The Forgotten City is the near perfect blend of everything that sets games apart from other media. Using one of the best premises I’ve seen in quite some time, it combines a gripping narrative with memorable and unique characters that shows off its unique world and gameplay mechanics. While I definitely am avoiding any and all spoilers in this review, I would even like to encourage you to stop reading this review once I’ve explained the pitch. Going blind into The Forgotten City elevates its twists and turns to near perfection. While the Switch port of this game is a cloud-version, it may just be the precise game to show what value cloud versions of Switch titles may have. Like an endless loop, The Forgotten City has been on my mind every day since I’ve started playing it and even after I’ve seen all it has to offer, I am still ecstatic about the experience.
The premise of The Forgotten City is pretty simple. You wake up on a riverbank and are asked to help your friend who has entered an ancient Roman temple. This temple leads to an underground city where you find yourself being transported back about 2000 years in the past to an actual Roman civilization. This Roman city is terrorized by an unexplained and unpredictable curse as scribed within the walls of the city: “The many shall suffer for the sins of the one”. From here on you set out to find out what is going on within the city, if there is even a way to escape this place and how this place came to be cursed. There’s a large cast of characters to meet, who each have their own perspective on the matter and follow a particular cycle through town. As you slowly unravel the mysteries you start to find out that this city and its inhabitants are hiding more than they are willing to tell you. If this sounds appealing to you, then I urge you to read no further, because this game is brilliant in both it’s narrative approach and gameplay to engage you into its beautiful and accurate world.
For those of you who are still around, the main gameplay mechanic of The Forgotten City follows a time loop story. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, you are able to return to the beginning of the day with your previously gained knowledge and can try and change the outcome of the curse and the destiny of the citizens. This is mostly done through talking with the characters in the game, learning their patterns and personalities and using that information to unlock new information that can aid you in finding hidden objects or keys. All with the final goal of solving the mystery of the curse and understanding what has been going on in this forgotten city. Gameplay feels mostly like a first person narrative adventure, but there is some incidental combat and simple puzzle solving as well. Mainly in the form of learning how to traverse the city, where to find specific objects and how to persuade others to trust you with their knowledge.
What I especially adored about The Forgotten City is it’s sheer attention to detail and historical accuracy. That’s not just found in the city itself, with its historical architecture and culture, but also in it’s small design elements. You can actually argue with these Roman citizens about their worldview and politics and they answer as if they’re still the greatest civilization the world has ever known. They try to actively engage in the discussion with the player and show them that while you are from an age far beyond theirs, it’s perhaps not that different from theirs. It offers some unique insights into the questions of how cultures are raised, what makes a civilization truly its own and how beliefs are reinforced throughout the centuries. A small example is that one of the characters is part of a cultist group that is convinced that there’s only one God to answer to. They don’t talk about their beliefs in public, because they fear retribution from the others, but it gives the cast of characters some great variety. Even if you only end up talking to certain people once or twice, their voice-acting leaves a marvellous impression of their character. I could relate to some of these folks, even though I definitely didn’t agree with their points of view. The game is not necessarily about proving whether one philosophy or idea is correct, but rather trying to make you, the player, think about the way our world, history and culture is preserved and presented. It’s something that could simply not be achieved in this way in another medium and I love the game for that. It’s also not always too serious and I found that debating memes with a Roman priestess was quite a delight to break up the seriousness of the curse itself.
As for the biggest downside, it’s that the Switch version of The Forgotten City is a cloud-service. While I expected a sluggish performance on my Switch over at a friends place where a WiFi connection was shared between four people and multiple devices, the game did run fine nearly 95% of the time. There was some incidental stuttering and a delay with the input of my controls, but these happened very few times and far between to never truly make the game unplayable. See, what’s so smart about making The Forgotten City a cloud version is that the game is a narrative driven title. You don’t need precise inputs and timing. You can easily just take your time with the game, hear the voice-acting and read the dialogue options. It’s perfectly suitable for a cloud-version and while playing both docked and in handheld mode, I’ve had a great time. My biggest gripe is the other complication that these cloud-versions bring, over capacitated servers. This happened to me about four times and generally annoyed me most of all. I wanted to sit down, play the game and just get lost in the world again, but after the rather long loading opening screen I was greeted with the message that I was placed in the queue due to over-capacity on the server side. This is probably the most frustrating thing about the Switch version. There’s nothing more tedious than genuinely loving a game, having it right in front of you, but being told that there’s no way to play it right now. Waiting in the queue always took a very long time and I just decided to try again at a later time.
That’s really the only sin committed here, because I love The Forgotten City. Its story and characters are thought-provoking and make you engage with the game in a multitude of ways. It actively pursued me to go for different endings, something I don’t often tend to do in video games. I really wanted to see all the ways in which the story unfolded and what that would mean for this hidden civilization. The endings left me all very satisfied and felt truly different from one another. While there definitely is a singular true ending, the game really gives most of its characters the time to shine. Especially once you unravel some of the mysteries and the picture of what is truly going on starts to form in your mind. While the Switch version is not the perfect way to play The Forgotten City, I was impressed by how well the technology performed during my time with the game. Yes, over-capacity for the servers is one hell of a downer when wanting to play a game you’ve been thinking about all day, but once you are able to play, the server has no issues keeping up. The Forgotten City in that regard is a perfect choice for a cloud version on Switch. Its narrative driven focus gives it time to breathe and even during combat segments I never felt like I was playing anything less than a full game that was looking exceptionally pretty on my Switch’s screen. I have no problem recommending the Cloud-version of The Forgotten City, but as with any streaming version your mileage may vary. What will probably not vary is your enjoyment of this game, because as far as narrative driven adventures are considered, The Forgotten City absolutely deserves to be remembered for a very long time.