Game

Game Review: Fe is a Pretty, Perplexing Puzzler

Image courtesy EA

The first thing that drew me to Fe was its art style.  I saw a trailer for it in January’s Nintendo Direct Mini, and immediately knew I wanted to get in that world. The game is gorgeous, with a (literally) multi-faceted world of glowing purples, blues and pinks. When you’re dropped in the middle of it, playing the part of a little gremlin who doesn’t fight or run particularly fast but can sing off-key, it’s charming. Fe is a game that wants to be mysterious and won’t hold your hand. Now and then you’ll get a hint- sing gently to the animals, for example, but if you want to find out more, you’re going to need to explore. 

Image courtesy EA

Fe never gives you the whole story, and that’s by design. Developers Zoink! Games wanted everything you know about the world around you and the character you play as to be a discovery you make on your own. This is in the vein of games as revered as Dark Souls and can add to the intrigue of gameplay or fall flat and make the game meandering and monotonous. Fe is a mixed bag, at times tending towards tedious and other times captivating you.  

Image courtesy EA

As you wander the forests, marshes and caves of Fe‘s magical world, you’ll find yourself using the one main tool you have- your voice. Singing is an action performed with the triggers on your controller and has a unique mechanic to it. To interact with various flora and fauna, you’ll need to be able to control the volume of your song, which you do by increasing and decreasing pressure on the trigger until your wavelength matches that of the critter you’re trying to converse with. Singing to the wildlife can be truly enjoyable, and their reactions really endear you to them. After a while, I found myself wishing I had a crew of cheerful lizards by my side in real life and felt bad if one of them got into a treacherous situation. 

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Each set of creatures you encounter possess a few special abilities that will eventually help you along the way. As you communicate with them more and more, and accomplish tasks or rescue them, you’ll be gifted with those same abilities, and talking with the adult forms of each creature type will help with transportation. A note here: the singing is so frequently necessary that it can become rather annoying, to both you and people in your vicinity. I’m in an office where multiple people work in close proximity, and this was the rare game I was asked to put on headphones for.  

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As for other skills your Fe possesses, there are few. In the beginning, you can jump and grip a just-out-of-reach ledge to make it safely to the top, but your “Fe” creature will acquire new abilities as they find pink gems throughout the world. This is only one type of item you’ll be hunting, as much of the story is told through discoverable stone tablets you’ll yell at (unsurprisingly) to reveal hieroglyphics that illuminate the story in more and more detail. There’s even a type of collectible item that gives you a look at the world through the eyes of the Silent Ones. Silent Ones are the main antagonist in Fe, with a single glowing eye dead center on their lanky, stony figures. Get seen by one, and you’ll soon be trapped or vanish entirely. Since you can’t fight, your only option is to avoid these ominous monsters.  

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You’ll need all the help you can get when it comes getting around. Fe is a multi-level world, but the map you have available doesn’t show much detail. Just knowing you need to go north (or “up” on the map) doesn’t help as you may find a mountain you can climb or other obstacle in your way. Also, though each of the game’s different areas look quite different once you’re in them, the transitional areas look remarkably similar. I often found myself wishing Fe offered a fast travel option, even if it was only unlockable later in the game. This would avoid wasting tons of time getting lost and confused on your way to your destination, especially towards the beginning of Fe.

Image courtesy EATo be fair, lost and confused is part of what Fe was aiming for. That’s all fine and good, and mystery adds some excitement, but if it goes on too long it becomes frustrating and tedious. I can recall at least three times in my playthrough where the way to progress was so nebulous as to be infuriating. Adding to that confusion were a few bugs that impeded my progress- one where an important new mechanic was introduced but the indicator that was supposed to appear never did, and a more frequent one in the map screen where the indicator of where my own position was would fail to appear. The final gameplay issue came in the form of random frame rate drops and hitches throughout gameplay.

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Still, I did find myself relishing my time in the world. The art style and open world feel make you want to explore, and there are some truly epic (and gorgeous) set pieces. As you collect pink crystals and gain further abilities, like gliding or tree-climbing, you’ll be compelled to go back to old haunts and see what you might have missed. As far as story goes, Fe does a decent job of getting its hooks in, so that by the time you’re rounding the corner to the final area and the last puzzle, you’ll be pretty damn curious how it’s all going to wrap up for you and the friends you’ve made along the way. The various abilities become more awe-inspiring, too, and there was a bioluminescent cave run about two-thirds of the way in that was absolutely breathtaking. 

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When I finished the game, it felt wrapped up enough that I could have put down my controller and walked away, but not finished enough that I didn’t want to see what else I could tease out of the dark corners. If, after all the frustration and tedious travel, getting lost and feeling unable to progress, that’s true, then I think I’d say Fe was successful enough. It lacks the real climax of some of my favorite indies like Journey or Limbo, and the emotional depth in its story, but it was solidly okay, and with at least a little bit of replayability after a story that takes around 12 to 14 hours to complete (as an average platform/puzzler player) I’d say that’s worth the price of admission. Fe is available now on Origin for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One. 

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