Some of my favorite first person experiences (or walking simulators), such as Everybody's Gone to the Rapture or What Remains of Edith Finch, work because they possess beautiful vistas, lush musical scores, and in the case of the latter, variety. Of course, the narratives are the main attraction, but having the necessary ornamentation is an important part in making these games work. Fragments of Him spins a very realistic, slice of life yarn that tells an important story about love, loss, and acceptance. However, despite its best intentions, it suffers in almost every other category. The aesthetic design feels flat, the music is largely absent, and there's really nothing to explore.
Let's address the character models and environmental design first. Each area you enter is quaint and furniture is minimal. The characters themselves are devoid of eyes, facial expressions, or anything that conveys emotion. While I can partially excuse this (since it does tie into the story in some fashion), I personally felt like I was watching sentient mannequins trying to figure out how limbs work. The animations are stiff and often largely absent. Fragments of Him opts for the "teleporting objects" approach when it comes to its interactable objects. For instance, if you open a fridge to retrieve some milk, the milk will magically appear on the counter without the fridge ever opening. There will be an audio cue but you'll have to let your imagination do the rest. Having your brain fill in the gaps, as it would while reading a novel or short story, is interesting, but in the case of Fragments of Him I feel like I'm just pressing a single button to turn a page instead of really being drawn into the world.
Despite the environments' best efforts to take me out, the writing kept pulling me back in. It's intelligent and does a fabulous job of painting its characters in three dimensions. The best example of this would be the grandmother figure. She's a woman at odds with her past upbringing and she's continuously questioning her own moral compass. The game's central figure Will is gay and for a portion of the game, we experience his grandmother coming to terms with it. Some of her initial reactions to homosexuality may seem backwards and ignorant, but the developer Sassybot writes her as a very redeemable character and shows us that she's more concerned for Will than anything. I feel as though there are a multitude of pitfalls one can fall into when writing a story of this nature, but here the writers have crafted a fantastic, believable story with characters that feel painfully real.
The narrative is viewed through the lens of multiple characters who all have known Will in some capacity. These different perspectives help the impact of the story's conclusion hit harder. As the player, your actual role is that of a some sort of omniscient specter, drifting in and out of memories focused around Will. There are some dialogue options and a small smattering of player agency over how certain events unfold. Unfortunately, these moments are incredibly infrequent and most of the game boils down to hitting a button on a highlighted object or person to advance the story.
As mentioned earlier, the objects that you interact with will faze in and out of existence with no real animation to speak of. The moments when actual animations are utilized, there's some rather noticeable and immersion breaking clipping. For instance, when Will fastens his seat belt or brushes his teeth, the seat belt or toothbrush will puncture our protagonists fiberglass exterior and look incredibly awkward. There was also a point during my initial playthrough where I was sitting in the passenger seat of a car as Will drove. During the ride, I watched as we hastily approached the back of a truck idling at the stoplight. Will didn't make any effort to slow down and I winced as we clipped right into the back of the truck and became some sort of discount Voltron. Thankfully, these technical hiccups are rare but they certainly stand out whenever they occur.
If you can forgive the technical faux pas, the somewhat creepy mannequin people, the absence of any memorable music and the bare bones gameplay, there's a fantastic story buried underneath the rubble. All of the characters are three dimensional and real, the voice acting feels authentic, and the writing is smart but never preachy. At its core, Fragments of Him is just a poignant story of love and loss. It showcases Will and his partner's relationship as normal and pedestrian. It's almost mundane. But this approach is all the more effective when something that should just be normal and average is treated as such. Based on the title of the game, you can kind of assume where the narrative is likely heading to, but the journey there, while bumpy, is one worth taking.