If you’ve been keeping up with current game reviews, you may already know that Fe is a divisive little game. Some have lavished praise on its ability to build an atmosphere, with a unique art style and impressive soundtrack. Meanwhile, others have criticised the mechanics of Fe, mentioning the shortcomings when it comes to platforming and stealth. After playing the game myself, both sides have valid arguments.
In Fe, you play as the titular Fe, a weird little fox/dog/child hybrid who awakens in a forest under attack by The Silent Ones. Those rapscallions are attacking creatures, capturing them and generally being somewhat of a nuisance. How rude. As Fe, you take it upon yourself to restore the forest, drive out The Silent Ones and just maybe learn a little something about the true meaning of friendship.
To do this, Fe learns the languages of the different creatures in the world, such as the birds, deer, wolves and more. This allows Fe to interact with various aspects of the ecosystem. For instance, learning from the birds, who are green, allow you interact with bomb plants that can clear the path you. You also can interact with orange flowers to activate gusts of wind and more.
Fe then uses this mechanic to introduce a Metroidvania style of gameplay, as you re-explore new areas with old abilities to see what secrets you can find. These secrets often come in the form of pink gems that can be used to unlock new platforming abilities, such as a glide move and a sprint.
Whilst a system like that would ordinarily earn a standing ovation and a job well done in other games, it doesn’t feel as welcome here. Fe tries its damnedest to emulate the likes of Journey, giving us a mysterious world, an unknown protagonist, very little instruction on what you’re supposed to do and just lets you find our way, but the key aspect of Journey was just that: the Journey. Having to go back to a previous area just because you don’t have enough gems yet for a sprint ability ensures that the world loses its lustre.
The ability to use language to interact with the ecosystem also extends to the animals you encounter, but it doesn’t get fleshed out nearly as much as it should. In order to befriend an animal, you must sing at a certain pitch depending on how hard you press R2. Once you become best pals for life, you can use them to access areas previously inaccessible and the like. At least, that’s the theory. In reality, you just befriend an animal when you get to a new area, follow them until you unlock their language and never speak to them again. Fe is such a user.
Once Fe gets out from under itself and just focuses on the aspects that work, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. There’s a moment about an hour into the game where the area opens up and you’re greeted with the sight of a majestic 200 ft tall deer being imprisoned by The Silent Ones. Or when you venture into a cave to retrieve an item being held by a Silent One, only for a bear to rock up and beat the snot out of it.
It’s these moments, and others like it, that make Fe a wonderful experience. Of course, it’s aided by the aforementioned graphics and soundtrack that help give Fe a unique identity and tug at the heart strings when needed. Unfortunately, it’s the time you spend in between that ruins things.
The stealth sections are perhaps the most egregious offenders. Fe has no way to defend itself from The Silent Ones. They operate on line of sight, so if they spend too much time looking at you, you’ll get captured and sent back to the last checkpoint. Though it’s hardly the worst stealth system, it’s takes you out of the game, especially when you don’t see it coming. That deer section I mentioned before has plenty of Silent Ones patrolling the area, and you could just be gliding from tree to tree minding your own business before you get shot down by the forest equivalent of an AA gun.
Even the graphics present their own issues, particularly when it comes to the platforming. Due to the angular nature of the landscape, there were a few occasions where it felt like I cheesed my way through the puzzle by jumping to places I wasn’t supposed to. You can use glide to access gems that you can reach by other, probably preferred means, and an entire stealth section can be mitigated by just climbing up the right slope. Perhaps that’s the point, but still.
Fe has a lot of reasons to love it, and a lot of reasons to hate it, which is why it’s been as divisive as it has. Ultimately, this review isn’t about what I, some bearded gaming dickhead on the internet, think. It’s about what you love and what you’re willing to forgive in a video game. If you can’t enough of atmospheric adventure games with plenty of identity and charm, and can ignore some shoddy gameplay elements, Fe is an easy game to recommend. If the opposite is true, then avoid Fe like the plague.
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that's especially true for a game like Fe. For every beautiful moment and every emotional musical chord, there's a gameplay element that just gets in the way.
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