After the success of Unravel in early 2016, Electronic Arts unveiled its EA Originals program, which is meant to spotlight new, innovative independent games that EA was willing to support and publish. The first of these titles to be released is Zoink’s Fe, a 3D platformer set in a visually stunning world with a unique take on gameplay. Being the first game released in the EA Originals program, is Fe a quality enough title to generate excitement for future Originals titles? The answer is a definite maybe, depending on the type of game you like.
Fe is very much a statement about the importance of connecting with nature. As you play the game, you learn that every creature you interact with has a purpose in the world, and that communication is the key to success – even though Fe has not one single word of dialogue. When you explore the world among the deer, birds, squirrels, and many other animals, the tone and feel of Fe is extremely quiet, peaceful, and even innocent. This feeling makes you want to explore and take your time with the game, and that exploration is often rewarded with collectibles that can be found throughout the world.
In contrast, the tone of Fe changes dramatically when you encounter animals in need of assistance, and especially when you cross paths with the Silent, the machine villains of Fe. If the Silent detect you, they will hunt and attempt to kill your creature. Since there is no traditional combat in Fe, your only option is to engage in stealth to avoid the Silent. There is no way to fight back, and this is again a statement of the plight of animals, and nature in general, in today’s world.
Fe begins with you, playing as a fox-like character, being dropped into the middle of the forest. As you move around the environment, you learn quickly that your voice is your most powerful weapon. It is Fe’s way of having you connect with nature, as you sing with different animals to befriend them in the environment. Singing in different tones and volumes will allow you to connect, and this is achieved somewhat easily based on how strongly you pull on the right trigger on the Xbox controller. Different animals will unlock different things in the game that help you progress and complete the story, so there is purpose to the connection beyond the theme of nature.
The controls in Fe are very straightforward and shouldn’t give players of any level any difficulty. As mentioned, you interact with animals in the environment by pressing on the right trigger and finding the right pitch of song to befriend the animal. Jumping is accomplished with the A button. Exploration of the environment is often a serene experience, as peaceful animals will often guide you in the direction that you need to move. These journeys often result in you finding another animal that needs your help, and once you do, you’ll learn a new language in the world. Along the way, you’ll learn new skills by collecting crystals that you return to a set piece early on in the game. The first skill learned in Fe is that of tree climbing, which makes traversal much easier and is extremely valuable in solving puzzles. The subsequent skills also aid you in exploration and progression as you move along the main story.
Although your character is cute and all, the real star of Fe is the environment itself. Each area presents a different monochromatic environment that is stunning and beautiful. The color contrast between areas differentiate one from another, as much as the terrain does, and the overall visual presentation of Fe makes discovering a new area as rewarding as the story progression itself. The blues, greens, reds, purples, and more in the world contribute to the tone of Fe in a very significant way, bending players’ feelings and emotions about what they are experiencing in every area they explore.
All sounds great, right? Unfortunately, Fe has some drawbacks as well. Controls can be very clunky, especially early on in the game. I repeatedly found myself having to reposition my character because it wasn’t in the exact right spot to communicate with a new animal. Tree climbing can be very touchy as well, and one slight misstep can result in you having to start over again. Granted, some difficulty and frustration is expected in a Metroidvania style game, but it feels like there has been more a lack of attention to detail at times than just difficulty.
Another drawback to Fe is the lack of instruction or direction you’re given in the game, even from the very beginning. When dropped into the world, the only bit of instruction given to you is “sing gently with animals”, after which you’re largely left on your own to figure out what to do. In a game that encourages exploration, it’s frustrating at times that Fe doesn’t do much at all to help you understand what you’re doing. This, along with the control issues at times, does overshadow the beautiful world Zoink has created and takes away from the experience.
That said, is Fe worth playing? If you’re a fan of 3D platformers that offer challenge and an environment that is unique and beautiful, then yes, Fe is an experience worth having. Playing Fe makes it clear that Zoink has not only created a game, but also a piece of art that is a definite reflection on humans’ relationship with nature and the need for understanding that every creature has an important place in this world. Just as in the real world, communication and the need to understand each other plays a critical role in the world Fe presents, and it carries a message beyond the story of the game.