I didn’t really enjoy my time spent with Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, at least not in that usual sense. As a game, it’s not great. Boring and frustrating combat, ponderous fetch quests, and a difficulty curve that resembles a seismic scale during a violent earthquake made it a hard game to love. Pair this gameplay with a story that weighed heavily on me with its dark scenes and crushing sense of hopelessness and you can maybe see why I had a hard time making my way through Fragile Dreams. Even so, it’s an experience I’m glad I had at least once.
The world of Fragile Dreams is the best, yet most depressing, part of the game. An unexplained event has left the world nearly devoid of human beings, replaced by ghosts of those who came before and feral animals. Your character, Shin, starts the game having just lost the only person he knows and has to set out into the empty Japanese countryside to find more humans. Instead of your usual post-apocalypse where everything is destroyed, all of the world’s people are just gone. It’s eerie to just see how empty everywhere is without that obvious visual cue as to why.
If I had to describe the main theme of Fragile Dreams in one word, it would be loneliness. It constantly hits you in the gut with Shin’s intense desires to have someone to share his thoughts and feelings with. Side characters come and go and the designers manage to wring a surprising amount of feeling and emotion out of scenes with these characters you barely know. Good, albeit a little cheesy, voice acting helps to sell the utter despair the characters, especially Shin, feel throughout the game. I particularly liked the way that scenes such as these are laid out in a way that isn’t obviously trying to elicit a particular response from the player; instead, the game likes to step back and let you react in whatever way you want. It’s a simple design choice but effective. I’ve heard people say that The Walking Dead game was hard to play through all at once, since it was so depressing and devoid of hope; it pales in comparison to the way this game made me feel.
You can also find mementos around the world that are accompanied by voiced vignettes from people before the disappearance. Usually, several mementos string together to tell a mini-story. Some of the vignettes, especially those about people who seemed to know that the event was coming and had enough time to prepare for it, are actually more interesting than the main story and drip with the same despair found throughout the game. Tonally, these scenes are all over the place. Some are surprisingly upbeat and hopeful while others are several times darker than anything found in the main story itself. I urge you to seek as many of these out as you can, if you play Fragile Dreams, as they keep things interesting during those slow story parts.
Everything unfolds at a ponderous rate in Fragile Dreams. Several times, the game sends you on fetch quests back through areas you’ve already traversed. A few segments feature hallways that literally take 5 minutes to traverse from one end to the other, with little to do other than walk forward, and ladders so long that you will spend a minute climbing them. The whole game doesn’t seem to have much of a goal until about two-thirds of the way through when it picks up speed for the endgame. As much as I wanted to hate this pacing, I felt it suited Fragile Dreams perfectly. It’s clear that the developer wanted to make everything about the game bleak and depressing and I applaud them for sticking to it. Unfortunately, it does make the game hard to get through and a bit tedious.
While the depressing story (surprisingly) drew me in, the gameplay in Fragile Dreams is what kept making me want to stop playing. Combat is simple to the point of frustration, particularly with the late-game enemies. You only have one button to attack with some simple timing-based combo potential. There are no lock-on functions (making group fights a huge pain) or dodge moves. Fights usually consist of you running up to an enemy for a quick combo before having to run around all willy-nilly to avoid the counterattack. There is no strategy to fights and way more enemies than you want to deal with.
To make matters worse, your weapons break quite frequently. Stronger weapons tend to stay together a bit longer but not nearly as long as you may like. You also have a limited inventory, managed through a Tetris-style system like in Resident Evil 4, which forces you to bring only a few weapons if you also want health items or to pick up the mementos scattered around. Thankfully, there are quite a few save points that let you manage your inventory and drop off unused items. The game is mostly easy due to the overabundance of health items and save points; however, a few of the late game sequences that have you fighting several enemies nonstop in very narrow corridors that prevent you from running around them spike the difficulty through the roof. These awful parts are infrequent but still infuriating enough that you may just end up putting the game down.
I don’t really know who I’d recommend Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon to. Even though it was an experience I’m glad I have now had, one that I’d like to share with others, I feel slightly bad about suggesting others play it. Not a single piece of the gameplay was enjoyable or exciting. If it wasn’t for the intriguing setting and story, I would never have bothered to press through; even with those elements, I nearly put it down more than once. The only thing I can say is that I’m glad I played it. If you’re the kind of person who can suffer through some terrible, tedious gameplay for an interesting story–and can handle the soul-crushing theme of loneliness–it may be a game worth playing through. Once.