Sometimes a game is about the journey, not the destination. That’s the concept, at least, that was first seriously explored in the aptly-named Journey. Several games since have embraced that wonder of discovery, with Fe being the latest to attempt to capture the magic of the genre.
In Fe, players step into the role of a glowing, tree-climbing, wolf-like creature, eponymously named Fe. While Fe howls like a wolf, he’s tiny, walks on two legs, can carry glowing fruit in his front paws, and fairly early on in the game learns to scamper up trees and glide through the air with feather-like fur. The other animals that live in the forest are of a similarly mystical hybrid nature: owl-like creatures that float through the air like stingrays, mushroom-controlling boars with scorpion tails, and burrowing snakes with frilled necks and antlers, to name a few.
The forest is initially peaceful, and as Fe wanders through its different landscapes, he’s able to help out each of the different animal types he discovers and learn their languages. Speech is a powerful tool in the forest. Fe’s first howls let him bond with the other animals (done by gently pressing in the right trigger buttons with just the right amount of force to match their tone), temporarily causing his new friends to lead the way forward or use their skills to open a path. Once Fe’s helped out each type of animal, the animals will teach him their language and grant him the ability to master their skills, which boost his own abilities. The deer-creature language, for example, awakens flowers that lift Fe high into the air and let him glide to previously-unreachable places, while the bird language lets Fe coax berries from plants.
The animal friends Fe makes also serve an important function as guides throughout the course of the game, and while the friendship aspect of it is touching, the game sometimes leans on you needing a guide a little too heavily. While Fe seems to want to encourage exploration, the reality of the game is that it’s tricky to find your way around. The map has optional waypoints, but there are few landmarks in the forest itself, making it easy to accidentally walk in circles. Distant views fade out into fog, making it difficult to tell how to get from one zone to another. It’s possible to travel rapidly across long distances by riding on the back of a bird-creature or snake-creature, but there’s no way of knowing where they’ll take you until you’re already committed to the ride. In addition to that, nearly everything in the game glows or is some sort of crystal, which—although pretty—makes many areas look very similar and can make it difficult to pick out what’s important and what’s just a bunch of glowing flowers in the grass.
As a result, the game often has different creatures—including a bird friend that can be summoned at any time after the bird language is unlocked—directly lead the way from one area to another. This makes getting lost less frustrating, but it does change the tone of game. I often felt less like I was exploring and more like I was being led by the nose from area to area, since the proper paths forward were so difficult to find. Stopping for a moment to try and grab a collectible or solve a puzzle to get on to a higher ledge would often risk getting turned around and losing the guide, and it felt as if there was more incentive to rush ahead, staying ever close to the guide, than there was to take my time and look at the environments.
That’s not to say that there aren’t spectacular moments, though. The moment you learn the deer language is a clear standout and one of the most climactic scenes of the game, despite happening fairly early on. I won’t spoil it here, but when I realized what the game was asking me to do, it ended up becoming my favorite segment of the game, both conceptually and in terms of the unique platforming idea the challenge presented.
It’s just unfortunate that segment of the game happened so early on, because nothing else in the game afterwards managed to reach that same level of awe and sense of epic scale. Throughout the game, you also encounter enemies, one-eyed, armored beings called the Silent Ones. These enemies are capturing creatures in the forest, and most of the game becomes about Fe sneaking around them and thwarting their efforts.
The actual story surrounding the Silent Ones’ efforts, though, is somewhat muddied. Like Journey, Abzû, and a few other games in the genre, Fe attempts to tell the story of the Silent Ones through a series of petroglyphs hidden around the world. Unlike the former two games, however, Fe tries to tell a much more complicated story, and the end result is just confusing. It worked in Journey, which had a fairly straightforward story and ten hidden illustrations on walls to give additional context. In comparison, Fe has a whopping one hundred and fifty two petroglyphs and twelve additional hidden flashbacks—all of which can be missed. And by the end of Fe, even if I understood some of it by running around from glyph to glyph and trying to decipher the meaning in each one, I was still left feeling more confused than anything else about why things were happening.
The end result was that I had a better time in Fe after the game had ended and the credits had rolled than I did during the actual story. There were no more animal guides, no more confusing plots to follow, and no more animals to rescue from the Silent Ones, so I was simply free to roam around and find collectibles and corners of the forest I had missed. It was still confusing to find my way around, but at least I had every ability unlocked to fully navigate the world at that point.
Fe is a pretty game, and it has one or two memorable high points, but it doesn’t quite ever become what it wants to be. Too much of the world looks too similar, or is too claustrophobically confusing, to encourage exploration. Animal guides provide some much-needed relief, but just the fact that it’s necessary to add constantly guiding NPCs to a game about wandering around and discovery should be a clue that something’s not quite right. It’s a game that’s fun for a few hours—and thankfully, it’s not much longer than that—but once the story was complete it wasn’t a world I felt compelled to keep exploring.
|Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: Zoink • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 02.16.18|
While Fe is a pretty game with some touching encounters and spectacular views, it falls prey to its own over-complicated story and a world that, for all of its beauty, doesn’t provide much incentive to explore. Adding in a system to guide the player by the hand helps players navigate the confusing paths from zone to zone, but removes any desire to wander around or see what else the forests of Fe have to offer.
|The Good||Making friends with all different animals can be a heartwarming experience, especially when the smaller ones frolic around.|
|The Bad||Absolutely everything is glowing, making the useless background flowers, fruit, mushrooms, rocks, and grass stand out more than the actually-interactable thing I’m looking for.|
|The Ugly||Some of the animal languages sound realistic. Others just sound like Fe is gargling.|
|Fe is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Electronic Arts for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|