A Journey/ Abzu-esque feel meets 3D platformer in Zoink’s action-adventure title, Fe in which an ensemble of vastly different game genres collaborate to create a colourful, enticing forest setting to explore. You take up the reins as Fe – a fox-like creature and negotiate your way through the forest. On your journey you gather a multitude of new abilities with the ultimate goal of vanquishing the sentient-robot threat known as the Silent Ones who look to bring harm to the wildlife inhabiting the forest. Although knowingly hostile, the Silent One’s motives are unclear and with a lack of dialogue or guidance, a significant amount of the story is left to assumption and what can be depicted from the hieroglyphic tablets scattered throughout game. Although this can lead to confusion at times, it’s perfect for pushing you to explore the rousing, natural setting that’s brought to life with the distant cries of animals, creaking tree trunks and the rushing water of nearby streams.
In Fe, it is apparent Zoink have centred the game less around the connection between you and the protagonist, and more around your relationship with the abundant ecosystem that helps you progress from one area to the next. Fe must gain assistance from both the flora and fauna that populate the wooded setting by singing to them and matching their frequency by applying the perfect amount of pressure to the ‘R2’ button. Each animal species allows access to a different ability that will help you navigate your way through the game. For instance, singing to a deer will allow you access to a plant jump pad that lifts you into the air. Once you have Fe befriend an adult animal of a species, you will learn their song and be able to use that specific ability yourself. This reliance on the myriad of creatures that accompany you on your journey to preserve nature and the forest occupants constitutes a thoroughly moving title. Alongside the melancholy song of the forest that chimes away as you play, I could hear in accompaniment the gentle plucking of my heart strings as this stirring title constantly teased my emotions.
About an hour or so into advancing through the cartoony-style forest, bountiful with vivid colours and alluring foliage, it becomes apparent a pouch of breadcrumbs would have proved helpful for the journey. Developers have seemingly hoped to instigate a substantial level of depth when it comes to exploring the forest in offering absolutely no inclination as to what you are doing or can do as Fe. Apart from the odd unexplained button prompt, I frequently found myself resorting to mindless button spam as I tried to figure out what exactly did what. After some button investigating, I managed to deduce I had a map and a grab ability. Even after a fair bit of play time when the first tutorial pops up, it feels vague, a little unnecessary and extremely belated. This becomes a more prominent issue as you advance through settings that feel less unique but more like regurgitated versions of places you’ve already visited. Although this doesn’t deter from the fact Fe’s surroundings are unquestionably magnificent, a little more variation in setting would have definitely aided in allowing me to distinguish one area from the next enough to negate the hours I spent wandering idly in total disarray.
However, once your skills and abilities start snowballing, being forced to wander aimlessly almost grows on you. You’ll soon find yourself scuttling up trees and unleashing your inner flying squirrel as you propel off of them and glide down to an obscurely placed cave entrance to grab that crystal or hieroglyph you spotted. As you progress through the game, you find yourself looping round the map and revisiting certain areas. It’s exciting and leaves you feeling rather accomplished once you are able to access untouched parts of areas you’ve already passed through. Fortunately, for those who aren’t keen to uncover the many secrets of the forest, by singing at the top of your voice for short while you are able to call a small hummingbird to your side who through loops and twirls will leave a trail of light for you to follow as to set you back on track. This however, was another belated tutorial that left me confused me at times as the bright trail of light became lost in the spectrum of dazzling colours that formed my surroundings. It’s a great feature nonetheless, especially seeing as I only found myself familiar with the setting more towards the end of the game.
As mentioned prior, pink glowing crystals are one of the few collectables within, Fe alongside the hieroglyphic tablets previously mentioned and helmets of the Silent One’s which allow you to see certain events from a Silent One’s perspective, somewhat aiding in your general understanding of the story. By obtaining the pink crystals scattered throughout the realm you are able to return to the centre most part of the map and redeem them for new abilities granted to you by a towering enchanted tree. Once granted these abilities, Fe’s platforming elements really take to the spotlight as you are able to climb trees, glide and learn other ways to navigate the forest more thoroughly and efficiently. Although these elements establish a more pleasant way to play through the game, some of them felt clumsy and unpolished. Climbing up trees demands you first latch on to them and press the ‘X’ button until you reach the top in which you perch and are thereby able to jump from one tree to another. Often my over zealous tapping of the ‘X’ button lead me to leap off unintentionally. Furthermore, on numerous occasions when I’d managed to reach the top of a tree successfully and hopped to another, I found myself howling with annoyance as I failed to latch onto a tree I clearly landed on. This is admittedly forgivable in the early stages of the game however, as the platforming becomes more demanding and you find yourself taking a discouraging tumble from high up as the result of a foolish error, knowing you have to climb all that way again, the clumsiness becomes less trivial and more frustrating. This aside, Fe is without question at it’s best when you have your hands on all the abilities and are able to scour the gloriously aesthetic and wonderfully designed areas with a bit more liberty.
The admirable alliance between the game’s intensely-hued setting and sombre soundtrack shrewdly amounts to make, Fe an impressively atmospheric title and the developers do not shy away from showing off their ability to intermingle these two elements of the game so perfectly. Their talent to totally change an atmosphere becomes most evident upon your first encounter with a camp Silent Ones. With the click of a finger the lavish palette of blues and purples transcends into a fog of dark oranges and reds. The melancholy chimes descend into low frequency, chilling tones that pound like slow eerie drum beats as a Silent One stands tall in front of you, it’s spotlight hunting you. In the presence of these entities, the atmosphere feels evil and unsettling and unquestionably leaves you feeling ridiculously vulnerable in every encounter with the Silent Ones that follows. This feeling of vulnerability is echoed throughout the game. As you stand considerably smaller to your surroundings, bizarre noises whistling through the trees and hostile enemies lurking it’s hard not to be left feeling a little apprehensive, almost like being a small child lost in a forest. However, a feeling of triumph emerges as you slowly but surely become less weary of your eccentric surroundings as the game proceeds, almost as if you too are growing alongside the protagonist. It makes for quite the heart-warming experience.
Fe isn’t spurred on by an easy to follow narrative but instead by a moving soundtrack that orchestrates your journey through a quaint world with the help of some pleasant platforming elements that are carefully weaved into this all-round lovely game. Zoink have conceived a setting which can only be compared to a mood ring in both colour and emotion alike, full of mystery and a delight to explore. They want you to halt your journey, look around, truly indulge in their handiwork and let out a satisfied sigh. As you interact with nature within the game, you gradually ignite a fire of need within you to protect it. Moreover, subliminal eco-friendly morals resonate whilst you play, leading you to care and truly become emerged in this ingenious world and the creatures that roam within it. Similar to likes of Journey and Abzu, Fe achieves a moving and memorable gaming experience by generating a magical, highly immersive environment that accounts for each and every emotional arc within the game. A touching tale and completely captivating title.