Fey – Guest review

Fey is a neat little action adventure game made in RPG Maker 2003. I found it to be pretty enjoyable, if short.

Probably the first thing that will grab players’ attentions is the detail of the artwork. I know that it’s an RPG Maker game so most people are just going to brand it “terrible” and move on, but the art really lends the game amazing life and vibrancy. It wouldn’t be the same experience without it.

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Many things are animated, too, and the animations are always fluid and lovely. I can’t imagine how much work they must have been, but I can’t argue with the end result. I’m so used to developers relying on character portraits to express emotion in this medium, with the actual sprites themselves being stiff and blocky, but that’s not the case here. The character animations in every cutscene convey a powerful sense of life and emotion that character portraits just can’t match. There are disadvantages to this setup too – characters’ faces have detail issues due to being on such small sprites, which probably shows why the portrait approach is so popular – but overall, I think it works well.

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As for the game itself, it’s something of a mixed bag. The opening bits are incredibly well-done and really drew me into the story, but the rest of the story couldn’t really own up to my high expectations. Which I suppose might be my fault more than the game’s, but.

The story is very much in medias res to start with, and you don’t actually get a full explanation of everything until pretty late in the game. The opening involves our protagonist, Landon, slumming in a bar in a dismal gray city. He then has a nervous breakdown all of a sudden and we get a flashback to an earlier, happier time.

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The contrast between this flashback scene and the present day is astounding. Landon’s hometown is bright, vivid, and cheery, in tone as well as appearance. The city he’s at in the present day, however, is filled with dismal browns and grays. Back alleys filled with trash and homeless vagrants are commonplace. Before the game even really begins, you really get to empathize with Landon by seeing the story’s tone shift back and forth so abruptly and to such an extreme extent. You just know that something horrible happened in the past to cause such a great change in his life.

Despite how effective this initial opening is, however, I felt that later handling of the flashback sequences didn’t really work right. The first flashback is a full-fledged interactive experience where you run around, talk to lots of people, and do things. A lot happens in it, and it lasts for a decently long time. The rest of Landon’s past – the important parts that directly relate to the present-day plot – are parceled out in extremely short snippets. We see only disjointed glimpses of how Landon got to where he is, and they’re so stretched out that you don’t get the full story until the game is nearly over. This bread-crumb approach could have been effective if the flashback sequences ended with a good wham that really tied everything together, but…they don’t. The last one is just as brief as the others and only tells you stuff that you’ve probably figured out already.

I think a way that this could have been done well would be to flip the paradigm of the flashbacks – parcel out the happy memories slowly, with the mounting dread of an inevitable tragedy, then show that tragedy in full at a climactic moment in the story. An example of this format that I’d like to point to is The Reconstruction, which I am doing a full review series for. The surrounding circumstances are rather different in that, but I think the format would still have worked better here.

The story itself is a bit on the minimalist side. There are hints of a larger world, but the plot is very narrow in focus, revolving around Landon’s personal quest. This works – we get a sense of depth to the setting and hints that there’s more to it than just what we see, but Landon isn’t involved in some world-spanning epic quest, so it’s understandable that we only see a small piece of it. Despite that, we do get to see a decent variety of environments.

I really like the characters in this. The beginning of the game makes it look like it’s going to be set a cruel, cynical world where everyone is horrible and Landon has to become a grizzled antihero to survive, but it’s really not. The people Landon meets are generally nice and accommodating to him, and despite all the trials he goes through, Landon himself remains a pretty decent person too. I continually expected the worst of everyone, but I was pleasantly surprised that my worries were unfounded, time and time again. It’s interesting. I think that because the world looks so bleak and dangerous, I assumed the people must be as well – but the overall message seems to be that decent people exist everywhere, no matter their environment.

Unfortunately, the ending is kind of…eh. It felt a bit like the developer was exhausted from working on the rest of the game and just wanted the thing to end already. I don’t feel it was handed well – there’s no real resolution, and the main tragedy revolves around a character who I couldn’t get emotionally attached to, because they were missing in action for half the game. Oh, and there’s also a bonus appeal to nature fallacy thrown in out of nowhere.

I think the story is, ultimately, less than the sum of its parts, but I mean that in the best possible way. Even though I was disappointed by the execution of the overarching plot, I highly enjoyed the individual subplots that drove the story. There’s great atmosphere to them, and it’s nice to see those glimpses into the world beyond Landon. I think my only real criticism of them is that they (and to a lesser extent, the game overall) felt too short. The game dips its toes into different types of settings and themes at multiple points, but the sections are too short for the proper tone to develop. In particular, there’s a survival horror-esque section towards the end. It’s really well-done, but it lasts for all of like five minutes. That’s just not long enough for a true sense of dread and paranoia to develop, and that’s really the core of the survival horror experience.

Gameplay-wise, it’s action adventure, pretty reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda. There’s a bigger focus on exploration and puzzle solving than combat, which I like. There’s lots of stuff lying around that rewards you looking into every nook and cranny, and I found the puzzles to be pretty fun, if a bit simple. Be forewarned that there are lots of quick time events, though. I know they’re a pretty controversial mechanic. Here, I felt that they were used well in a few instances, but overall they were just kind of annoying. The game is pretty forgiving about it – it usually prompts you to save just before each one, and they’re not too difficult. There is one really, really irritating example that stumped me for a while, though – there’s a QTE you can’t succeed at, and you even get a game over screen afterward…except it’s not a real game over screen, you just have to wait a while and the plot continues as normal. Maybe this is only a problem because I’m impatient and tend to soft reset when I get game over screens in RPG Maker games, but I still think it’s pointlessly annoying.

Maybe the story just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s definitely a very personal, emotional tale, and my tastes tend to run a bit more towards the logical and large-scope side of things. The game is definitely of quality, though, and I’d recommend it. I felt it was too short, but that may be a selling point for some of you – it’s easy to get through in only a few hours, less if you’re not an obsessive completionist like me.

2 Comments

  1. illhousen says:
    “I know that it’s an RPG Maker game so most people are just going to brand it “terrible” and move on, but the art really lends the game amazing life and vibrancy.”

    Hey! Art in RPGMaker games can be good. Not ‘commercial games’-level good most of the time, but you can create an atmosphere with it well enough if you know what you are doing. Some RPGMaker games certainly have charm to them.

    Look at Middens for example:
    (actual screenshots from the game)
    http://rpgmaker.net/media/content/games/3843/screenshots/Psychic_Screen.png
    http://rpgmaker.net/media/content/games/3843/screenshots/Rift_Screen.png
    http://rpgmaker.net/media/content/games/3843/screenshots/Screen_Shot_13.png

    So, I like some parts of your description (nice people in a cruel world setup sounds interesting), but I would like more details about the story itself. Without much spoilers, what is the main conflict of the game? What the protagonist tries to achieve?

    Otherwise… Are different parts of the game very different, gameplay-wise? It sounds like you jump from one genre to another judging by your words about survival horror. Is it hard to adjust your actions to changing demands of the game?

    I might check the game out at some point, though so far it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.

    1. Guest Reviewer says:
      Oh, I’m aware! I’ve seen a lot of great artwork in RPG Maker games and I’m pretty partial to sprite art because of it. I just put that there because I’ve heard some people (by which I mean Farla) whine that SNES-style graphics are always awful and not worth paying attention to. The belief might be less widespread than I assumed, but I felt the need to put that rider in.

      (To be honest I didn’t like Middens’ art very much, but that’s probably a taste thing more than anything else. I’m not a big fan of the jarring styles inherent in collage.)

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