Tri-Crescendo has quickly established themselves as one of the most progressive game development studios. They've produced a string of underappreciated gems such as the two strategy-driven Baten Kaitos games for the GameCube, as well as exploring the inner-mind of Frederic Chopin in the whimsical Eternal Sonata for Xbox 360 and PS3. Now, the developer teams up with the forces behind Namco's Venus and Braves and stray outside the RPG genre with Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. Fragile tells the story of a young boy living after the end of the human race on a desolate Earth. The set up is unique, delving into themes of empathy, love, family, loneliness, and the effects humans have over each other with just words alone. God bless Tri-Crescendo for thinking outside the box yet again, and bless XSEED for bringing the entire experience to North America.
If you have seen any of Tri-Crescendo's previous games, you know they have art direction to spare. Fragile Dreams is no different, but this is the first time players will have full control of the camera to really take in the vistas. Be prepared to marvel at the haunting beauty of a ruined earth, as the attention to detail is second to none. Much of the game is spent either under cover of night or in dark places, so you will always have some sort of flashlight equipped. Unlike other titles such as Calling, the graphics are not shrouded in a black fog, but rather just dimly lit. The lighting effects from the flashlight are very well done, and other sources of light such as moonbeams filing through shattered window panes are just as impressive. Probably the most fascinating aspect of the game is that these locations are not made up, nor is the look of an abandoned world simply guessed upon. The majority of the locations are derived from real locations in Japan that have been abandoned from either World War II or failed tourist resorts. They cast an eerie, yet beautiful view of a world where concrete and pipes have succumbed to cracks and rust, while the slow grip of nature takes back the once-developed land. The second half of the game features some of the largest environments seen on the Wii, and the scope of them is fantastic.
There are some weak spots to the visual presentation however, such as the occasional dip in framerate during one section. There are also a couple of moments where the level design is plain boring. Outside of these nitpicks you will still find plenty of spectacular vistas, detailed character models, and lots of interesting sights to see. Since the game takes place in Japan, much of the graffiti and text throughout the walls and floors of the game are in Hiragana or Katakana. When shining a light on them, a subtitle for the word appears. However this only happens for the first instance of the object appearing. So, if you missed a movie poster the first time, your not going to see the translation of it the second time. It is a bit disappointing, but it's better than nothing.
While most Tri-Crescendo titles feature a stellar soundtrack, they've always been helmed by Motoi Sakaruba. This time around, the music is composed by Riei Saito, but don't worry because the soundtrack is really damn good. Mostly using piano based music, one could not ask for a more fitting soundtrack. The music fully encompasses the feelings of loss and discovery, desolation and comfort, and abandon and trust. XSEED accomplishes what Namco never seems to do and keeps both the opening and ending theme entirely intact, only adding subtitles to the lyrics. One of the smartest things XSEED also decided with this port was to keep a dual language option for the voice acting. While I actually think the dubbing is commendable for the most part, two voices in particular almost ruin the dub. Unfortunately they are the characters with the most lines, Seto and Sai. Seto is voiced by regular voice actor Johnny Young Botched... I mean Bosch. While he does a good job differing adult Seto from young Seto, his line delivery is painfully slow, and he also pauses in the middle of lines far too often. Sai isn't as bad, but she comes off as very young and bratty to the point of annoyance. The rest of the cast is pretty darn good, but you will probably opt to switch back to the original Japanese voices.
The controls of the game are very basic. You move with the joystick on the Nunchuck, while other actions are handled by traditional button input, though the camera is entirely controlled by aiming the Wii Remote at the screen. To be brutally honest the controls are clunky, and there's no option to perform a 180 degree turn or dodge, which hurts the experience. This is my second time playing through the game, and though it has been more then a year since playing the Japanese release, I found the controls strangely much easier and had less of a hassle the second time through. That said there are still a couple of hallways near the very end of the game where the clunky controls, stiff camera, and questionable hit detection get very frustrating. Most bosses have a pattern that once learned, turns them into a cakewalk. The last two, however, require mostly just patience and good use of managing the camera.
The core gameplay is exploring the ruins of Japan, finding trinkets and objects left behind from the vanished human race. Each one contains a small story or moment in that person's or persons' life. Some of them are sad, while some are uplifting. Some have morals, and others simply portray a slice of life. You can hear these stories at campfires which serve as save points and item management as well. Speaking of item management, objects you find are stored in your bag. Your bag has all the density and space of Chris Redfield's pockets in the first Resident Evil, and sometimes you will need to play Tetris to get all the items to fit into the square space of your bag. Once at a save point though, you can store old and unwanted items and weapons in your briefcase similar to chests in save rooms in Resident Evil. I'm not exactly sure why this kind of feature is even in the game to begin with, since Seto carries his briefcase on his back, and it seems rather silly that he is unable to open it unless at a camp fire/save point.
Another confusing aspect of the game is the weapon system. There are four weapon types, with four weapons for each type. There are slashing weapons ranging from sticks to katanas, poking weapons from butterfly nets to spears, shooting weapons such as slingshots to crossbows, and bludgeoning weapons like mallets to sledgehammers. The combat system uses a similar style to the Phantasy Star Online series in that combos are executed with precisely timed button presses. The time between inputs will determine the strength of each attack, with up to three swings per attack sequence. Poking and bludgeoning weapons are different in that you charge single attacks, and shooting weapons naturally rely on just aiming the remote and shooting targets. The annoying part is that the weapons break after enough use. Though the idea is probably used to make the game seem more realistic, I think the service of making a game more fun to play should have overridden this concept. Fallen enemies can drop gems and rocks that translate to cash. At save points a merchant will appear randomly to let you buy and sell weapons and healing items. The merchant is definitely on the bizarre side as he wears the leftovers of a theme park animal mascot and acts like a royal butler. He brings a little quirkiness to a mostly gloomy atmosphere. Still it would have been nice to know when he will show up at save points rather then randomly.
Starting off as potentially the last human on earth might seem like the game is aiming to be a constant downer, but that is not the case. This is a game about life, and living rather then focusing on the past or those who have passed away. Throughout the game you will come across many stories of humans and what they encountered and did during the waning hours of the human race. You will encounter stories of fear, regret, and isolation. But also stories of family coming together and making the most of life despite the incoming tragedy. The actual cause of the disappearance of all the humans is not explained until well near the end of the game. Since Seto was born after the tragedy that occurred, he doesn't really have any idea how electricity or batteries work, which is another interesting twist. The crux of his journey is the discovery of another living human and his quest to find her amid the ruins. Along the way he will meet a cast of ghosts and other creatures and learn the importance of trusting others, as well as learning what a friend is. As the game progresses the issues and morals get heavier and deeper. This is a game with a lot to say on the complexity of the human race, life, empathy, and the unique bond of language and communication that binds us together. Humans are social creatures by design and the game presents a fascinating look into the effects of isolation and loneliness can have on a person as well as the effects of love and how small actions can affect another’s life.