Forgotton Anne review – masterly storytelling in a fantastical world

I wish I could just tell you that Forgotton Anne is brilliant and wrap things up there. I want to leave you to go enjoy it without saying anything else, because that’s the way this story should be encountered. It’s a game about a lack of knowledge – yours, and Anne’s – and how this can be both a curse and a blessing. It’s a game about forgetting things and about loss, about remembering what you had and the cost of doing so. Best of all, it’s a game which will win you over with its huge amount of heart.

Fine, then. Let’s talk about the scarf. Within the first few minutes of playing you’ll meet a living scarf. His name is Dilly, and he’s a Forgotling – the name for the living objects in Anne’s world. Comparing Forgotton Anne’s style to Studio Ghibli seems a lazy comparison – it’s anime, right? – but there’s a definite inspiration from the whimsy of that studio’s ideas. Anne’s world is a place where the forgotten items from our reality end up and there, somehow, they find consciousness. And so you meet the scarf, Dilly, who has broken into your house.

There’s been an explosion outside and Anne thinks it’s rebels – and then you see Dilly snooping around, unable to explain why he’s there. He’s clearly a threat. You’re the Enforcer, it turns out, one of just two humans in this world and who, together, have taken charge of it. He is just a scarf wearing a pair of glasses, but it is the natural reaction to stop him, of course – so you do. You have the power to distill a Forgotling, remove its life-force, and without any second warning the game lets you. Sapping out his energy using the Arca device on your wrist, the little scarf crumples motionless to the floor.

I can appreciate when a game tells me I’m approaching a big decision or a point of no return. It’s got to the point where it now feels a discourtesy not to do so, particularly in monolithic RPGs. But while Telltale does it and Life is Strange does it, Forgotton Anne does not. There are times when you are told an interaction’s outcome “could have played out differently”, but only after the fact. Without spoiling too much, it feels like the right decision. The method to simply scare Dilly the scarf is present – I’ve gone back and played it through again after finishing – but there’s no reason you would use it at this point. Later, another Forgotling whose fate you decide can be scared off by just starting the distillation process but not continuing with it – something I discovered almost by accident while trying to work out how to avoid actually killing them. I wouldn’t have even thought to do so at the game’s beginning.

Forgotton Anne mixes its story with light platforming and puzzles which generally involve powering up bits of machinery and opening doors to progress. You do so with your Arca device, literally on hand, which can store one charge of energy at a time. The most frustrating this ever gets is when you are short an energy charge and need to go hunting further afield for one. Forgotton Anne is very much a linear game, but areas often allow you to roam back and forth a fair way, and there are lots of places to go digging around to meet extra characters and learn more about the world – which you should definitely do as much as possible. Doing some of these side-sections and using up energy there can leave you energy-less when it comes to finishing the next big progress-blocking puzzle, though – so there were a couple of times I had to backtrack a little and work out where I could draw more energy from.

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Finding those characters and making those introductions is well worth the hassle, though. Forgotton Anne builds its world and enables Anne’s slow, growing understanding of it through your meetings with its oddball mix of other Forgotlings: stoner lava lamps and childlike rocking horses, a feisty quill pen who works as a forger, and the motherly blanket who once belonged to a small child. The only other human character is your mentor, the distant and oddly-named Master Bonku, who is close to completing an invention which might take the two of you home to the real world. And then there’s my favourite – the brilliantly written and performed Fig, the charismatic leader of the Forgotling rebels, who believes there’s a better way for them to live than under your rule.

Anne has shades of BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth, who has grown up in a kind of isolation and developed a rather childlike understanding of the worlds she has seen. There are storytelling tricks which remind me of Bastion, and specifically Brothers: A Two Souls – where you realise you’re doing something unprompted, because it simply feels the right thing to do in a situation, and only afterwards realise how the game has quietly led you there. Unlike those other games, though, there are narrative choices throughout. Whatever the game throws at you – and at points it gets particularly heavy – you feel in control of where it is headed. And when all is said and done you’ll want to see what might have happened if you’d chosen differently, looked the other way.

It all comes back to that scarf. As the story concludes there’s plenty of time for reflection on your journey through it, and I can’t shake what is now a genuine guilt at how it all began. I want to say more about why and how, but I can’t. Forgotton Anne is brilliant, and I’ll wrap things up there.

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