If Found... Review

May 20, 2020
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If Found... is an interactive narrative game that asks the question: how much of one’s memory and experiences constitutes their identity? The game is for the most part like reading a graphic novel — you won’t be making any choices that will have any effect on the narrative or solving any puzzles. The player’s interactivity with If Found... is limited to erasing bits and pieces of the “scenes” you are watching that take place within the protagonist’s journal. Essentially, you are transitioning to the next scene, which will unfold once you have erased enough of the frame. 

Probably my finest Etch-A-Sketch Work. 

In spite of the lack of player choice, the story told in If Found... is riveting and I doubt most who dive in will want to put it down until completing it. You follow Kasio, who is back home in her small Irish town of Achille for the summer from University in Dublin. She identifies as a trans female, and she is different enough from when her family and neighbours last saw her that they are bothered, confused, and insensitive about her changes. At the same time, she isn’t yet confident or certain about who she is. Kasio is in for one of those coming-of-age summers. The details of her psychological state are raw and unsparing, but still poignant and entertaining. The erasing mechanic is used a few times to devastating emotional effect, where a shockingly sad moment or twist will be revealed when you wipe from one frame to the next. The game doesn’t do this too often, though, and for the most part it moves along at a steady, cozy pace. If Found... is also very specific with its references to Irish culture, locales, and language, and even provides the player with a glossary. If nothing else, you’ll learn what a “gobsheen” is. I also enjoyed that while the story covers some very adult themes, it has a YA vibe and you really feel immersed hanging out with this group of kids. The story comes about very naturally through conversation the story is impressive in its brevity and terseness. It can cover an immense amount of ground with relatively few words or a single drawing. 

Reminds me of of my youth in more ways than one. The halcyon days.

And, oh, are some of the drawings and animations gorgeous. The characters are detailed simply but memorably, but some of the effects and collages you can make by erasing frames are downright psychedelic. There are some ambitious sci-fi/space sequences that I shouldn’t spoil but utilise an impressive array of colors and a variety of drawing techniques. You can just sit with some images and relax by erasing little parts of them and seeing how that changes the whole frame. I played the game on a touchscreen tablet, and I recommend doing so as the erasing effect has a really tactile feel to it. It also seems like the most intuitive way to play the game. By the end of the game, there should be at least a handful of images you take away with you.

The soundtrack is also unique and diverse. There are a few synthy thumpers in the game as well as some more punk-leaning rock and even an Irish folk tune. There is a broader sound palette in this four-hour game than is featured in many AAA releases. 

The boys are back in town.

I felt satisfied by the end of If Found..., but I did have issues with its pacing and ending. Between large sequences of story the player will return to the text of Kasio’s journal, which lays out interstitial information that gives more background and history on other characters and also lays out some of Kasio’s state of mind very clearly. You can even glean some hints that foreshadow future story events from snippets that Kasio has crossed out. Even though the journal itself is a central part of the game, these moments felt like a crutch to me in that it laid out exposition with just simple text instead of actual scenes and natural conversation. 

Quarantine makes me miss these kinds of mornings...

The ending is also mostly text-driven, and in order to glean all of the ending to Kasio’s story you must restart the last chapter of the game various times. This feels like a tedious way of doling out information given that the rest of the game does not use similar mechanics. It’s an unchangeable, linear narrative. I don’t know what forcing the player to restart the final chapter adds to that. It makes sense thematically and in the context of the story, so this is a small quibble, but I wish it was a more streamlined affair.

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If Found... is a brief, distinctive, and deeply effective tale that will make you nostalgic for and reflect on some of the more troubling times of your youth. While its lack of interactivity may make it too niche for some, it is the perfect story for an afternoon in quarantine.