Fe is a beautiful 3D platforming experience that draws you in with its enchanting art design and sombre music implementation. It’s subtlety in story development allows you to take in the plot organically without the overuse of dialogue and drawn out cutscenes. However, there are times where you want to love Fe, but it has some occasional missteps that will break the immersion and reveal the generic platformer in its foundations.
In Fe, you play as a fairy in a Nordic forest. The story itself is quite simple, but it does present a few plot twists along the way. Fe tells its story through interacting with the forest’s environments and inhabitants. There are only the occasional cutscene now and then that never drag on.
Some games can overdo it with text boxes, whereas Fe takes the approach of the opposite extreme. It is certainly a welcome change to experience a game with absolutely no dialogue (aside from the very rare control instruction). Fe’s story execution is dynamic and well-paced, despite lacking depth.
The forest and its inhabitants appear to be under threat by mysterious alienlike creatures that have one eye. They trap animals with their powers and take them somewhere unknown to the player. Fe’s story unfolds through cutscenes, some that occur in-game and others through interactive flashbacks. This ultimately leaves you curious of their motives and wary of the dangers that lurk within the forest. Other cutscenes are quite endearing, showing off the innocence of good-natured animals.
The plot takes some interesting twists towards the end that makes the journey rewarding and insightful.
One could argue that the threatening alienlike creatures could be a social commentary on poaching and wildlife preservation, but I’ll let you be the judge of that one.
The basis of Fe’s gameplay is to gain access to areas by singing to plants and animals. This may give Twilight Princess wolf flashbacks, but much with less depth.
When you sing, you use the motion controls to adjust the pitch. When you’ve found the right note through HD Rumble, you need to hold it there until the light from both creatures connect. This implementation feels clever and unique, albeit a little frustrating at times.
Some of the songs that you use for various actions can be unintuitive and frustrating to pull of. You can appreciate Zoink’s intent, but the execution simply becomes frustrating.
Controlling the fairy in Fe feels smooth and provides an experience that isn’t hindered by awkward controls or unintuitive camera movement. However at times, the little fairy can seem to jump a little bit further than intended, resulting in some frustrating missteps in the occasional tight platforming areas. We noticed that in certain sections, there was no shadow underneath when you jumped. This becomes more apparent later in the game when you learn how to glide. Having a shadow underneath you is a staple for any 3D platformer and is fundamental for its gameplay.
As there is very little dialogue throughout the game, tutorials are presented in a more hands on approach. We have to compliment this style of teaching as gamers can often grow tired of long-winded tutorials. This does come with the caveat that Fe’s general implementation doesn’t always work the way that it is intended, which can frustrate the player when learning the basics.
Where Fe shines is in its ability to force you to think for yourself. Nothing in this game is particularly challenging, but the game provides only a small amount of hand-holding throughout the entire experience. However if you are at a complete loss as to how to proceed, you can sing in order to call a bird that shows you where you need to go.
Surprisingly, Fe has a lot of stealth sections that require you to hide in tall grass to avoid the paralyzing glare of the alienlike creatures. These sections are not particularly groundbreaking in any way, but they do work as you would expect them to. Therefore, the stealth aspect of Fe simply comes down to personal taste. However, there were a few moments where the alienlike creatures still detected the fairy even though they were fully covered in the tall grass. Whilst this can be frustrating, there is no Game Over screen. You have no health bar in this game, meaning that when an enemy traps you (or you fall and get eaten by a weird fish monster), the game simply puts you back to safety right before the challenge that you were undertaking.
Fe truly opens up once you learn how to glide. Being able to glide around this game’s expansive world is truly a thing of beauty. There are a few moments where this mechanic is perfectly implemented, however it can make you resent having to land and walk around.
Some controls just feel like odd choices. For example to climb a tree, you can’t simply grab onto it and push the analogue stick up to climb it. You have to continuously press the B button to jump up the tree. You may often find yourself pressing the button one too many times and jumping from the tree when you weren’t intending to. The more crystals you collect, the more abilities you can learn to better move around. Whilst this does encourage exploration, having these controls from the beginning seems more appropriate.
In terms of the technical aspect of Fe, we did experience frequent frame rate drops when the environment was crowded, even to the point where the game froze for a second. Unfortunately, this can detract from the immersion of the wonderful world and art design. We also ran into a few glitches along the way, and the game even crashed on us once.
Music / Sound Design
Fe’s music takes a similar approach to that of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in that it primarily relies on atmospheric sounds. However, there are some beautiful tracks that are sprinkled in throughout the adventure. The music predominantly relied stringed instrumental tracks that perfectly matches the moods of the environment.
There is more music when you consider the songs that you can sing to connect with other animals, however the lack of variety (or defining melodies) feels like a missed opportunity. You learn different songs throughout the game, allowing you to interact with other creatures, but they are just sounds with varying levels of pitch.
Graphics / Art Direction
Fe’s art direction was the hottest topic leading up to its release. The colours are somber and beautiful, the environment is lush with personality, and the forest feels like a living breathing world. However once you see about 10 minutes worth of the art design, you’ve basically seen all that there is to see.
Whilst Fe’s art style is beautiful, the game reuses many models for trees, bushes, etc. As this is Zoink’s first attempt at a 3D adventure game, we can cut them a little bit of slack, but regardless, there is a clear lack of variety.
The lack of textures appear to be a design choice that a lot of 3D indie developers are taking lately. You could chalk it up to artistic design, but this method was a little jarring in this instance. Knowing precisely what is a platform and what isn’t, as well as distinguishing all of the different features that Fe is trying to present, ultimately becomes a challenge. 3D platformers thrive on variety, as the game can grow stale if you’re constantly jumping from the same types of platforms.
We also noticed that Fe’s dark and gloomy aesthetics can be difficult for Switch owners to play outside in handheld mode. The brightness needs to be at maximum level in order to make out where you need to go, which can create frustration when playing a 3D platformer/adventure game on the go.
Fe’s world design is an interesting topic where we are still unsure whether we should praise or not. The map can feel quite linear when you don’t want it to be, and too open when you do.
Fe can be very aloof at times, not making it clear where you need to go and what you need to do. As the game has no dialogue through artistic choice, this can often result in varying levels of frustration. However, you can sing with birds throughout the forest that guide you to your objective, but sometimes the bird itself seems confused. You can also toggle objective points on and off depending on the type of challenge you want.
As you progress through the game and unlock new abilities, the forest opens up more. Traversing the world in new ways feels fresh and exciting. In many instances, the world design provides multiple scenarios in which to complete an objective.
Despite some of this game’s drawbacks, every now and then you’ll have a breathtaking moment that will force you to stop and say ‘wow’.
Once you finish the game, you have an entire world to explore with many collectibles to uncover.
Considering all that has been said about Fe, it is not inherently a bad game. There is definitely a fun experience to be had, and should be on the radar of any fan of the 3D platforming genre.
That being said, the game has a foray of setbacks that prevents it from being a gem on the Nintendo Switch. It is a beautiful game to behold on first glance, but the overall experience is just not deep and polished enough to be an immediate recommendation.
Final Score: 65%
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