Yeah, you’ve read that right, the title isn’t a typo, it’s a fitting description for a very ambitious game with an excellent concept, but that ultimately ended up being more style over substance. I’m talking about Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
That makes it sound like a Zero right? But trust me, it isn’t that simple. Let’s take a look at one of the most poignant, emotional and weird games off this last generation.
Co-developed by various companies including Namco and Tri-Crescendo , and released on January 2009 in Japan and on March 2010 on North America (By XSEED games, more on this later) for the Nintendo Wii, the game was a strange hybrid of 40% Action/Adventure, 30% JRPG, 20% Puzzle and 10% Survival Horror, but more importantly this game is considered a “funiki” game, a sub-genre of games that pull a direct focus towards atmosphere and immersion (Think something along the lines of ICO for example, a game that reduced elements of gameplay in order to create a high level of immersion).
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Earth, in what seems like a not so distant future near the Ruins of Tokyo, Japan where almost all the world's population was wiped out, leaving the surviving buildings and structures abandoned and full of different types of ghosts. The player takes control of protagonist Seto, a 15 year-old boy that wakes up to find that his last Human companion, his grandfather has passed away. Seto then buries him in front of their home and is then that he realizes he is now “truly alone”. After rummaging through the stuff his grandfather left for him, he finds a letter with a strange stone that tells him to "reach a tall red tower" east of the observatory, where he might find other survivors.
So after taking with you what would become the vitals tools of your journey, a flashlight and a wooden stick, you set off to reach the red tower. On your way you hear someone in the distance. After getting near the sound you spot a silver-haired girl singing on a collapsed pillar, Seto accidentally startles her, and she falls to the ground. Worried, Seto dashes to her side and checks to see if she is alive. Touching her cheek awakens and frightens her. Ren flees shortly after; getting over the shock of finding a fellow Human so quickly, Seto gets up and follows her and that is where the game really starts.
So far, so good right? We have a compelling and very interesting premise, beautiful and stunning graphics (and remember this game is on Wii), a nice and creepy atmosphere, one of the best opening sequences in recent memory (and man, that opening song!!) and one hell of a mystery left unsolved, because at this point we still don’t know why population became almost extinct. And suddenly this sounds like a Hero right? But this is where problems start to pop-up.
Now we get into the gameplay. The game has given us some glimpses at the beginning with a fight against a ghost before reading the letter, and some tutorials about exploration but that was just the beginning right? Because it felt way to simple and a little tedious but the game will introduce some neat mechanic later right? Not.
The player controls Seto from a third-person perspective with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The player controls the flashlight with the Wii Remote (akin to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories) and Seto’s movements with the Nunchuck. The combat system consists of pointing ghosts with the flashlight and hitting them with your weapon which you can swing with the A button and make “combos” timing the presses of the button and by killing ghost and other monstrosities you get EXP, you gain HP and Attack power. And that’s it!!. I know Seto is a boy in a post-apocalyptic world with no friends but he can only point with the flash light and swing. He does not dodge or defend so you can only attack with your weapon and so we come across the next problem:
Seto's weapon will break. A lot. Even more as you progress further into the game to the point it gets ridiculous, and worse, there is no indication whatsoever of when the weapon will break, this is apparently random. A Broken weapon does a lot less damage, and you cannot make combos with it and some enemies even regenerate HP, so it becomes useless and your best course of action is to throw it away and replace it with a new one, but how do you do that you ask? If you're lucky you will find another one lying around, if not you will need to buy one for a merchant that appears at save points, these save points comes in the form of campfires and are spreading across the map.
The problem? This merchant will only appear when he feels like it (and by that I mean at random). That does not seem so bad you say, “You could always bring a lot of weapons with you right?” Not. And so we arrive to the next glaring problem and probably one of the worst. The inventory. Akin to the Resident Evil series briefcase, the inventory has a ridiculously limited amount of item slots, and those slots fill pretty quickly, even worse, every Item has a size and form, so it's like playing Tetris, the problem is that the game only throws Z pieces at you, so forget about the multiple weapons.
So the games forces you to comeback pretty often to the aforementioned campfires, and this is what constitutes the worst problem of all. The backtracking, the f****** backtracking. In the “what the hell were the developers thinking” moment of the game, it seems like nearly every single task Seto has to perform in order to progress the story is nothing but inexcusably tedious backtracking. B ghost tells you that you need to go meet A ghost at the building you just visited and that means you need to climb up those ladders that took you 10 full minutes to scale, and you know, then you have to comeback to B and climb down another 10 minutes. Hey you need X item that most probably is at the place where you started the game, and then you have to come back and deliver it, WHAT?. Hey that ghost stole your locket!!, you need to chase him around the amusement park over and over again until you catch it and that will took about 40 minutes because, damn that guy is sneaky.
But hey, how come you're telling me this, did you put up with all that, you ask? Those are a lot of Zeroes. And this is where the games stands out. You will want to finish it, you will want to know what comes next, and you will be rewarded accordingly. You will cry when it's time to depart, you will wish to have a friendship like that, your jaw will drop when you start to figure out what happened with the world and you will be absorbed in the game stellar narrative.
Fortunately there are some things that makes all that backtracking a little more bearable. The atmosphere/presentation and the short-stories. The atmosphere feels really melancholic, with stunning backgrounds, the sounds of the Wiimote that tells you when an enemy is near, spooky buildings and then there are those disturbing graffiti, with some very dark messages.
The short-stories comes in the form of items that carry with them the memories of the owners, you fond them around the map, took them to your campfire and then you are treated to a little and simple cut-scene. They will not tell you what happened, but instead they will give you glimpses of what the people were doing just before the event that wiped almost all humanity on Earth knowing fully well that they were close to dying and some of them are really poignant some others more disturbing and some just depressing. I will compare it to the “Thousand Years of Dream” short stories from Lost Odyssey, and they are a pretty nice addition (some were even written by fans).