Fe Review

Playing through Fe, it's clear pretty early on what the developers were shooting for. With its pastel polygonal landscape, hippy-dippy story elements and anthropomorphic animal leading character, Fe is supposed to hit many of the same notes as Journey, Ori, or a half dozen other indie darlings that tug at the heartstrings while we overlook some of the more underdeveloped mechanics. Fe has some cool ideas that are never quite fully realized, a few frustrating elements and an aesthetic that is maybe less overwhelmingly attractive than the developer's hope.

Fe2.jpg

Fe's story is an allegory -- and a fairly unsubtle one, at that -- about the destruction of the natural world by the tone-deaf machines called Silent Ones. Fe, an adorable fox-like creature, can only progress through the world by literally harmonizing with the flora and fauna. Singing together and learning the songs of the animals and plants opens up new pathways and abilities, items and cooperative partners in the journey. This idea of song and music linking life is unique but never really developed beyond a few variations controlled by trigger pressure. I hoped that there would be complex melodies to share, or that certain patterns of song would impact the world in a more profound way. That said, the highlight of Fe is the implication of two voices coming together whose connection reveals unsuspected strength. Fe's acoustic/orchestral soundtrack is omnipresent and ranges from ambient minimalism to more emotionally charged cues. While Fe's song sits comfortably on top of the musical score, this was an other area I wanted the game to develop. There are plenty of rote puzzle platform games, but few that use the power of music as as a catalyst for progress.

Fe3.jpg

Beyond the undeniably clever musical hook, Fe  is a relatively linear action puzzle game that disguises its critical path by being occasionally directionless and obtuse and set in a landscape that is filled with dead ends and sometimes unrewarding nooks and crannies. While the developers have gone out of their way to make discovery and exploration a core component of Fe, sometimes the lack of clear objectives and the relative spareness of interactive objects in the world can make the experience a bit tedious. While the art design is rich in color and the landscapes are often abundant with life, there is often little to actually do but try and move forward into the next area. Really, very few animals or plants significantly respond to Fe's songs and there aren't many abilities to open or objects to collect. Even though the game is relatively short, the lack of scenic variety and stylistic sameness become an issue.

In general, Fe is not a game about combat but avoiding the progressively more menacing Silent Ones via pathways around or above them. Fe is very much a puzzle platformer, and unfortunately, this aspect of the game is by far the most frustrating. Neither Fe's abilities or the distances he must jump seem well calibrated and having to repeat a jump a half dozen times or more seems less a failure of player skill than design. Fe doesn't have much of a repertory of moves so it is a bit disappointing that these weren't more finely tuned. 

Fe1.jpg

While there's no denying that we need to be reminded that living in harmony with the natural world gives us strength, Fe's gameplay mechanics and moment-to-moment action are not always rewarding. Its emotional arc lacks the clear structure and coherent ending that some of its cousins -- like Journey or Ori -- have done better. Fe's world is aesthetically pretty but pretty frustrating to navigate, given the imprecision of its platforming and while its use of music --both in gameplay and as an underscore -- is unique and lovely, it isn't quite enough to carry the game for its handful of hours.