Although it does not happen often – although to be honest, it’s become more common each year – every time a moody, charming indie game hits the marketplace on Xbox One, the store on PlayStation, or the Nintendo eShop, the collective video game world tends to lose their mind in excitement and praise. For a reference point, I look back on Unravel and Ori and the Blind Forest, two games that tugged on the emotions of players as they were carried through and exceptional experience. Enter Fe, an other game in this growing ‘genre’ that does the exact same thing. But like Unravel and Ori, is it plenty of fun as well?
Many people see the EA publisher tag on Fe and instantly want to the write the experience off, due the controversy around EA and their business practices. It’s important to remember though, that like Unravel which was published by Swedish indie developer Coldwood Interactive – Fe is also created by a small studio, Zoink Games – now apart of a brand new studio with Image and Form called Thunderful. Also a Swedish developer, Zoink has created some small, albeit it popular games such as Stick it to The Man! and Zombie Vikings. Zoink has a track record of creating solid titles, and thankfully, Fe continues that trend.
When dropped into Fe, being instantly confused is probably something you will feel. It’s an odd start, with little-to-no hand holding to get you going. You are a curious fantasy creature dumped into a gorgeous world, and for the immediate first moments, that’s all you got. You will instantly take control of your character and begin travelling around the fairly large, linear (although still somewhat open-esque) world, swimming, climbing, and calming (taming?) wild animals that can partner with you. Puzzles are the name of the game in Fe, with numerous to find and figure out. Need to get to a high ledge? Perhaps a fantasy stag can help, by raising platforms you yourself cannot move. Being aware of your surroundings is what makes Fe work so well, and immerses you throughout, which is not always the case in indie titles.
One the most charming experiences is how you interact with the world around you, essentially singing in harmony until you becomes “one with each other.” Not literally, obviously, but in soul. On paper it sounds so odd, but in reality it works so well, and fits into the narrative that Zoink is attempting to create. Whether singing one-on-one with another creature, or doing so with a mob of tiny friends, each and every interaction in Fe, no matter how many times you do it, is charming and enjoyable. There is repetition here – find a puzzle, at times connect with an appropriate forest creature, sing and connect – but it’s always cute, always enjoyable, and therefore, always works.
Fe is a relatively short experience – the story can be finished in 3 to 4 hours – which sees you collecting Gems hidden in the forest which unlock new abilities for Fe. Using these abilities, you will continue your journey, attempting to dispel the weird robotic presence that has descended on the woodland kingdom. The issue has your progress, however, is that the cute art style you will initially fall in love with, can wear on you after a while. Fe does lack environmental variety. While the game is meant to be set in a forest, after a while, every area begins to look the same, just with a different layout. In a short experience like Fe, it won’t be a problem. But for those who want to explore and find every nook and cranny, it could wear thin after a while.
And that bring us to the story, what might ultimately drive you through this experience. While a subtle story might enhance the world the developers have created – to the point where the world tells the story, rather than voices – I’m not sure it works here 100%. It’s definitely charming, and during my entire play through, I was never bored. But I have to admit, when I finally completed it, I realized it wasn’t the story that propelled me forward, but rather the game play mechanics and puzzle solving. For fans of story driven titles, this will come as a disappointment. The story is pieced together through quiet cut scenes, but these often feel disjointed. Without that initial drive and purpose – which is not laid out for you when you begin – it’s hard to get invested. It was a fun journey to be sure, but not one propelled forward by the narrative.
Despite these questionable development strategies, Fe is still a game you’ll want to pick up and enjoy. Like Unravel and Ori before it, Fe is a soothing title with great game play mechanics that will keep you moving forward. The lack of a solid narrative may push some people away, but those that do make the journey will be happy they did when the credit roll. It’s not a long experience, but it is one I won’t soon forget.