A Picturesque Introspective Adventure
HIGH Provides that always-needed dose of childish sincerity.
LOW The mechanics and puzzles are practically nonexistent.
WTF Darth Gran!
A young girl’s world is shaken by the sudden illness of her beloved grandmother. Trying to cope with the crisis, the girl’s developing psyche bounces between various states of mind, trying to find peace and acceptance. In this crucial process, we (as players) exist mostly as spectators and as a gentle guiding hand, witnessing her sprouting personality from our front row seats.
As the outside world (including her closest family) fails to provide any balm for her soul-ache, the girl focuses inward, collecting her thoughts in a journal. There, her frequent mood swings quickly funnel into a more palpable form — a fantasy novel! Lost Words concentrates on both her introspective insecurities and their most immediate product – the various hardships she bestows upon the young girl in the center of the novel, a reflection of herself.
Presented as a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, the interior plot is about a young girl’s village being suddenly razed in flames by an evil dragon. The attack scares away the 120 fireflies who resided there (it’s a magical village, of course), and so it’s up to her to return hope by re-collecting the fairy-like creatures.
The girl faces her quest equipped only with a tome that collects certain words of power, which she can freely ‘borrow’ and apply to outside conditions. For example, she uses the word “break” to open a path through a pillar, the word “repair” on a crumbled bridge, and so forth. Unfortunately, the puzzles are fairly basic, as the tome almost always contains only three or four words to choose from, and it’s never a head-scratcher to deduce the right one. The hiding places of the fireflies are also quite obvious, so I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment upon collecting them all.
I don’t have a problem with this, really — the lack of difficulty suits this adventure well. However, I do have a thing or two to say about the way the fantasy novel develops. In my opinion, it could’ve used more creativity.
It’s not hard to guess what comes next when Gran’s illness inspires the birth of the all-consuming dragon, and the girl’s anger, a stomping fire giantess. I expected such allegories to be better-hidden and more cleverly implemented –- as it is, there’s little knowledge to be extracted from them. This surface-level interpretation of her emotions, at times actively works against Lost Word’s attempts at impact. At one point a character who’s been in the game for all of 20 minutes decides to sacrifice itself. The girl tries to present that loss as a burden on her consciousness, but how can we, as players, truly relate? That character was one-note from the start, and its quick disappearance will shock absolutely no one.
That being said, it’s hard to argue against the game’s understanding of the power of words. Saying the right thing at the right time can be of incredible value, and even more so when one debates themselves. In this context, the girl’s words are clearly ripples originating from a point somewhere deep within her, and even after they’ve been written down and observed, they continue to linger and resonate.
In those moments, Lost Words: Beyond the Page becomes an exemplary result of the clash between videogame rules and sincere expressionist literature. This dynamic even paves the way for the main character to accept living with a previously-unfathomable empty space in her heart – a condition that is manageable and is part of everyone’s nature. No doubt, a message very timely for younger audiences who probably won’t anticipate receiving meaningful life-lessons from this medium.
— Konstantin Koteski
Disclosures: This game is developed by Sketchbook Games and published by Modus Games. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Fantasy, Use of Violence and Mild Language. The official description reads as follows: This a puzzle-platformer in which players help a young girl (Grace) deal with a traumatic event. From a side-scrolling perspective, players traverse the pages of Grace’s diary and use magic words (e.g., break, rise, repair) to solve puzzles and avoid hazards (e.g., lava, falling rocks); players disappear and are quickly reset when hit by hazards. The word “dammit” appears in text.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offer subtitles in five different languages, but the size of text is not changeable. (See examples above.) Audio cues are completely irrelevant for being able to finish the campaign. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.