that while only one of them ever seemed like the right choice to me, the opposite choice completely fell flat and had little to no payoff. This is about the only area in the game where I felt the story was really lacking, because everything else from start to finish was handled very well.
Forgotton Anne is charming, delightful, and breathtakingly beautiful. While it does have audio balance issues, some clunky gameplay and some weird and unattractive animation and character design at times, I can happily give it an overwhelmingly positive review. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’ll charm the pants right off you. Forgotton Anne is released on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC on 15 May 2018 – go get it, because you won’t regret it.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.