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SummaryTake the red pill..
The GoodGreat, unpredictable story
Amazing, atmospheric soundtrack
Lots of variety in tone, settings and themes
Unique art style
The BadNo voice acting
Interface could have been streamlined more
Occasional obtuse objectives
The Bottom LineFran Bow is a point and click adventure game from Swedish indie developer, Killmonday games. This is their first-ever release, and it displays a lot of confidence and promise for this two-person developer.
The game follows the story of its titular character, Fran Bow Dagenhart, who is a young girl. One night in 1944, she wakes up to see her parents butchered. She runs out into the woods, but is caught and sent to a mental hospital for young children. At the hospital, she is subjected to experimental drugs, which cause her to experience nightmarish visions, including seeing Remor, the goat-masked demon that she sees in her dreams. Her goals are simple: escape the hospital, find her cat Mr. Midnight, and reunite with her Aunt Grace. The game deals with Fran and Mr. Midnight traveling through multiple realities and interacting with all sorts of weird, wonderful, and sometimes disturbing creatures on the way to reaching her goal. The game’s world is surprisingly fleshed out, with an interesting cosmology and a bestiary of really cool creatures.
Fran Bow is broken up into 5 chapters. The mobile version of this game, for some weird reason, has all of the chapters released as separate apps, while the original version for PC includes them all in the same game.
Even though this game stars a young protagonist, it is probably not something you should let a child play. It is loaded with some extremely gruesome imagery and disturbing scenarios and ideas that are sure to creep out even the most jaded of players. The game starts off as very horror-driven, but takes a detour into lighthearted fantasy before diving back into horror with renewed energy. There’s definitely some influences taken from classic fantasy literature such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but Fran Bow’s darker and more gothic feel gives it an identity all its own, and it never comes off as fully derivative of those sources.
It’s hard not to question everything that happens in the game. What is real? What is imagined? Who exactly killed Fran’s parents? Some people have said that the game is a metaphor for mental illness, but there are enough hints throughout the game that at least some of the supernatural/fantastical stuff really is happening to Fran that I can’t dismiss this idea outright. Even after the game ends, you’l still have a lot to think about.
When playing the game, it mostly plays like a traditional point-and-click. You'll talk to characters, pick up items, and use those items to solve inventory-based puzzles. The main twist comes in the form of Fran’s red pills. Taking the pills causes her to see gruesome visions, but you’ll also find story hints, and clues to the puzzles. There are also some items/puzzles that can only be accessed in this mode, so you’ll need to use it often. Chapter 3 changes up this mechanic a little bit, though I can’t really say too much without spoiling anything. Just know that you’ll have 4 versions of scenes that you can go through as opposed to just two.
There’s a dreamlike quality to many of the game’s inventory-based puzzles that makes them very entertaining to solve. A key example of this is a moment where Fran builds a door, then sticks it on the side of a well in order to enter into it. You would think that it wouldn’t open up to anything but a stone wall, but in this game it actually opens a small door. The rules of logic and common sense don’t always apply, so you’ll have to experiment with Fran’s pills and your inventory to figure out the puzzles. There were a few times that I was stuck and forgot that I could use Fran’s pills to solve a puzzle. There were also a moments where my next objective wasn’t entirely clear, or I knew what I needed to do but couldn’t figure out exactly how to trigger it. As a whole, however, the game is generally on the easier end of the adventure game spectrum.
There are also several action sequences that take place during the game. These usually occur at the end of each chapter. One of them is a maze game with light stealth elements. Another is a simplistic Frogger clone. The last one is an endless-runner style platformer. You can skip these if you find them to be too hard for you, which was a nice option, as some people who play adventure games for their relaxed pace may not enjoy them. I personally found them to be nice diversions from the main game.
Occasionally, the game can get kind of talky. The beginning of Chapter 3, in particular, is filled with dialogue and cutscenes, and takes forever before you get let off the leash. I was also not a fan of the interface, which I think could have been streamlined a bit more. You have to click on an item in the inventory, then click on a button to “Use”, “Combine” or “Examine” it. I think it could have easily had all actions confined to two mouse buttons, though this might be a consequence of having to design both desktop and mobile versions of this game.
Fran Bow’s graphics are odd and delightfully disturbing. The game has a sort of 2D stop-motion look to the animation. It has that whimiscal/macabre feel of a Tim Burton or Henry Selick film, though done on a much smaller budget. The action sequences have very different art styles to them compared to the other parts of the game, which I thought was a really neat touch. Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of how everything in the game, including the mouse cursor, is locked at 30 FPS, but since this (mostly) isn’t an action game it’s not really a big deal
The sound is a bit lacking. Most of the effects are fairly basic, though there are occasional flourishes of atmospheric sound design, mostly when taking the pills. The main component that’s missing is voice acting, of which there is none. Normally, a lack of voice acting doesn’t bother me most of the time, but I would have loved to have heard how some of these characters sound. During conversations, you can see the characters moving their lips, but there isn’t so much as a grunt or a beep giving you a sense of how they might sound, allowing your imagination to fill in the rest. The game’s music makes up for this shortcoming, however. The soundtrack largely consists of simple, but gorgeous electronic piano melodies that lend a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes soothing atmosphere to the game.
Ultimately, this is one of those games where you simply keep playing for no other reason other than to see what sort of crazy things will happen next. The occasional lackluster puzzle and non-existent voice acting doesn’t ruin the game thanks to its superb writing, art direction, and soundtrack. It is a pleasure to for once have no real idea where a game’s plot is heading, and to just simply allow yourself to be taken along for the journey. Fran Bow is an intense, original, and sometimes scary adventure that actually got me emotional at a few points. If you have a taste for the macabre and bizarre, appreciate plots that leave a lot of aspects open to interpretation, or love point-and-click games in general, you should play it.