A spiritual journey through a beautiful environment.
Due to the long nights and bitter cold, February is often associated with melancholy. Being disconnected from nature for so long can leave you with a spiritual emptiness not easily filled. It’s this state of mind that makes the release of Fe from Zoink Games (courtesy of the EA Originals label) so welcoming. The world of Fe is akin to spending time inside a zen garden, a quiet, peaceful place where you can recharge your soul, embracing nature. And it’s this same experience you get exploring the beautiful forest of Fe; after each play session you finish with a warm feeling and renewed spirits.
At the beginning, a brief cutscene does a wonderful job setting the scene for the experience that is about to come. Views of a beautiful sprawling forest are interrupted by a foreign invader as beams of light from the sky make their way towards the trees. A sense of impending doom precedes the revelation of a race of one-eyed alien-like creatures that begins to destroy everything they can touch. It’s at this time that your character awakens in a meadow. No evidence is presented about the origins of this raccoon/bird/porcupine creature but it’s clear from the hesitation of the animals around you that you’re not exactly a known commodity.
The typical tutorial is forgone here as controls are very intuitive, but you are provided with information on a need to know basis. The main mechanic is the ability to connect with the plants and animals around you through sound. By pressing the ZR button, you begin to emit a tone that can resonate with the environment. This tone can then be reduced or amplified by tilting the controller, which is used to uncover the wavelengths needed to interact with in-world elements. Once you’ve resonated with a plant or animal, they provide a form of assistance on your journey. Plants provide you with flowers that can be used as platforms, animals either provide direction or transportation to an otherwise inaccessible area.
The main objective is to explore the large environment and connect with everything around you along the way. Pink Crystals are hidden throughout, and once you’ve collected enough a large magical tree will teach you a skill that provides a new way to interact with the forest. These skills consist of things like the ability to climb trees and the languages of the different animals that inhabit the forest. As calm and serene exploring and making new friends is, the invading force that is destroying the environment for its own nefarious reasons is ever present. A legion of one-eyed alien robots plod their way through the forest, capturing any animal that crosses their path. Without a means to defend yourself, cunning and guile must be used to avoid them at all costs while helping the larger animals that do possess the ability to mount a counter-offensive. It’s very satisfying figuring out how to free a deer from captivity and then watch as he tears through his abductors in a furious vengeance.
Although exploration is heavily encouraged, many tools are available so that you never get lost or feel overwhelmed. A map of the forest is only a button away and provides your location as well as waypoints towards the objectives that will allow you to progress. If you really get stumped, then you can always call upon a bird friend to literally lead you to the next location you need to get to.
I don’t feel there is enough that I can say that will truly describe how grand the art direction and musical selection works so well in providing a magical experience. Each area of the forest has a unique color palette that does well representing the feeling around you. Early on, different hues of blue are contrasted with the colourful pinks and purples of the flora around you. Even the music is perfectly matched to the mood. In areas that are calm and meant to be looked at, the music seems to fade in the background to not distract you from the views. As you continue on, the music provides a soothing calmness as you traverse through the trees. Even before you see the enemy, you can feel their presence as the once calm music begins to speed up and intensify to provide you with a feeling of danger. Even though Fe plays perfectly fine in handheld mode, I can’t stress enough that playing in front of a big HDTV is worth making the time for, at the very least you’ll want a pair of good headphones to really feel the music. Neither mode is immune to the occasional frame rate drop when a lot of characters are present. It’s enough to be noticeable but not enough that it affected my experience.
Say what you will about EA, but they really made a terrific choice in selecting Fe as the first title of their Originals indie publishing label. I went through a flood of emotions in my first run through, from the calm peaceful walk through the forest to shouting at my TV for the aliens to leave my friends alone. This expertly paced journey through nature provides a similar spiritual cleansing that one gets on a summer hike, and that’s a wonderful feeling if you’re currently stuck with the winter blues.