– Review by Paul Ewbank-
For the first videogame review for this site I chose a relatively obscure Wii game which honestly isn’t one of my favourites. Bought largely on a whim, enticed by the back cover’s promises of an eerily beautiful world, emotional story and emotive score, Fragile Dreams: Farewell ruins of the Moon (a totally irrelevant and utterly ridiculous title, by the way) will now, after a single playthrough, sit at the back of my collection of Wii games, hidden in the hope that no one will see it there, pick it up and ask me “What were you thinking?”. Because I really don’t know. To its credit, the game does, more or less, deliver on the promises it makes. It is definitely atmospheric, well crafted and at times bordering on emotive. It’s just a shame that the no-one bothered to put an actual game into this pretty little shell.
The basic premise here is fairly straightforward: you are Seto, an emo(tional) teenager who has just lost his only human companion and now believes himself to be the last human alive on earth. Just once, I’d like to see a story where they really are. At the game’s onset he sets out into the silent world and soon meets an enchanting silver haired girl and spends the rest of the game trying to track her down. Whether he’s a lonely soul longing for emotion contact or just fancies himself a piece of ass, it’s a refreshingly simply story. It unfolds very gradually by wandering round the deserted landscape, occasionally meeting other beings, picking up items people have left behind, and dishing out some whup-ass on the occasional ghost or malfunctioning robot. So call Fragile Moon: Dreams Farewell of the Ruins an action adventure game, without much of either.
Given that most games have you single-handedly saving the world from unspeakable evil or some other equally grand mission, give Fragile Dreams its dues for trying to be different. Such a minimalist plot should leave you free to wander the world as you saw fit, taking in all the many sights and sounds to your heart’s content. Or something like that. And the world of Fragile Dreams is nothing if not atmospheric. As a post-apocalyptic world it distinguishes itself by not being particularly ruined- it’s just eerily empty of people. It’s also surprisingly colourful and there’s a good variety of settings: an overgrown hotel, an abandoned amusement park and a spooky underground mall. The lush cell shaded environments, beautiful direction and sombre piano based score create a totally immersive experience, and the attention to detail in the environment is exceptional. So if they’d taken the Metroid Prime approach and just let you figure out where the hell to go next by yourself I would’ve been happier. Problem is, the game feels the need to direct your wanderings with pointless and blatantly tacked on plot points. It’s hard to describe the feeling of dismay rising up from one’s gut at being told to “follow that cat!”, not to mention the infuriating bring and fetch quests which might as well have FILLER stamped on their forehead and in the end yield absolutely nothing except the grim knowledge that you are two hours closer to the moment you die with absolutely nothing to show for it. The plot heats up a bit in the last act, where you begin to discover what caused the world to become the way it is, but a lot of it feels like a bit of a cop out- suddenly it’s just another game about singlehandedly saving the world. And is it just me or does the main antagonist’s plan make no sense? He naturally goes to great lengths to explain to you how his plan would have ended all humanity’s problems if it had worked, and you’re left scratching your head asking “Err…would it?”
There are a couple of nice touches here though. A lot of the details of the plot are left deliciously vague and open ended, and a couple of the more nonsensical moments are painstakingly pointed out by the various characters, so at least the game has a bit of a sense of humour about itself. The real glories lie in reading the memories left in items scattered around the world. These are items dropped by long dead people and Seto can read their memories from them…somehow. Most are one offs but a few form chains of memories which tell surprisingly deep and poignant stories about the people who left them. If you think that picking up random bits of junk left on the ground deson’t sound like that much fun, then you’d be right, but it’s a neat way of adding detail to the world.
For all its atmosphere there’s also a fair amount of combat in Fragile Dreams, and though there are a decent array of weapons and enemies, the combat system just isn’t engaging or unique enough to keep you interested for even the relatively short length of the game. The nuts and bolts of the game mechanics are functional at best and this may seem a weird comparison but they seem to owe a massive debt to Resident Evil 4- the inventory system is identical, the aiming system is the same as the Wii version of RE4 (albeit with a torch not a shotgun), and for all the claims of beauty and ambiance the game can at times be downright scary. Seriously, when you’re exploring an underground railway in near total darkness and out of nowhere pops a disembodied pair of legs, which promptly start kicking that crap out of you, giggling like a schoolgirl, it’s hard not to get a little bit jumpy.
Like RE4 there are boss battles scattered throughout the game, but unlike Resi they offer no challenge whatsoever. I guarantee that all of them can be beaten on the first attempt with minimal effort. They just die incredibly easily. The random enemies you encounter are far more of a threat, some disproportionately so. Difficulty isn’t something I like to complain about, but when you’ve just fought off a giant possessed demon tree thing only to get owned by pigeons outside it’s hard not to think that something has gone wrong. The final area adds even more to the comparison, with a series of traps and set pieces which could have been lifted right out of the island area of RE4, if only the enemies spoke Spanish. This part is all good fun, if a bit out of place, but the controls and game mechanics just aren’t strong enough to really support such frantic action- handling like a freight train at the bottom of the pacific is fine when you’re just wandering around sewers but when you’re trying to avoid being seen by searchlights or running through clouds of poison gas being chased by robots and actually require a bit of manoeuvrability, the interface can’t handle it, leading to some very frustrating moments.
Since this is a Wii game, you’ll naturally be wrestling with the controls almost as much as the enemies. The aiming reticule can have a hard time tracking your movements, and sometimes it vanished completely if you move too fast. The day Nintendo give up on motion control will be a joyous day indeed. This is also the first game I’ve come across to make wide use of the little speaker imbedded in the WiiMote. By and large this was a bad idea as the sound quality coming out of it is notoriously bad, but it’s still quite an interesting touch to find out where your enemies (or that bloody cat) are hiding by pointing the controller at different areas and listening to the sounds to clue you in. You can also raise the WiiMote to your ear to have one of the supporting characters who accompany you for part of the game give you some handy hints, or ramble on about mushrooms for a while. Don’t, though.
The small cast of characters you meet are generally quite well developed and interesting. The aforementioned final enemy falls pretty much flat, but the suited gentleman with a giant chicken head mask pushing a trolley full of weapons is pretty darn badass, rivalling the pirate from Resi 4 for the title of most awesome purveyor of armaments and carnage, and for such an incidental character he has a rather tragic moment in the spotlight which is one of the few moments the game actually triggers an emotional response. The voice acting is all good, if a bit overly-deliberate (and I swear I heard Adam West doing one of the memory item voiceovers) and at the end of every act there’s a little interlude with a voiceover and a FMV that’s somewhere between an abstract oil painting and a 2D puppet show, and those moments are really something. So all told there’s probably enough of a decent narrative and interestingish characters to make Fragile Dreams into a half decent Animated Film, or more realistically a web comic or something. It just bugs me that they tried to pass it off as a game, when all the game elements are just so half-baked and uninspired compared to everything else about it.
So to sum up, Fragile Dreams look the part (and I don’t mean just in terms of graphical power- I mean a lot of care went into how it looks), it draws you in and even has a couple of mildly interesting points to make throughout the course of its 10 or so hours run time. But every time the cutscenes end and you gain control of Seto you are reminded that everything this game offers has been done a lot better elsewhere. And though you’ll probably be intrigued enough to finish the game, you’ll also spent a lot of it very, very bored.