Fran Bow is a wonderful dark tale, with beautiful graphics, fitting sound effects and music and some truly great puzzles. It’s a journey through 5 unsettling chapters of dread and horror, on which the main protagonist travels bravely in search of home and answers. It is extremely disturbing game, and that took me by surprise: while I knew it was labelled as a horror game, I didn’t believe it was possible for a game to make me feel so anxious.
The story begins with our main protagonist Fran at a children asylum where she ended up once her parents were brutally murdered and she was found alone in the woods. Fran escapes to find her beloved cat Mr. Midnight and to go back home to her aunt. From there we begin to question if the things we see are real or just delusions of mentally sick child. Each chapter raises more questions than gives answers and at the end we are left on ourselves to interpret what was actually real and what were delusions. I found strong evidence for both and for myself, I am leaning towards the “it was all real” conclusion.
This lack of closure and explanation is a bit controversial, there seems to be many people that are frustrated that the game leaves them hanging, while others seem to be happy to discuss their theories with other game fans. I however think it wonderfully captures what Fran is feeling, and we know only as much as she does.
Through her journey, either only in her mind, or real, Fran meets numerous interesting characters that we’re never sure if we can trust. Most of the creatures are in fact good willing towards Fran and that gives some balance to otherwise very hostile environment. Some characters are very periodic, but some are explored in more depth and give a lot of back story.
Where Fran Bow really delivers is puzzles: in my opinion they hit the golden spot on the difficulty. Not a single puzzle is out of place or lacking in logic. Thus I managed to figure out the game without using the guide even once, however puzzles are difficult enough to leave me feeling good about myself for cracking them. I especially enjoy the ones that at first it is not even clear what I am supposed to do. The solution itself is often very easy once you know what to do, but in order to get a clue you need to pay attention to the surroundings or the habits of people living in that realm.
I was stuck twice however for quite some time for missing an item, and I wish this game, and other for that matter, would take that into account. A good method would be to see if the player is running around for half an hour clicking on everything, and if so, perhaps give a hint on a missed item. It’s easy enough to implement. Looking for an item you’ve missed is never fun and does not leave you satisfied once you find it.
The game play has an interesting approach: Fran is able to travel to other realities, or rather ultra reality using her pills from the hospital. Taking a pill opens a new world of clues, items and characters and combining them is essential to progressing further and trying to make sense of the world Fran is living in. One chapter takes this even further and gives player a chance to change seasons, which adds a good layer of complexity since every area can be viewed in spring, summer, autumn or winter. Taking advantage of each season is essential to completing the game and I really enjoyed that.
The graphics and sound are simply amazing. They create thick atmosphere of dread in each frame. Everything is detailed and surroundings are so interesting that even when stuck it’s not a huge burden to run around trying to find clues.
Overall Fran Bow is simply great in all aspects,it’s unique adventure game that already has a cult following and is destined to become a classic. It’s definitely not without flaws: ambiguous story could have been explained a bit better, and the chilling atmosphere is strongest in the opening chapter and goes a bit downhill from there, but these things do not get in the way of it being a truly enjoyable and great game.
Time Played: 10-20 hours
Difficulty: Just Right