Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon – Staff Review

In the world of gaming, it’s fairly common for titles to focus far too much on abstract gameplay concepts and not enough on setting the stage. So often, fighting legendary monsters feels absolutely nothing like being in a fantasy world, as players are simply too aware of the multitude of systems that surround the experience. Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon is an odd reversal of this issue. It is supremely easy to get lost in the sheer beauty and tragedy of the crumbling world the game presents, only to have that illusion come crashing to the ground when asked to do something practical, like press a switch.

The game begins as a young boy named Seto buries his only companion, an old man whose name we are never told, a man who is apparently the only person Seto has ever met. Fragile Dreams takes place in a world where, for reasons unknown, humanity has almost entirely vanished, the only proof that the planet was ever inhabited being the crumbling ruins of our cities and the ghostly remnants of our lingering memories. With his only means of support gone, Seto is forced out into this world on a journey to find what other life may still remain.

Given how common cats are in Fragile Dreams, it's not unreasonable to assume that they are now the rulers of the Earth.
Given how common cats are in Fragile Dreams, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they are now the rulers of the Earth.

The story that drives Fragile Dreams is very melancholy, with the overall tone being one of oppressive sadness, regret, and resignation to the inevitable. This is present most strongly in the memories locked in certain items Seto picks up, items which trigger short story sequences when examined at a save point. These side stories relate the last memories and wishes of the dying remnants of the human race, which range from the last desperate struggles of society for survival, to a little lost boy searching for his mother. Interestingly enough, many of these themes are inverted by Seto himself, with his search for other life being primarily an act of hope, though his quest often leads to similarly depressing ends.

The world constructed by Fragile Dreams isn’t very technically impressive — the graphics hover around a PS2 level — but from an artistic standpoint, they’re quite good. Collapsing buildings and neglected streets are rarely fully illuminated, lit instead by the setting sun or rising moon, with ghostly, transparent enemies that blink in and out of reality. The minimalistic sound design helps reinforce the sense of being alone, with ambient noise and stark silence replacing any kind of symphonic soundtrack. The only place actual music is to be heard is in combat, and even that is fairly low-key. The only real complaint here is that the various areas to be found in Fragile Dreams are all very linear, with not much exploration possible. There are a few impressive vistas to be seen here and there, but for the most part, the game keeps players on a straight and narrow path.

One of the game’s main conceits is the use of the Wiimote as a flashlight. Though the flashlight does a great job of increasing tension, especially in cramped areas where players can never be sure of what’s around the next corner, the game’s use of a third-person perspective does cause problems. For a start, the pointer is used not only to guide the flashlight, but also to change Seto’s heading. Basically, if you want to shine the flashlight in a specific direction without having Seto spin around, you will have to stop moving and switch to a first-person perspective. Along with the overall sensitivity and pickiness of the pointer, basic control can be quite troublesome in some of the game’s tighter corners and tenser fights.

The combat system is, unfortunately, its weakest point. A real-time combat system of the most elementary stripe, players are given a selection of weapons and a few simple attacks, and then pointed at the enemies. Most monsters require only the most basic of strategies to defeat — usually either “hit it” or “hit the glowing part” — and combat in general would be rather dull if the interface were in any way up to the challenge. Keeping Seto pointed towards the foe with the Wiimote while attempting to direct your attacks can be a challenge for even the most co-ordinated of gamers, to say nothing of trying to time Seto’s more powerful three-hit combo.

Generally speaking, the combat system matches up with what could be expected of a teenage boy — clumsy, prone to breaking things, and about as accurate as a blind hobo with a slingshot — but it’s frustrating to play and often hampers basic enjoyment of the game. Furthermore, what few RPG elements there are feel tacked-on and not really worthwhile. Seto gains levels very quickly, but they don’t mean much beyond a few points of damage and an expanded life bar.

Though all the important messages are fully translated, Fragile Dreams still features a lot of untranslated Japanese.
Though all the important messages are fully translated, Fragile Dreams still features a lot of untranslated Japanese.

In fact, the biggest challenge the game has to offer is to be found in the interface. Beyond the aforementioned control issues, Fragile Dreams presents players with a massively constricted inventory. When done well, a small inventory can add tension to a game by restricting the number of options a player has, thereby increasing the danger posed by even basic enemies. However, Fragile Dreams takes this a step too far. The game drops a large number of healing and memory items on players, which makes Seto’s inventory feel not just tiny, but completely inadequate to the task. This is mitigated somewhat in the later parts of the game as Seto’s inventory is expanded slightly, but even late in the game players will find themselves bouncing back and forth between save points trying to keep inventory space available.

Though the basic act of control can often be a difficult battle, the technical aspects of the game should not present any real challenge. Seto’s high-speed leveling makes it easy for players to outlevel any real threat, and monsters move and attack with extremely predictable patterns. The only real concern is the balancing act between XP and weapon durability, but none of the monsters are really tough enough to make level building an actual necessity. In any case, the game is only about fifteen to twenty hours long, with not a lot to do beyond the mainline quest.

Ultimately, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon is a game for those looking for something unusual. While many RPGs focus so heavily on mechanics that they lose track of the world they are supposedly set in, Fragile Dreams focuses so heavily on its world and the tone of its aesthetic elements that it loses sight of its mechanics. The end result is a game which presents a genuinely moving setting and story, but which is so frustrating to control that it can be difficult to appreciate on anything but an artistic level.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a copy purchased by the reviewer.

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