But can it maintain its momentum as the campaign goes on?
While Fe might be the name of an upcoming EA Originals game made by Swedish developer Zoink Games, Fe is also the name of a tiny, black, fox-like creature who sings to a mysterious place inspired by the Nordic Forest. The game itself is a delightful mixture of Ori and the Blind Forest, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid/Castlevania, and Shadow of the Colossus – without ever being too much like any one of those games that it loses its sense of originality. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever played anything that made me feel the same unique, meditative sense of awe I felt while playing through the first hour of Fe, except perhaps in Journey.
You start off in the middle of some snowy woods, with the ground below you sparkling beautifully and flowers around you glowing in bright, vivid colours. Despite how pretty it is, it feels unsafe – you’re small, you’re alone, and you don’t have any understanding of where you are. That feeling echoed throughout all of my time with Fe, which was about 45 minutes out of a six-hour game. Even when I made my first connection with another creature by singing to them in the right tune, I was happy to have them as a companion, but felt a tense sense of responsibility for whatever might happen to them. And bad things do happen. It strikes a very precise balance between vulnerability and wonder.
On the Nintendo Switch, tuning Involves Physically Tilting the Joy-Con and holding it at the right angle.
Your first companion is a deer, who you approach slowly so as to avoid scaring it away, then you sing to it until it trusts you. The ‘singing’ mechanic just involves pressing the right trigger at different degrees, and holding it when a visible line between you and the animal you’re communicating with turns straight. It’s not dissimilar to tuning in other games, but it does sound a lot more peaceful than most, even when you’re not hitting the right note. The sound design as a whole is pretty beautiful. On the Nintendo Switch, Tuning Involves Physically tilting the Joy-Con and holding it at the right angle. The system works the same for every animal I encountered, and every animal can be interacted with. Even the small ferret-looking things that scurried around the forest floor could be approached and sung to, and then promptly hugged. Aww.
Speaking to animals acts a little like acquiring items, since as soon as you have them, they can be used to interact with things in the environment that Fe would be unable to. The deer can sing to flowers that you’ll need to use as jumps or platforms to reach high areas. The ferrets can be thrown to distract enemies, and birds can be called to guide you. I can’t speak to any of the creatures beyond those at the start of the game, but that early group did feel purposeful and creative.
To prevent you from getting lost, you can activate markings on stones along the way to act like ‘breadcrumbs’ for yourself.
Beyond those, there are pink shards you can collect to get upgrades to Fe, but every one beyond the first, which teaches you how to climb trees, is optional. Some are even hidden in ‘puzzle caves’, which are secret areas that’ll contain extra story content, too. Supposedly the entire map, which is wholly interconnected, is accessible from the start of the game, but unlocking different abilities will make traversing its various biomes a whole lot faster.
Certain abilities will let you actually reach the shards you’ll find scattered throughout the environment, too, and in that sense, it feels like a Metroidvania. One shard I passed in the early stages of the campaign was impossible for me to get to, so I know I have to unlock a different ability and double-back to collect everything. To prevent you from getting lost, you can activate markings on stones along the way to act like ‘breadcrumbs’ for yourself, so you know which way you’ve come from, and where you’ve been. Towards the end of the story, the developers intend players to feel like they ‘understand’ the map, and become familiar with how it loops back around on itself.
The Silent Ones are the only enemy I encountered in Fe during my playtime, and they generally just patrol certain areas in predictable patterns.
Each of the Fe’s different environments is connected to one specific kind of animal, too, with one ‘big’ version of that animal being the center of any given area. The deer you might’ve seen in the trailer feels a lot like a colossus in Shadow of the Colossus, with Fe having to climb it and engage with a bunch of different points to break it free (rather than kill it, thankfully). These creatures are what really drive you forward – you’re saving the forest and the other animals in it from creatures called ‘Silent Ones’, who seem to be trying to treat the animals as though they belong in a zoo.
The Silent Ones are the only enemy I encountered in Fe during my playtime, and they generally just patrol certain areas in predictable patterns. You have to avoid them, or use different objects to distract them, but every time one of them happened to see me I wasn’t able to escape. You can hide in tall grass or behind rocks or trees in the environments, but as soon as you’re in their line of sight they’re pretty quick to trap you in a cage of your own. This has the potential to be frustrating as Fe goes on, but in the early stages, I did feel like I had enough different options for traversing environments that I could easily avoid them so long as I was actively thinking about it and exercising caution.
There isn’t any dialogue in Fe, though, so the story is told through a variety of different means. One is that forward progression that lets you draw conclusions based on your own actions, and another is by discovering and putting on these sort of ‘helmets’ that play an interactive cutscene. I honestly have no idea what the story is about, but it feels a little romantic. If anything, even from the beginning, it feels well-paced, and I like that you have the option to consume it however you might want to, or to avoid it entirely.
Alanah Pearce is a Producer at IGN. She has pet multiple dogs throughout her lifetime. Share puppy pics with her on Twitter at @Charalanahzard.