On paper Fragile Dreams sounds like, well like a dream. The post-apocalyptic setting and lush visuals provide a fantastic backdrop and the premise definitely screams enjoyment. I will admit that before sitting down to review the game I knew little to nothing about it. After some research though I found myself further intrigued at the concept and what it would bring to the table. This is one title that sounds immensely entertaining on paper, but like most other games that dare to break the mold it relies too much on outdated mechanics and backtracking to really keep your interest flowing from beginning to end. What we end up with is a wonderful and exciting world that falls short thanks to antiquated design.
You play as Seto, a fifteen year-old boy who buries his grandfather at the outset of the game and is thrust into this world alone. After some time he decides to journey out to see if there are any other survivors in the world. The reason behind this tragedy is completely unknown from the beginning and it becomes more and more interesting as you progress. The story is told through some wonderfully designed cut scenes and pretty decent voice acting. Xseed Games has also included the original Japanese track for those of you that simply demand the pure experience.
Developer tri-Crescendo (most famous for their Eternal Sonata title) have crafted a game that contains a mixture of genres. Fragile Dreams is a little bit action and adventure, another small part survival horror with a hint of RPG elements. There are lots of areas to explore and wandering around the desolate city is definitely the highlight of the game. The world is just so full of interesting details and history that uncovering the mystery behind what happened will easily draw you into the mix. Unfortunately the missteps happen when the game begins to try and take on too many personas.
Taking cues from survival horror games from the mid-to-late 90s, Fragile Dreams plays host to a series of tedious backtracking and fetch missions. These were used back in the day to extend the life of a game, but in this day and age they just feel lazy and sloppy in design. Another sore spot is the fact that weapons will break throughout the journey making combat feel more cumbersome than it should. Oh and I must mention that this game screams for an auto lock-on feature to help as well. You are also limited to certain actions such as saving until you are at your camp site. This becomes frustrating as you will constantly be forced to progress more than you might care before being able to quit. There are other things only available here which makes the game feel more punishing and restricted than it really should be.
The combat within the game is an area where things again fall apart. It mostly consists of tapping the A button to swing whatever object is in your hand at the time. As I mentioned weapons can break, but they never give you a warning before they do. The combat also feels constrained and is one of the reasons a lock-on feature would have greatly improved its enjoyment. The RPG elements come into play here by letting you earn points to level up your characters abilities, but for the most part they feel underused and disappointingly tacked on. I did however; enjoy the flashlight mechanic using the Wii remote. The accuracy is certainly not the best we have seen, but it really adds a sense of immersion to the experience.
This is one of those experiences that are hard to review. On one hand you have this gem of a game that engulfs you into its story and world, but punishes you with elementary game mechanics that make it feel dated and monotonous. The entire time I was playing the game I was loving the atmosphere but also fearing that my current weapon was going to break, or that I would have to run back and complete yet another time-inducing fetch quest just so the experience would last the standard quotient of game time. These are not the emotions I want to have while really being engaged in such a fantastic narrative.
Visually the game displays a somber yet beautiful overlay that really accents the world. Characters retain the same look and feel the developers are known for, but with some truly outstanding animations and design. You really feel that the characters have a presence to them, thus making you care about what happens within the world. The environments are also lush and full of vast details and locales. I really enjoyed the overall look and feel of the game as it stands out from most other games on the system. The audio work is equally impressive with a dynamic cast of voice actors. Xseed also did an excellent job of including the original Japanese track for purists. The soundtrack exhumes some moody, melodic tones that really mesh with the world. Not much can be criticized about the presentation of this title.
Fragile Dreams is a tough game to classify. On one hand the production values are definitely top-tier. The visuals, sound and atmosphere are truly engrossing, and keep you entertained from beginning to end. However, the dated game design and tedious combat and fetch quests really drag down the actual game side of the experience. If you can handle game design that would have been common during the PSOne days there is a lot to love about the game. The story and aforementioned items are definitely worth the price of admission. Just be wary of what you are getting into before taking the plunge.
Review copy provided by publisher.