The gaming industry moves fast. Every year there are dozens and dozens of noteworthy releases, many of which are poised to become the year’s biggest, most memorable games—whether that’s because of the actual game’s merits, mass market appeal, or industry posturing is up for debate. But in the endless march forward, we tend to lose sight of so many other games. Games that have fallen behind the big-budget blockbusters or the industry darlings; sometimes they go on to be sleeper hits, cult classics, or unappreciated gems. These games aren’t necessarily “better” or “worse” than any of the titles implied in my previous statements. A sleeper hit may not have mass market viability because of its niche appeal, because it goes against what most people typically want in a popular game, or because it contains some legitimate flaws that keep it out of some gamers’ focus. I tend to love a lot of these games.
Fragile Dreams for Nintendo Wii is certainly one of these beautiful but flawed games. Review scores for the games are mostly average. These scores are certainly not without merit or validity. The combat system is poorly designed, the hit detection is spotty, and the controls and mechanics lack cohesion and grace. However, I’ve still fallen in love with the game. Its technical shortcomings are disappointing, and something I am happy people have addressed, but I can’t help but be won over by the game’s other charms. The somber, lonely atmosphere, the beautiful art direction, excellent characters, wonderful Japanese voice acting, and compelling narrative make it an adventure game that I will always remember.
Seto is a young boy wandering in a post-apocalyptic world. Rather than delivering something like Fallout 3/New Vegas’ Mad Max-inspired violent landscape or anything seen in any of the numerous zombie/horror games on the market, Fragile Dreams is notably different. It’s lonely. Wandering the abandoned buildings, the decrepit amusement parks, and dilapidated hotel doesn’t evoke feelings of fear or dread. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the adventure, but that’s not the point of the story. It’s about the difficulty of solitude. When the crying women ghosts came out to terrorize me in the abandoned hotel, I did get on edge. Every time I hear the enemy encounter song “Malice,” I feel a little uneasy. But I never got the same feelings that I tend to get when playing a horror game.
It’s easy to dismiss the game outright because of the flawed combat mechanics or to get the wrong impression of what the game is trying to “be.” When I told a friend about the game’s concept, his immediate reaction was, “Oh, so it’s a horror game, right?” After taking some time to think about his response, I can see the problem. Going into Fragile Dreams and expecting it to be the same experience as Silent Hill is a mistake. Wandering dark, haunted locations with flashlight in hand does sound like it would be something right out of Silent Hill. But the emphasis on collecting lost items, uncovering the stories of people who have died long ago, and searching for someone to talk to makes for a completely different experience. It clearly resonated with me and made me feel something very strongly. Even if the game didn’t quite “nail” all of the mechanics it needed to, isn’t the connection with the player what’s really important?
One particular element of the game that strikes me is the emphasis on finding lost items. These lost items carry the stories of people who have died. These stories can be mundane, happy, depressing, or uplifting. They aren’t essential to the main plot, but they flesh out the game’s world and establish a connection with the player. RPG fans may be reminded of the Xbox 360-exclusive gem Lost Odyssey.
There are many other beautiful but flawed games out there. There are many others I’ve enjoyed up until now and I’m sure there are many more I’ll find. What are some games that you’ve enjoyed?