Have you ever imagined how it would feel to be entirely alone in the world? To wander through eerily empty shopping malls and subway stations that were once filled with bustling crowds, hearing only your own footsteps? That haunting prospect is a reality for Seto, the young man whose story you experience in Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. And the game conjures an overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation so effectively that you'll find yourself deeply caught up in his journey. Awkward combat and one particularly long, dull leg of Seto's quest prevent Fragile Dreams from being the entirely magical experience it approaches at times. But the stronger aspects shine through in spite of these flaws, making this a powerfully absorbing adventure, albeit one that sometimes tries your patience.
The world of Fragile Dreams is haunting and occasionally breathtaking.
Some sort of mysterious catastrophe has seemingly wiped out much of the world's population. Young Seto has lived his entire life in an observatory, knowing nobody except the secretive old man who raised him. But when his caretaker dies, the 15-year-old Seto sets out in the hopes of finding that he's not actually alone in the world. It's not long before he happens upon a girl with silver hair, but she vanishes almost immediately. Seto then becomes determined to find this mysterious girl again. On his quest, he's befriended by a small assortment of companions, including a talking machine he straps to his back and the brash ghost of a young woman. Seto finds comfort in these companions but never stops seeking a more real, human connection. The story isn't tightly plotted, feeling at times more like a dream sequence than a literal narrative, and it leaves many questions unanswered in the end. But its power is in its emotional weight and in the themes that it so compellingly explores.
Crucial to that emotional impact are the atmosphere and the pervasive sense of loneliness that run through the game. You move Seto through the dark and eerie environments with the nunchuk's thumbstick, using the remote to shine your flashlight around in a way that will feel immediately familiar to anyone who played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii. Advertisements and artwork adorn many walls, and this evidence of the now-vanished city crowds only deepens the sense of loneliness. Seto will also frequently find objects lying about that, when examined, communicate to him memories of the people to whom they belonged. These memories are accompanied by sometimes striking images and range from humorous to heartbreaking. Many of the people who left these objects behind seemed to know that their time was ending, and the stories they tell raise challenging questions: Is there any value in happiness today when the world must end tomorrow? All of these elements--the environments, the memory objects--come together to create a consistent sense of melancholy and yearning.
These may be the creepiest laughing ghosts of children's legs you've ever faced in a game.
Alas, not every aspect of the game is quite so captivating. Seto's progress is constantly being impeded by spectral enemies who take all sorts of disturbing forms. But while the sight of these spirits may unsettle you at first, you'll quickly learn that combat is so basic and so awkward that you'll be more likely to react with a roll of the eyes than a quickening of the heart when a pack of ghost dogs fades into view. You generally defeat enemies by simply walking up to them and hitting A repeatedly, making Seto whack them or stab them with his current weapon. You have no defensive or evasive moves available, so your only chance of avoiding damage is to step away from an enemy when it's about to attack or hope that your attacks kill it before it gets a chance to attack you. Making matters more troublesome is that much of your fighting is done in narrow corridors, and without a way to lock on to enemies, you're left to rotate the camera to try to get a good look at your targets, which is difficult to do when they're very close to you. At a certain point, you start acquiring ranged weapons, which feel a bit better, letting you aim and fire from a first-person perspective. But across the board, the combat is tedious, and when you die, it often feels like Seto's stiff, limited movements are to blame.