The Wii has no decent games, you say? It's all waggletastic shovelware, you say? Actually, I know that we, here in the Squad, know better than that on the whole, but it's still a popular perception of Nintendo's last-gen machine.
To those critics -- and to anyone else seeking a fascinating, if flawed, experience -- I present Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, a curious survival horror/adventure game/action RPG hybrid that came out in 2009 and was promptly ignored by pretty much everyone.
This is exactly the sort of game the Squad of old (i.e. 1up.com-era) would have tackled with aplomb: it's unconventional, it's weird, it's artistic, it doesn't do everything brilliantly but my goodness is it ever a memorable time.
So what is it?
Fragile Dreams (as it shall be known hereafter) tells the story of Seto, a young boy who has apparently survived the apocalypse. The game begins shortly after he buries his adoptive grandfather, leaving him in the belief that he is the only person left alive on the planet -- at least until he runs into a mysterious silver-haired girl who, it seems, has also been somewhat starved of human contact. She flees, and Seto then spends most of the remaining 12 or so hours it takes to complete the game following her trail, picking up hints about what happened to humanity along the way.
I shan't put any spoilers in this initial post, but I will note that the main plot is enjoyable silliness, even if it descends into relatively predictable "stop the villain!" territory by the end. What's interesting about it is that Fragile Dreams is a game where not everything is made explicitly clear to the player, and indeed having read some interviews with the developers, I'm not entirely sure they had figured everything out either. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though; it leaves certain aspects of the narrative open to interpretation, which is always interesting. Questions surrounding exactly who Seto and his grandfather really are provide some interesting food for thought if you pay attention, and there's a lot of subtle environmental storytelling.
That said, you can be "open to interpretation" and "riddled with holes" and Fragile Dreams definitely veers a little towards the latter in some aspects. Some moments which look like they should be major plot revelations are left unexplored after their initial reveal; other aspects still simply flat-out aren't explained at all. I didn't find that these holes spoiled the experience too much, though it would have been satisfying to have some closure with regard to some aspects.
What's also noteworthy about Fragile Dreams' narrative, however, is the fact that the main plot is just one aspect of the whole. The story is presented solely from Seto's perspective, so we only learn what he learns, but through means that aren't made entirely specific -- though I have some theories -- we have the capability to discover "memory items" and hear the last thoughts of the world's former inhabitants. Some of these are standalone memories, others form part of a coherent whole that you need to find all the parts of to get a coherent picture. Some are light-hearted, some are allegorical, some are tragic and heartbreaking. All of them are written with some beautifully evocative language and help you build up a picture of the world before its fall.
Gameplay-wise, Fragile Dreams is nothing special; combat and menus alike are clunky as fuck and you spend an awful lot of time running around looking for interactive objects (which at least usually have the decency to glow with a cloud of fireflies surrounding them) or cutscene triggers. It's also very fond of Silent Hill-style "ladders and corridors that are slightly too long to be comfortable" -- a technique which is effectively unnerving the first time you encounter one, but a little tiresome the third or fourth time. It also didn't really need to be an RPG of sorts; I would have preferred it with less of an emphasis on combat and perhaps something a little more like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories offered. As it stands, as you level up, the "survival horror" aspect becomes somewhat diminished as you hack and slash your way through enemies rather than trying to creep around them. You'll still have to deal with weapons breaking at inopportune moments, but after a certain point your base attack power outstrips the bonuses provided by weapons, meaning you can still pretty effectively clobber opponents even with a "broken" implement.
Still, the gameplay is not the reason to play Fragile Dreams; I've seen numerous people around the Web praise it as being an "experience" rather than a game as such, and I'd concur with that. It's a game that rewards you for immersing yourself in its wonderful atmosphere and its delightfully colourful depiction of a post-apocalyptic landscape -- only the second time I've seen such an interpretation of life after the apocalypse, to my memory, the first being the Western-developed Krater. The characters you encounter are interesting, unconventional and surprising, and the plot, although riddled with holes and inconsistencies, as previously mentioned, is compelling and enjoyable enough to carry you through to the end. Plus, at 12 hours, it's not very long, either, and in this case, that's good; it could have easily outstayed its welcome, but this felt like a solid length.
Well worth a look, then; if you can deal with SD graphics in this day and age and want to try a game that has a clear artistic vision (albeit one it has some difficulty in realising completely) then I can recommend Fragile Dreams as prime Squad-bait.