I first heard of “if found” due to the various awards it won or was nominated for and, since it had a good discount during that time, I decided to take a swing at it, not knowing what it was actually about. Turns out it is brilliant and another game I played in December that I’m very positive on and have to consider for my own lists later on. It is one of those games that pushes the medium forward in what it can do and how to use its unique aspects and universal qualities, to create something that is poignant and deeply entertaining.
The game starts off in space with an astronaut getting cryptic warnings about a catastrophic event that will erase the entire universe in 24 days; then it transitions to Kasio, a young girl returning home in West Ireland after university trying to figure out who she is. If found is not a crushingly depressive game about coming out to parents and society; the developers explicitly state this in one of their updates. It is sad, funny, uplifting, gloomy, hopeful and pessimistic; it’s a coming-of-age story of a teenager who is okay with who they are and must now deal with the rest of the world and grow up, and is also a trans person. It takes on a lot of themes and has a lot to say and the game could have been crushed by its own weight, but the developers have done an exceptional job at using their own artistic capabilities, alongside the medium’s inherent qualities to distribute and manage that weight expertly.
Obviously, I’m talking about the interactivity and the role it has on the game’s narrative and intended experience, however before that, there’s an important element to discuss; the art style. I think my favorite art style of the year might still end up being Ori, but the game’s art style is certainly the most fitting and purposeful of the year. It’s a pencil drawing complete with water-color paintings, done in A4 textbook-looking papers; this is Kasio’s diary and, while the game is about learning the story, it is also about accepting it and then erasing it, so you can start fresh. Its an interesting art-style to look at, especially for a game, but it is immersive when it comes to the interactivity and the player identifying with Kasio as well.
Furthermore, this is a game that is heavily focused on its narrative, so the most important individual feature of it – the writing – had to be top notch, and it is one of the best examples of writing in video games of the year, and of recent memory. It is so effortless and natural that, as an aspiring writer myself, I couldn’t help but be captivated by it; it is extremely difficult and rarer still for a game to have such flair and realism in their writing, especially one that can easily steer into corniness or melodramatic very easily. The actual storyline is handled really well with a lot of focus placed on the excellent characterization of the main characters, their relationships with each other and the other people in their circle, but they still leave room for some quirky moments of fun, some teenager drama, and a frantic and thoroughly entertaining conclusion. To add to all this, the soundtrack is (once again for 2020) a fantastic example of how music can not only add to a scene, but enhance the experience and help convey emotions and feelings that are vital to the game hitting you when it needs to.
Taking a look at each of the game’s features individually, they are all great, but where the game becomes brilliant is in how it uses interactivity to gel everything together and create a unique and worthwhile experience. Most of the time it will be as simple as erasing text, scribbles, or drawings to move on to the next lines or reveal new ones; in between these sections, there are “coloring” sections as well. On face value, these are rudimentary implementations of interactivity, but they make such thematic sense and allow several other moments to shine. For example, Irish slang is a big part of how the game manages to come off as natural and it is used frequently and often; the game uses a pop-up system to let you know what that word means and its origin, making great use of the fact that the player has control over the speed of the text and which parts they choose to focus on. Furthermore, there are several moments where erasing a drawing is almost therapeutic, while also having several moments where needing to erase a line feels wrong. This isn’t groundbreaking use of interactivity – there are several examples of games doing the same thing – but it is incredibly well executed and feels as impactful as any of those examples before it; it makes melodramatic, serious, and frantic moments pack a much heftier punch, while delivering the uplifting, poetic, and entertaining moments in a novel and interesting way.
Unfortunately, this level of importance in the interactivity is likely to create problems and there are some issues. Primarily, the game sometimes seems to be inconsistent with how fast it recognizes that you are done “erasing” scribbles on a page, meaning it will sometimes take a while to register that you can see the text (even had it take as long as reading the actual text) or be instantaneous which led me to erase some text by accident (with no way to reverse this). This is less of a problem/critique, as it is a praise on the writing, that I would be frustrated at loosing a couple of words here and there. Furthermore, although they are unintrusive on the whole, there are several “points of no return” in moments where you can explore the pages and uncover smaller moments with the characters, which move you on before you’ve seen all that you want to see. Again, this is less of a critique, because like KRZ before it, these moments are worthwhile to search for (in further playthroughs) but are not necessary for the appreciation of the characters involved or the story as a whole.
To conclude with, If found is a brilliant game; I’ve intentionally not talked about the narrative in detail or with specifics, because that IS the experience that everyone should discover on their own and have it resonate in its own personal way, but there’s so much more to it. Like KRZ, I think writers, designers, and developers in general, should study this game and take the same lessons it took from others and help push forward the medium into new artistic territory. It is an expertly crafted game and one that, despite having less time to think back on it and appreciate it even more, is definitely one of my favorites of a wonderful year (for video games at least) and a standout that I hope can be matched, studied, and exceeded upon by other creators with similarly poignant and interesting ideas they want to explore.
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