Forgotton Anne review
Hard to forget but easy to dismiss.
Forgotton Anne feels like a Studio Ghibli fanfic featuring an ostensibly dreamy moustachioed doll man, and I can’t say I loved it. Its predictable plot and unremarkable characters don’t land and its interactive elements distract from its story rather than complement it.
The central conceit of Forgotton Anne is concisely explained in its admittedly engaging opening cinematic in which a single sock is forgotten by its human owner and transported to the Forgotten Lands, becoming a “forgotling.” After the opening cinematic, the player is introduced to the titular heroine.
I never grew attached to Anne, finding her annoyingly tsundere and Sue-ish and just boring. Everything about her, from her name to her impractical dress and silly blue bow to the tower she lives in, is utterly uninteresting.
After the opening cinematic, Anne awakens in her tower and fervently spouts devotion to her definitely-not-secretly-evil father figure, the overtly menacing and secretive Bonku. His character design, animation, and voice performance are anything but subtle and telegraph the giant trope that he is the moment the player meets him. Just as Anne is the most generic fantasy heroine, he is the most generic fantasy evil patriarch, made even more unrelatable by having no real presence in the game – only showing up in mirrors from time to time to act authoritarian.
This makes the central conflict of the game between Bonku, the ruler of this realm, and a growing rebel faction of forgotlings laughable, because Bonku is so overtly shady as fuck. Forgotton Anne’s narrative ultimately doesn’t work, because Anne spends way too much of it hopelessly naive to Bonku’s shadiness, making the eventual reveal of his corruption anything but dramatic.
After Anne’s first chat with Bonku, she proceeds to leave her tower and encounters a forgotling that she suspects to be a rebel. Players are given the choice whether to let the forgotling go or distill him. This should be an interesting choice but isn’t for a number of reasons.
The game completely flounders and uses this moment to introduce the player to the concept of distilling: Anne has a magical device on her hand that lets her distill forgotlings, draining their energy and making them inanimate. Because Forgotton Anne confusingly tutorializes this moment, players may not even know they’re making a choice when they distill the forgotling until the Walking Dead-style reminder appears in the corner of the screen ominously stating that “this outcome could have been different.”
This moment is doubly hollow because Bonku is obviously a creep, and it’s very apparent that the rebels are likely justifiable in their rebellion. It was quite evident during my encounter with the rebel red scarf that the game would later chastise me for distilling it. All of the choice moments play out similarly – to distill or not distill – and are equally lacking in emotional weight.
In addition to Forgotton Anne’s narrative issues, it’s bereft of engaging gameplay. Its puzzles are frequently a slog and become unbearably tedious in the third act, only serving to distract from its story and pad its playtime. They’re also often unnecessarily confusing because of control issues. Frequently, I’d discovered the solution to a puzzle, only to have no idea how to enact that solution. Pro tip: if you’re stuck, try holding buttons longer. For no discernible reason, Forgotton Anne frequently makes you hold buttons to interact with some objects in the environment where a simple button press would undoubtedly do.
Visually, the game is beautiful but is entirely too self-satisfied and includes an entire section of white space in which the player must admire the animation and recreate different poses by moving around the environment. Like Forgotton Anne’s puzzles, this section is unnecessary and only serves to pad the game.
Forgotton Anne is too concerned with mythologizing to create believable characters. Its world is at times whimsical and inviting but lacks relatable characters to populate it. Its gameplay also fails to be engaging, and I left the experience feeling disappointed.