Fe – A Return to Nature (Review)

Reviewed By: Josh Pederson

Fe is the most beautiful game that I didn’t understand. When I first saw footage of Fe, I was beyond curious about what this game was and how it would play. It seemed to have been influenced by all kinds of genres from 3D platformers to narrative driven fantasy games, and incorporates all of the best elements from recent indie hits like Ori and the Blind Forest to classics like Spyro the Dragon. Even after playing it, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact genre to place this game in. All I can think to say about it is that it’s a beautiful work of art that had me still exploring its vast world hours after the credits rolled.

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Fe is an exploration-based game, set in a beautiful fantasy world of majestic creatures and ancient woodlands. Everything from the noises made by the animals to the sounds of running water and bristling trees is captivating and mysterious. It reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece Princess Mononoke, and the way he made you feel a certain reverence toward nature by putting you in a strange place that feels familiar, yet, completely unknown, and the whole time you’re looking at the screen, you want to know more. In the world of Fe, they use 3D shapes and brilliant shades of light to engulf you in a place that the developers want you to get lost in. Because that’s one of the best parts about this game; there isn’t any particular order you need to do things in. By wandering around, you eventually end up where you need to go. Whether you’re gliding around mountain peeks, climbing trees, running around with slug-like prairie dog creatures, or trying to stealthily move around shadow beings without being captured, the narrative progresses one way or another. Each part of the forest is home to a certain type of creature, and as you free these creatures from captivity, whether through solving puzzles or singing to the plants, you gain the ability to communicate with these creatures. Each animal interacts with certain aspects of the forest, and as you help these animals, they in turn, teach you how to interact with those aspects. For example, by helping the deer, you gain the ability to use orange flowers to propel yourself across treacherous areas, which is a huge help if you’ve gained the gliding skill. The slug creatures give you the ability to use bulbous-looking plants to launch yourself to heights you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. The birds give you the ability to ride on their backs to the top of cliffs and beyond. And the wolf creatures give you the ability to see in the dark hollows of the forest, while clearing away spores and mushrooms that might be blocking your path. Once you help all of the animals, the narrative progresses into the “final” part of the game.

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Speaking of narrative, for a game with no dialogue, the team over at Zoink Games did an amazing job of structuring a story around sounds and visuals. While I’m still trying to process many pieces of what the game is about, on the surface it revolves around a peaceful forest that’s been invaded by shadow creatures that are trying to capture the animals and appear to be draining the life from the forest. As you explore you find cubes that – if sung to – will show you pieces of what these shadow creatures are doing (or have done). The more you progress through the game, the more the forest decays, and this is shown through shading. Things that were blue, purple, or green on your first visit become orange, gray, and black. Places that might have once been home to a certain type of animal will later be swarming with these shadow creatures.

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In addition to exploring and saving the forest, Fe offers gamers a chance to do a little extra. Hidden across the map are glowing pink crystals, and the more of these crystals you find, the closer you get to unlocking additional skills. However, the more skills you unlock, the more crystals you have to collect to get the next one. I got the first two, which were gliding and running, but I’ve yet to go back and collect the other three skills. Once you’ve collected enough crystals, you return to the tree in the center of the forest, which absorbs them into its giant eye and gifts you with a new ability. Unlike other games that make you unlock abilities in order to complete the game, Fe does a great job of avoiding that path by only making the first skill necessary for progression.

THE GOOD

Fe is unique among modern indie games in the fact that even in its frustration, it feels new. There are so many different ways to do so many different things in this game. Whether you decide to free the animals and have them take out the shadow creatures or you use stealth and just pass them by, every accomplishment feels satisfying and like it contributes something to the story. Then there are the “sidequests.” You don’t have spend extra time tracking down all of the crystals and then figuring out how to get them. Just by playing the game, you’re able to collect a great many of them, but in the off chance that you don’t want to pursue them, speaking with the animals accomplishes the same things. You communicate to each creature by singing, which is a mini game that involves matching your harmony to theirs as two orbs travel up and down a line of light until they meet in the middle and become one. Once you’re in tune with that animal, you have them follow you and use their abilities to get through obstacles. The slug creatures near the coast even allow you to pick them up and throw them across platforms.

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As fun as the game was, the aesthetics are the most appealing part of Fe. There aren’t any graphic intensive animations or cut scenes, no realistic detail, or things you might be able to see on one console or 4K television and not on another. This is a game built entirely of shapes, colors, and sound. And whether you’re playing on an Xbox One, Playstation 4, or Nintendo Switch, on an LCD, UHD, or 4K LED, it’s still going to look like a piece of modern art, and while most developers have attempted things like this that resulted in pretentious and confusing games, Fe balances art and gameplay in a nearly perfect balance of storytelling, wonder, and suspense. There’s also something absolutely calming about playing it. Even when you’ve been noticed by the shadow creatures and end up getting caught, there’s very little stress or anxiety involved in just trying it again.

THE BAD

Because Fe is a game in which the landscape is primarily made up of shapes, there are going to be places where those shapes don’t connect. More than once I missed my platforms while gliding or fleeing from one of the shadow creatures and ended up in places the developers didn’t mean for you to go. If you happen to land in a place with water, you get eaten by a fish, which is fine because it just starts you out back on land. However, when you end up in a place without water, it usually means that you’re stuck in some kind of crevice and there’s no way to get out. You can see through the map and sometimes even see where you’re supposed to be, but there’s no way to get there. This happened to me several times during my play through, and each time I found myself in this predicament, I had to restart the console and load my last checkpoint. Fortunately, the game auto saves frequently.

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My only other complaint is that while the developers did a great job telling the story without any dialogue, the game never actually felt “complete” after solving the mystery of the shadow creatures. After moving some rocks around and saving the forest, the credits roll, and when you’re able to control your fox/wolf creature again, you’re gliding across a large body of water. Perhaps this is due to some plans for add-ons or sequels, but even complete, it feels sort-of incomplete.

THE VERDICT

When it was first announced that EA would be publishing Fe, there was some concern over exactly how much input they would have on the game’s development. If you’ll recall, Zoink Games was also the studio that brought us Unravel back in 2016, a platform game that didn’t exactly win the hearts of game critics. Though Zoink Games is still considered an indie studio, it’s hard to say how independent they are. And like most studios owned by EA, fans and critics had some fear over how the game would play and how much you would have to spend to be able to finish it. Set your fears aside – at least in this case – Fe is a beautiful game that dwells in simple game play and vast imagination. Every hour of the six hours I spent playing this game from start to finish were full of wonder and intrigue. Even now, if you were to ask me if I would return to this mysterious world, my answer would be yes. I don’t know if a sequel is something that we’ll ever get, but for $19.99 Fe is worth the price tag and the hours you’ll invest.

4-out-of-5-stars-475x111

Platform Played On: Nintendo Switch

 

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