Review: ‘Fe’ shows EA Originals embrace indie spirit, flaws and all
BY GIESON CACHO | THE MERCURY NEWS (TNS)
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rating: E, for everyone
Although “Battlefield 1” earned plenty of accolades in 2016, another Electronic Arts game earned noteworthy praise. “Unravel” was the polar opposite of typical project from the Redwood City-based company.
Built in the indie spirit, the publisher helped the developer, Coldwood Interactive, create a memorable 2D platformer that told a personal story. The success of “Unravel” helped spawn the EA Originals program, which is designed to foster small studios working on innovative and memorable projects.
The first official title from the label is “Fe,” a moody adventure game in the vein of “Metroid.” Players take on the role of the title character, which survives a devastating attack on its forest world. Armed with the power of its voice, the fox-like creature Fe searches for survivors who have managed to avoid the invaders known as the Silent Ones. Its goal is to rescue the wildlife and repel the outsiders.
At first glance, “Fe” is reminiscent of “Ori and the Blind Forest.” The bold colors and simplistic character design echo the indie darling, but the studio, Zoink, created their adventure in a 3-D world. Ultimately though, that comparison is superficial. “Ori” relied on precise platforming using controls that felt exquisitely responsive. On the other hand, “Fe” feels floaty and frustratingly sluggish.
Thankfully, the single-payer doesn’t rely on quick-twitch movements. “Fe” is more exploratory as players venture down ravines or scale cliffs using the vulpine protagonist’s abilities. It can climb trees like a squirrel, and later on as players collect gems, Fe’s abilities expand to include a glide, sprint and dive.
These are helpful moves, but other than the glide, they aren’t necessary for progress. Instead, Zoink crafts a game centered on Fe learning the language of the beasts that it rescues. Taught in the form of songs, the voices open up more of the woodland world by unlocking the plantlife of the land.
That interwoven relationship between flower and fauna is central to “Fe.” Learning the song of birds allows the hero to open the green petals and grab a substance that dissolves cages that the Silent Ones use to capture the creatures. Elsewhere, Fe will come across a beast holding an egg. Players will have to find a berry to essentially trade with the animal, so that a mother bird can have all her eggs back.
Songs also have a secondary purpose: Fe can serenade other creatures and make them temporary allies. This allows Fe to fly to new areas or take shortcuts in a relatively open world.
Because of its small stature, Fe isn’t necessarily a fighter. Whenever it encounters a Silent One or its minions, players will have to hide the hero in patches of tall grass. This creates decent stealth gameplay, in which players have to avoid foes or sing to allies who can defeat them. In addition to sneaking around, Fe can also grab and throw objects. This is key to destroying some of the devices the Stealth Ones use to subdue the larger beasts.
Altogether, “Fe” is a solid game, but it runs across trouble with its wordless storytelling. The game unfolds without any storytelling text, and this can be a problem in the beginning, especially with the quest design. Explaining gameplay ideas and puzzles is difficult enough but doing it with just pictures can be an exercise in frustration.
The other issue is that “Fe” still has bugs that pull players out of the hypnotically beautiful game. One time a screen went all white and froze. I had to exit out. Another time a key object didn’t activate, leaving me without any direction for 10 minutes. Thankfully, a forgiving autosave system makes up for this flawed, but otherwise solid offering from EA Originals.