In some ways Fragile Dreams feels like the prettiest Nintendo 64 game ever. There may be no better term to describe this title than counter-intuitive. For on a system known for its experiments in new forms of gameplay and derided for its graphical limitations, we are given a game that is visually wonderful and yet hampered by gameplay that would feel dated to someone whose most recent gaming experience was Ocarina of Time.
When I use the N64 as an example, I am not exaggerating. If you were to make a checklist of gameplay annoyances that plagued games during the early days of 3D analog adventures, you would find that Fragile Dreams leaves few boxes unchecked. Unresponsive camera control? Check. A large depopulated overworld that exists only for its own sake? Check. Needless fetch quests? Check. No auto-targeting? Check. Repetitive backtracking? Check. Frustrating inventory management? Check. The only thing missing are limbs that can be seen (and shot) through a closed door.
That said, the game does make a valiant attempt to add gameplay variety through Wii motion controls and (extremely) light RPG elements. The Wii remote’s IR pointer is used to control several items, most notably a flashlight and a metal detector. The controls are responsive and accurate, some of the tightest on the system. The RPG elements are limited to occasional character leveling and item creation. They add a bit of an impetus to continue playing, particularly when the game gets frustrating or repetitive, but they are neither revolutionary nor exceptional.
What is exceptional about Fragile Dreams is its graphics. Both technically and artistically, the world the game creates is impressive. Set in an empty world where most of humanity has died or disappeared, the it does an amazing job of capturing the post-apocalyptic setting. All of the abandoned, haunting environments are rendered with a skillful attention to detail that entices the player to shine their flashlight into every corner and explore each area. Speaking of that flashlight, it is, hands down, one of the game’s greatest accomplishments. Not only are the lighting effects great, but the ability to guide the light through each environment, controlling the rate at which you encounter the world and discover its secrets, is wonderfully visceral. Since exploration is such a large facet of the experience, it’s good to have a device that keeps it from becoming stale quickly.
The story will certainly be another selling point, but since mystery is fundamental to the plot I’ll avoid spoilers. Seto, the player’s character, has to cope with the possibility that he is one of the last humans alive after the death of his grandfather. However, a brief encounter with a mysterious girl gives him hope and, after she disappears, he sets off in pursuit. What follows is a story about loneliness and isolation and the desperate need for human companionship. It is, thankfully, not told entirely through cutscenes, but rather mostly fleshed out through notes and relics that Seto discovers as he explores the empty world, coming into contact with the remains of human civilization. It’s a dark story, and consistently well told.
Rising Star Games is deserving of praise for its excellent localization. They have, thankfully, opted to include the original Japanese voice acting, which will almost certainly be welcomed by a segment of the game’s potential audience. Their translations are effective and don’t seem stale or confusing.
Ultimately, Fragile Dreams is an exceptionally difficult game to review, let alone score. It is not a mediocre game. Unfortunately, it is a game with mediocre elements. It is full of beauty and wonder, but it is also full of tedium and frustration. What can I say? Rent it. Give it a chance. See if you can enjoy it. Draw your own conclusions.