I’m not a very competitive gamer. Most esports titles are fun to watch others play or play for laughs a few nights with a few friends, but for the most part, I’m not looking to make a leaderboard. I enjoy challenging myself and the rewarding feeling of finally taking down a really difficult boss, but I also just play games to relax, and immerse myself in their worlds and stories. It’s why I’m naturally inclined towards games like Frostwood Interactive’s Forgotten Fields, which dubs itself a “cozy narrative” about going home again.
In Forgotten Fields, you’ll play as Sid, a writer with a standard writer’s conundrum. He just can’t make the words flow, and he doesn’t even really feel a passion for writing anymore. That’d all be okay if he didn’t have actual adult things to do, like finishing a story for a grant application which will help him stay in his apartment and continue to exist. It’s familiar, well trodden territory–relatable, but not unusual.
To start off with in Forgotten Fields, you’ll be wandering Sid’s apartment, looking at objects and performing various actions, like making tea, taking a shower, washing your face, changing your clothes and checking your emails. Eventually, you’ll also interact with roommates and friends, who bring you an invitation back home to a sendoff party for your childhood home. Pretty mundane stuff, and something that should be fairly easy when translated into gameplay. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Forgotten Fields uses either mouse and keyboard or controller…or both. I attempted to play it all three different ways, finally landing on the controller and keyboard combo to manage what turns out to just be clunky controls. While Forgotten Fields is very clear about what controls what, sometimes the button presses just don’t register, both on controller and keyboard, making it way more difficult than it should be to just press down on the d-pad to change my clothes or click the right stick to open my inventory, often ending up bringing up the control map to see what it was on keyboard and hope that would make it work. Even when sticking to just controller, or just keyboard, these problems would persist, so that in trying to write the review, it was necessary to use both in conjunction just to be able to progress.
This is a big issue for me in games like this, and it’s one of the harshest criticisms I often have for games with strong narratives that describe themselves as chill, relaxing or some other such low-key term. I want to be relaxed, and I want to marinate in the chill vibe, but when the gameplay is such that I have to circle my dying uncle five times before I can actually hit the button to have that all important conversation about my purpose in life, it sucks all the air right out of the moment, and I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong instead of taking part in what the game has for me.
Gameplay quickly changes into a dual format–you’ll play as Sid in the “real” world and then be transported to his work in progress–the B story– and play as Cid, a girl who lost everything, including her home and magical powers, and has to make some hard choices. Controls work the same in both places, and narratively speaking you’re driven from one event to the next–Forgotten Fields definitely holds your hand, even specifically telling you things like “it’s not time to do that yet” if you’ve gone too far afield. That’s something that bothers a lot of players, but if it’s done with enough care I think it can be overlooked, and for the most part I didn’t feel terribly restricted–but that’s also because of the strength of the A story.
When I started out with Forgotten Fields, I initially found its narrative a little bit shallow. It’s true Sid’s experiencing a sort of existential quarter life crisis, but even so, sometimes the story leans a little too much into a navelgazing moment and doesn’t connect us so personally to Sid. Fortunately, a lot of the more subtle things do, and it’s here where I think Forgotten Fields shines.
I like to learn about people organically–find out what they like, what they don’t, who their friends are, by observing rather than interviewing. Forgotten Fields excels at this with well rounded characters who each have their own fully thought out backstories that weave into Sid’s, telling you more about themselves and him as you interact with them. It’s here where you start to care about Sid, through his friends and family, and the things that he both loves and struggles with, more than in the hazy, mellow rock cutscenes that follow a long line of questioning existence, time and other such high concepts.
In going home, you find out even more about Sid and his life, and the things that are beyond what he’s saying. His writer’s block isn’t simply that–there is loss and grief and a profound attachment to the past he tries, and fails, to keep under wraps as he talks with cousins, ex-girlfriends and friends. No one person seems to have the full story on Sid, but they all contribute to the player’s understanding of his problem, which is much larger than not “feeling” the story anymore. Similarly, Forgotten Fields’ real world feels good because it’s naturalized. The objects, phrases and places around him give context and background without simply serving as “exotic” or “unique” somehow and that’s extremely compelling–conveying the universal shared experiences we all go through as we enter adulthood and have to give up pieces of our past.
Meanwhile, the simultaneous story of Cid has those same throughlines. Cid’s lost her magic, and needs to find her way to an Old Mage who can help her turn back time and save her uncle. Along the way, she gets stuck in time, unable and unwilling to move forward. It’s a heavyhanded but clear picture of the real life struggles Sid is going through as he prepares to let a big piece of his past–his old childhood home–go. I understand why Forgotten Fields introduced this dual world, and it’s gorgeous, and even sometimes has its place, but I almost felt like for Forgotten Fields, it was unnecessary–mostly because of the excellent job they do of forming the world and characters around Sid to help tell his story in a way that seems relatable.
As time went on, the story got deeper, and much more personal, touching on fear, loss, and moving on in ways I found actually profound. Forgotten Fields got to feeling like a place I really wanted to be in, with these people, and as the game slowly wrapped up, I felt, just like Sid, that i didn’t want to leave, even for the fantasy world of Cid where her own story was reaching its end.
It’s here again where I feel like Forgotten Fields does itself a disservice with the fantasy story, even though Sid’s an author and writing is important to him. It almost contradicts the overarching message of the game–that life is more about family, friends and these individual moments as they happen–the present–than about anything else, and I almost find myself wishing that Forgotten Fields simply replaced Cid and her tale altogether and instead focused more on the neighborhoods and the people in them.
Overall, though it has its issues, including some issues that had me starting a new save, I enjoyed my time with Forgotten Fields. It’s at its best when it’s purely narrative, made of the sounds, sights and conversations of Sid and the people around him, without gameplay or other elements muddying the waters rather than enhancing them, but I’d recommend it for its understanding and eventual subtlety of handling some of life’s bigger growing pains and losses.
Forgotten Fields is available now on Steam.
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