Fragile Dreams – Impressions

Initial play time:  Less than an hour
Game type:  Anime-ish story-driven flashlight exploration action-RPG

== Package ==

The bonus soundtrack selection is cute. The sleeve art is cute. The vocal tracks don’t have the slight WAV-error crackle I keep hearing in all the MP3 rips I used to find on the interweb. The reversible boxart is sexy-cute, ditching all those back-cover description stuff in favor of a girl in a trash-bag dress. I can almost see her naked.

fragile_ren1

Unfortunately for those who forget to reverse the boxart, or those seeing the default box on a store shelf, you’re treated to a female-chasing golf-club-wielding night-stalking maniac.

fragile_box

Not Tiger Woods, but he must be up to no good.  It’s a far cry from the gentle boy who might want to take advantage of his lawless world to jump-start the human race all. night. long.

The manual is in FULL COLOUR. It is also quite lengthy, twenty-something ENGLISH-ONLY pages, way longer than the Silent Hill: Shattered Memories’ manual. XSEED always sets the bar pretty high when it comes to 3rd Party Wii game tangibles. They may only produce 5 copies of their games every fiscal year, but each one is a fine piece of work.

Good job, XSEED. I recommend these non-game tangibles to everyone.

== Controls ==

IR Pointer:  Aims the cursor/flashlight, including projectile weapons. Also steers the camera like other flashlight/first-person Wii games.

Analog Stick:  Character movement. Seto can walk/run forward based on sensitivity, but ONLY walks slowly when going in reverse. Left/Right/Diagonal on the stick causes walking plus turning, in addition to the steering generated by the flashlight. There is no direct way to strafe. Think of the basic character movement in Resident Evil 4. (EDIT: If you point the flashlight off the screen, you can run around like regular 3D action games)

D-pad:  Paused quick-inventory and stat menus.  There is NO MAIN MENU to access title/load/options while in-game; you have to use the Home button to reset and return to the title screen’s primary menus.

A-button:  General select/confirm. Use your weapon.

B-trigger:  General cancel. Hold B to enter first-person Search Mode. Pressing A will lock-on and get a close-up of items, showing text descriptions or pick-up actions. Walking is disabled during Search Mode.

C-button:  Crouch.

Z-trigger:  Resets the camera behind Seto.

Plus/Minus:  Zoom in/out the on-screen mini map. Increase/decrease item quantities during shop transactions (what the hell).

Hold Wii Remote vertically:  Listen to your companion, for advice or comments.

== Gameplay ==

Lots of exploring, investigating, and being relaxed while looking around this neat little world. You’re provided with objectives that are listed in your quick-menu, and you go about searching for items/keys that allow you to unlock the way forward. Looking and turning is smooth, but not as zippy as similar games. The RPG traits are minimal, gaining experience/levels from battle, allowing Seto’s health and attack strength to grow.

In an odd twist, the game asks you to locate particular sounds, like a voice or an animal noise, that come directly from the Wii Remote. No, you don’t have to hold it up like a phone. It works like a substitute for a surround sound system for stuff specifically heard by Seto. Seto’s “attention” points in the same direction as the flashlight (independent of the camera’s orientation), so pointing toward or away from the source will make the volume louder or softer, respectively. You can disable the Wii Remote speaker and have the sounds come from your usual speakers, but the mechanics don’t change. I’d prefer surround sound support, making the sounds’ directions relative to the camera/your screen/your seat. As an aid, you can enable the mini map to alert you (does this squiggly speaker wave animation) whenever Seto notices these special sounds.

Your “On-Hand” inventory has a finite amount of space, and your items can be rearranged to optimize that space you have. Items can be moved to your “Briefcase” for permanent storage, but you can only access it “when it’s safe” – during bonfires, when enemies won’t bother you (ho-ho, Resident Evil Item Box?). Bonfires automatically restore your HP, allow you to save your progress, and let you examine non-essential items. Bonfire pits lie around the stage, and they seem plentiful so early in the game.

OK, combat: tap A to whack ghosts. There’s a variety of temporary weapons to pick-up. Some melee weapons allow simple 3-hit combos, while others can charge up. Projectile weapons, like a slingshot, are aimed via the IR Pointer, but disable the flashlight during use. Weapons can also break, taking up space in your inventory, and should be discarded. Enemies are affected by light, and the flashlight is used to reveal and/or weaken different types. Additional flashlights are available later in the game, with increased brightness or capability to view hidden images.

RUNNING AROUND. The game’s presentation clashes with the controls. Exploration and combat are obviously presented in third-person, with the camera squarely behind Seto. Players’ instincts will tell them to run/face any direction, like typical 3D Mario/Zelda, but that’s IMPOSSIBLE (EDIT: it actually is possible, see Controls above), and will bother some people at first. Seto never faces the camera; since running is not allowed in reverse, trying to quickly change direction leads to awkward footwork and broken flow. To actually do anything comfortably, correctly, in this game, you have to approach it like a first-person game: steering/direction is dominated by the IR Pointer, while the Control Stick is mostly forward and back. Players who’ve spent time with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories will make an easier transition to this game than those stuck in the 3D action/adventure mindset (these flashlight Wii games are practically its own interface genre; Silent Hill’s controls succeed partly by its over-the-shoulder view, making it more in-tune with Wii first-person shooters).

Because the camera is centered directly behind Seto, it’s very hard to judge attack distance since the stupid kid is in the way, blocking your view. Poor design again, but we can easily survive this by adjusting our approach. MY REMEDY is to approach enemies at an angle, keeping Seto’s attack and the target in view. If there’s a good thing to say about the controls, Seto attacks in the same direction as the flashlight. So instead of depending on footwork to change direction, just point at an enemy and Seto will turn and face the direction you want (when he isn’t stuck in a combo/attack animation).

== Visuals ==

Lovely. Smooth 30 fps and pleasant art direction. The game portrays an abandoned human world being reclaimed by nature, using cute or romantic detailing via crumbly ruins, vegetation, graffiti, and colorful lighting. Characters sometimes have a hint of cel-shading, while ghosts have a bloomy transparency. Character designs are interesting and detailed, making a nice representation of the official art. Lighting isn’t as advanced as Ju-On or Silent Hill; objects don’t cast shadows, but the flashlight spot does brighten and stretch across surfaces. Cel-shaded FMV is used in parts of the intro events.

== Audio ==

No Dolby Pro Logic II support. A bummer, given the nice environments, even if there aren’t many things to make noise. But there are CATS, yes, CATS. And they meow. But the meows, like any “non-telephone” Wii audio, don’t sound too hot from the Wii Remote.

In a very generous move, XSEED included the original Japanese voice acting, while the English track is active by default. Seto apparently has the same voice as Emil (oh NOOOOOO) from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of Fist, but fortunately hasn’t been whiney or excited at all, yet. The intro song, “Hikari” by Aoi Teshima, is in tact, thank goodness, but an in-game song that was translated and sung in English sounded awkward. The few characters I’ve come across sound OK in English, speaking naturally, I suppose. Background music sounds gentle and sweet.

== Forward ==

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon is the FOURTH Wii flashlight game to hit North America since September 2009, yet it’s the FIRST to include COMBAT (what the hell). I’m looking forward to many more hours of flashlight exploration – looking around and examining all kinds of shit.

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