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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Zoink
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2018

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


Switch Review - 'Fe'

by Andreas Salmen on March 5, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

At its heart, Fe is a personal narrative about our relationship with nature, the land, and its beings.

Buy Fe

Video games are an art medium, but the degree to which a game developer embraces it differs. Small titles, like the wonderful Journey on PS3 and PS4, are irrefutable proof of the power of the medium and its ability to evoke emotional and transcendent experiences. They tell stories and introduce the player to their world and its rules, and they work beautifully if executed well. Fe fits that description perfectly, but while it is a beautiful journey, it fails to be as memorable as other similar games.

In Fe, we play as a small fox-like creature that awakes in a forest to find its world under attack from the Silent Ones, grim creatures that enslave life on your world and, as the name suggest, are not that big on sounds. Fe is the Swedish word for fairy, so it can be assumed our cute protagonist may be a mystical incarnation on a path to understand and defeat the invasion by the Silent Ones. Unlike the newfound oppressors of the forest, our world mainly works on sounds. Each creature has its own song or noise that it uses to communicate with its species and interact with special flowers.

The game shows its interpretative side from the outset when our little Fe awakens alone in the forest. We quickly learn how to control the little furball by jumping and howling. While we have a map and mission marker, the game is playable without it, making it more important to look for cues in the world rather than rely on things that pull you out of the experience. If you're stuck, howling long enough will connect you to a bird to show you the way, but that's optional. The little bird-helpers can get lost pretty easily, so it's best to pay attention and be aware of your surroundings.

When we make contact with the first animal in the forest — a deer-like creature — we follow it until we run into a ledge that is too steep for us to jump. This is where we find out how to effectively use our howling to connect with other animals. While howling, we can either use the right stick or the motion controls of the Switch to find the appropriate frequency to communicate with the creature. In this specific case, it follows us, and we can even ride on its back to return to the previously inaccessible ledge where it activates a special flower that enables us to float to higher ground.

While Fe features large and open areas that are interconnected, it handles similar to a Metroidvania, with self-contained areas that we can only access by learning new songs to connect to new creatures or collecting special shards to learn new abilities. The story can be completed without learning the whole move set. There is a central hub from which the other parts branch out, so we can tackle the world one segment at a time.

The Silent Ones are omnipotent enemies that Fe cannot defeat directly. We have to use stealth to sneak around them or connect to stronger animals that can take them out for us. If we are spotted, we're almost instantly taken out by their ability to entrap us in a sticky cage-like goo. We cannot free ourselves from these traps, but early in the game, we learn how to free other creatures from it with bomb-plants.

The general gameplay loop in Fe stays similar in the sense that we follow a certain creature, assess the situation, help it, and gain the ability to perform its song, which lets us communicate with all creatures of its kind and the corresponding environmental elements, like flowers. By the end of the game, we're able to string together several moves with the help of flowers, soar through the air with flowers that provide an upward airstream or neon mushrooms that light the way in dark caves.

Fe is a platformer at heart, so mixing up the formula is key to making the experience feel fresh and varied. The title may be experimental in the way it tells the story and how it looks, but the core platforming gameplay never really excels. Our abilities and the environment make our lives easier as we climb trees to reach a vantage point, climb up a hill, or rush across the forest. Bundled with the ability to glide, Fe provides fun ways to traverse the world and surpasses its otherwise mediocre platforming. Special moves are mostly fun and make it more exciting, but if you rely on basic platforming, the game doesn't hold up well. The controls feel floaty and inaccurate, and consequently, so does the jumping. It's an explorative gameplay experience but never really meets the expectations in moving forward in a satisfying way. It also restricts the feeling of the open world and makes it feel more linear.

The story is told via several means. It shows you encounters between the Silent Ones and wildlife as a first-hand witness, and it even lets you switch sides and experience certain events from the view of a Silent One. There are also several stone slabs with carvings, and when you sing beside them, they give you hints about what's really going on. The whole story lives through your interpretation of the events and ending, which is a bold decision by the developer, since it can end both ways: rewarding excitement or disappointed confusion. It does a job of explaining itself by showing us enough puzzle pieces, but it doesn't have a huge emotional impact, making certain set pieces less engaging than they should've been.

That was also partly due to mediocre platforming stretches that turned me off of the experience and one situation where I got stuck. In that particular segment, I relied on a few small creatures to follow me and activate some flowers so I could traverse further. They eventually got me to a previously inaccessible area, but unfortunately, I fell into a previous section. That would not have been an issue because they usually follow you, and if not, they respawn. In this case, they didn't follow me, and those who respawned were instantly captured by the Silent Ones. I eventually found a way to return via a glitch in the environment. It's situations like this that can severely hurt the experience, since the game relies heavily on pulling you in and not letting you go.

Apart from those gripes with the gameplay and story, Fe was still an enjoyable experience. It's far from a masterpiece for me, since it's held back by a few but significant shortcomings. What works wonderfully is the angular low-poly visual style, which is dark and mysterious with some neon-colored accents. It made the world look believable and mysterious, and it added to the atmosphere at every turn. The sound was equally excellent, which is expected from a game that's so reliant on music, sounds, and voices. Both combined to create a dense atmosphere that surpasses and somewhat rectifies its shortcomings in other areas, making it a more enjoyable journey than it would've been otherwise.

On the Switch, the visuals are toned down a bit and don't run at full 1080 resolution in docked mode. There's also less draw distance and regular frame rate drops when entering new areas in both docked and undocked modes. On the other hand, playing the game in handheld mode with headphones creates an extra layer of immersion. Similar to many other games, Fe is only recommendable on the Switch if you don't have another platform or if you rely heavily on portability because it's the inferior version otherwise.

Fe is a short but enjoyable experience, but it never reaches the heights of other games that tackle similar interpretative game concepts. The platforming is hit-and-miss, the story is all right but not always emotionally engaging, and it's plagued with some frame rate stutters on the Switch. It's a treat for your eyes and ears throughout the five-hour story, and it features collectibles if you want to spend a few extra hours with Fe after the credits have rolled.

Score: 7.0/10

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