I guess I’ve been a sucker for emotional games lately.
Carrying the momentum forward with my previous tear-jerker reviews, I felt compelled to pick up Fragments of Him. Developed and published by Sassybot, this game has actually been in the works for many years – originally featured in the popular game jam Ludum Dare #26, it’s been a highly anticipated interactive narrative experience since at least 2014. Fans have been waiting for this emotional roller coaster, and I am happy to say that it did not disappoint.
Fragments of Him is centered around the memories of Will, the main character, through the eyes of those closest to him. In the beginning, we watch as he contemplates life and its hackneyed, boring routine, coming to the conclusion that he was ready for the next big step – marriage to his boyfriend, Harry. As he casually drives his car and thinks to himself about how best to tell Harry, he is immediately struck by another driver and dies. Just like his life, the scene ended abruptly and without any warning.
We’re then treated to the memories of those he loved and who loved him most, including his college girlfriend, Sarah, his grandmother, Mary, and Harry, his would-be fiancé. Told in a first-person narrative, each person brings a unique perspective to Will that gives us an idea of who he was and what he had given to each of them.
The character art is devoid of any real expressions or detail past the basic outlines of facial characteristics, and the colors are mostly drab variations of gray or sepia browns. In other games, this would be detrimental, but it definitely strengthens the overall gloominess here. The music fit beautifully into the environment, enhancing the depressing undertones the narratives conveyed. It felt like a deep, long-lasting wound not easily healed. The graphics are detailed despite the lack of color and create an ambiance that enhances, rather than detracts, from the storyline.
I feel that where the game truly shines is in its voice acting.
The actors they chose tell most of the story through their tone of voice – not the words. Mary’s soothing grandmotherly voice, Sarah’s voice cracking at certain parts of her bittersweet account, and Harry’s wretched anguish are all easily conveyed through the superior voice acting – a rare treat!
One thing I really appreciated was the inclusion of a gay/bisexual/pansexual narrative. It’s extremely rare to be able to find these kinds of stories, and these narratives appeared to have come from the heart with their raw emotion. It really makes you wonder how much of this is based on real life and how much was imagined – the narratives seemed so real that it was almost as if this was loosely based on a true story.
I have to mention one thing – this game is exceedingly English, insofar as some of the characters have a debate over the controversy surrounding Lady Diana’s divorce (that’s Princess Diana to us Yanks). I only had one giggle in this entire game, and this was it. Perhaps a bit inappropriate, but it just seemed like it would be like American devs bringing up something quintessentially American, like a debate over JFK. The grandmother, of course, had the most English response to her disdain for Will’s “dangerous opinions” which was to go make tea and cry silently to herself over the foreseeable hardships Will would face due to his “liberal opinions”. It was so believable that it immediately stopped being funny, as the weight of her reaction finally made sense – she wasn’t just relating the cultural conversation of the time for entertainment value… she was truly worried about her precious grandson and what problems his headstrong nature would cause for him. It felt real. It’s those little things in games that hook you, and I have to say that the storyline was deep enough to make the offhand, seemingly unimportant tidbits not seem contrived, and make each character so much more fleshed out and believable.
I’ll be the first to admit that the gameplay progresses very slowly. This is not a title that you can just “pick up” – be sure to have a good two to three hours set aside for this, as it is a commitment. This isn’t so much a “point and click”, but rather a “point and listen” as clicking on certain objects will reveal some storyline slightly related to it. For example, clicking on a radio will bring up Mary’s memories of punk rock always playing around Will as a small child. While the story is indeed compelling, it is perhaps a bit too slow for my tastes. Then again, this is a story about the mourning process, so slow just might be best after all.
Will may be gone from their lives, but Sarah, Mary, and Harry keep him alive in their hearts. It wasn’t quite the tear-jerker I thought it would be, but it was a deep and compelling look at love, life, loss, and mourning. I can say with absolute confidence that Fragments of Him is one of the most original titles to be developed this year and is truly a worthwhile addition to any Steam library.