As we move further and further into the future and more unfathomable technology becomes the norm, a burning question must nag at the back of every user’s mind: where is the line? We interact with many people and entities everyday, through social media and other conduits, but, other than their own assurances, who among them are “real” and who is “fake?” What exactly is the criteria to distinguish a life online as being aware or merely a script? At the current time, we can check in with family and friends and even acquaintances to confirm someone’s validity, but what if there was no one to ask? What if you, yourself, were alone in your mind, stuck online with only someone to tell you what was what? With that terrifying thought in mind, welcome to Fumiko!
Fumiko! is an exploration platformer that puts you in the role of a program persona, who’s memory has been wiped clean due to a supposed fatal software crash. An unseen speaker, @Wilson, is directing you to reclaim your rightful role within cyberspace (here called S.O.C.I.A.L.), but outside forces are trying to tell you that all is not what it seems, and there’s more than @Wilson is letting you know. Throughout the game, you slowly unlock what you were, what you are, and what the future will be. There’s a total of 26 memory fragments scattered throughout, and each is a gradual piece of an ever-confusing puzzle that only really makes sense when you get to the last few parts.
I really enjoyed the design and concept of Fumiko! from the very start. Graphically, everything reminded me of a more interactive version of the classic rhythm game REZ, with a greater emphasis on making things program-based and cyberpunk influenced. While the game starts out with very bright and soft tones to it (juxtaposed with the very cubic landscape), the interruption by the outside hackers and whomever is trying to reach you is often jarring (in a good way) and mixes in dark, bleeding effects. The game is designed to constantly keep you uneasy, as, from the start, you understand that this is an illusion, and whatever you’re currently going through isn’t what’s “real,” at least not as real as Fumiko may have previously known things. Even the use of different fonts and textures when different NPCs are talking creates a dramatic effect, separating what appears to be calm, coherent messages from spastic and frantic ones, and the corrupted text feels all the more important and, at times, chilling.
The controls and basic gameplay are, unfortunately, only good enough for what I felt Fumiko! was trying to convey. Since there isn’t combat to speak of, your biggest concern is being able to maneuver and reach difficult spots in order to push the story forward and find difficult and pivotal memories that might be otherwise overlooked. I do appreciate the approach to setting the world of S.O.C.I.A.L. In 3D and have it be viewed from all angles, as that most closely aligns to what I personally think a full on VR society will appear as in the not-too-distant future. However, the camera is totally within the player’s control and doesn’t really swing on its own accord or in accordance to the logical progression to where Fumiko is headed. That is, if you’re trying to leap across multiple chasms and tall buildings, and you’re under some kind of time crunch, you need to have it in your own head to align yourself, jump, stick the landing, reset where you want to be looking and then jump again before who or whatever is putting pressure on you catches up. It’s a lot to drink in, especially when the controls aren’t exactly razor tight.
The raised ceiling of jump limitations within Fumiko! appears novel at first and, in some ways, is pretty refreshing. I mean, you’re in a virtual world, why on Earth should you be hampered once a double jump is established? Why not a triple or quadruple jump? Even your initial jump is given bounds of height and length that seem unprecedented as far as jumping goes, and I’ve played Sonic games. The caveat with such physics, however, is being able to inherently know the limits of each jump, as well as where you’re going to come down. Since getting to new locales is basically your driving motif, a player might feel a bit frustrated when they keep under or overshooting the same platform over and over because they can’t properly gauge where they need to be to stick the landing. This annoyance is only compounded when you’re angling for an invisible floor, and there are quite a few of them. Sure, they’re visible when Fumiko is physically standing on them, but they do have a nasty habit of disappearing upon takeoff, and that can trip you up and make you curse your computer something fierce.
The atmospheric soundtrack to Fumiko! is as spot on as the development team hoped to achieve. The entire score is definitely a mixture of steel and sadness, of circuits and soul meshed together in a hopeless and hopeful melody of ambient melodrama. Nothing that you encounter within the game will make you rush to iTunes to download a single track, but you may want to revisit the game time and again to feel the sensory rush of being inside this beautifully developed and isolated world. The word that comes to mind is evocative: of all the things to grab your attention and make you believe in this realm beyond the perception of the naked human mind, the music, the notes and the soul of the game are coming through your speakers, or headphones, and painting an extra dimension that you can’t see, but rather feel, and is absolutely integral to the whole story.
And, in the end, the story and the feeling are what matter the most about Fumiko! There’s nothing groundbreaking about the way the game plays, and I wouldn’t recommend this to someone looking for another Mario or Rayman game. The entire journey is about the tale of Fumiko and her(its?) existence and what that means to life, to the universe, to you. I almost wish that the developer (the not-so-subtle Fumiko Game Studio) hadn’t referenced their inspiration from the animation Serial Experiments Lain so hard, because some of the twists in the reveal would have been more surprising and shocking without properly setting yourself up. For those who don’t know, Lain is a goddamn mental maze of philosophy and turmoil, and it’s clear the influence is strong within Fumiko! This will be something to be explored and considered, not simply played. It won’t be for everyone, but, for the right person, this could be a different path entirely. Regardless, there is a free demo, and I encourage anyone with a Steam account to download and find out if Fumiko’s journey is part of your future.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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