Story-driven point and click adventure games have never attracted me. Maybe it was because I never experienced early PC gaming gems such as the King's Quest series. It could also be that every time I heard about these point and click games, a popular Youtuber ended up playing it and I just watched the story on my own. However, when I saw the Youtuber Jesse Cox play the old demo of Fran Bow, I was enchanted. Something about this game made me want to experience the story for myself, to watch the events unfold without seeing it through another pair of eyes first. Now this question can be answered: was Fran Bow’s enchantment over me a pleasant charm or a terrible curse? I dive into KillMonday Games’ point and click adventure to find out.
Fran Bow is the story of a young girl whose parents were brutally murdered before her eyes. The only things she remembers is a horned being who murdered her family and her cat Mr. Midnight being taken from her. She is also forced to stay in a mental asylum for disturbed children. As Fran, it is your job to find the correct items and information to solve puzzles and obtain the tools to progress through the story. As you progress through the chapters, the game's mechanics will allow you to travel through alternate planes of reality. Changing realities will allow you to solve puzzles or meet new characters to continue the story. Mini-games break up the chapters every now and then. They are a great break up between the heavy plot elements of the game. If you do not enjoy these mini-games, they can be skipped.
The art-style of this game is gorgeous. Throughout the chapters of the game I felt like I was watching a moving oil painting. Water effects, lighting, and video game terms were lost to me as it all felt like it was a beautifully painted book that was coming to life as I read it. When I crossed over to the more horrific realities, I was terrified. The terror that was experienced was not the kind of monster that jumped out at you screaming either. This was a fear that stayed and sat, festering in the mind and soul as it raised questions and gave few to no answers. The world of Fran Bow is one of beauty and terror that anyone who loves good visuals will enjoy.
The sound of the game provides the appropriate ambiance for every section of Fran’s world. The music will fill you with a sense of foreboding curiosity at times, and a joyful childlike wonder at other times. The sound effects of every moment – from meeting the demon that haunts her to interacting with the various denizens of the realities aid in bringing the game to life. While this entire game was made by only two people, these two people lovingly crafted this soundtrack.
The most important aspect of the game is the story. The best way to describe it (in a spoiler free way) is an exciting journey, built a smooth way to what is the most disappointing and aggravating ending I have ever experienced in a video game. A quote from an anime reviewer named Glass Reflection fits best here: “the ending is paramount.”
The ending to Fran Bow didn't sequel bait, nor tie up any loose ends to know the truth behind Fran and her experiences. The ending was a cop-out. Maybe I wasn't the audience that the developer intended to have, or maybe this game had some deep secret message that didn't hit me. When you judge the game on the story alone without factoring in personal emotional appeal that you felt for Fran, you will be left hungry for more. The final chapter really lets down the whole game. If Fran Bow had replay value, or anything at all to come back to once you've beaten the game, then maybe a bad ending wouldn't affect the experience so much. However it seems that this game has only one ending to speak of.
So with morality I'm going to get straight to the point for you fine folks out here. This girl is basically fighting a horrific battle against hell's king itself. Whether it's actually Lucifer or if the girl is a twisted mental psychotic, the ending won't clear it up for you. Violence is extremely common. Occult references are commonplace in the story and you're playing a point and click adventure game where a little girl is going through events that you wouldn't wish on a hardened military veteran. One of the security guards at the mental asylum even tries to force her to kiss him. One of the ways you can change realities is by using a medication. This games imagery is violent and disturbing, Fran Bow is not for the faint of heart.
On a more general note, don't get this game for children under the age of 16 either. However for those whose faith is unshakable by dark stories then you might find an interesting and thought provoking game in Fran Bow.