Developed by Danish studio ThroughLine Games, Forgotton Anne is the latest title to join the line-up of the Square Enix Collective, the publishing giant’s indie games initiative. Unveiled to the public for the first time at EGX 2016 last weekend, Forgotton Anne is a 2D cinematic adventure that features a hand-crafted aesthetic which bears a striking resemblance to the work of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.
Combining puzzle-platforming with narrative-driven gameplay, the game focuses on the Forgotton Realm, where all lost items from the human world end up. The titular Anne and Master Bonku, the only humans trapped in this limbo, are on a quest to find their way home.
Having spent some time with the title in the convention’s Rezzed zone, I sat down with ThroughLine’s creative director and CEO, Alfred Nguyen, to find out more about the upcoming title.
Chris Mawson: Could you start by giving us a little bit of an overview of Forgotton Anne and talking us through its core gameplay?
Alfred Nguyen: Forgotton Anne is a 2D cinematic adventure game, which is set in the Forgotton Realm. And what is the Forgotton Realm? Well, if you think about things that you’ve lost over your lifetime; things that you have had an attachment to… It could be an old toy that you left in the attic; something of symbolic value. And when these things are forgotten, they appear in the Forgotton Realm as living creatures, called Forgotlings.
Two human beings have ended up down here, an old man named Bonku and a young girl named Anne. How they ended up here and their quest to return to the human world is part of the mystery that drives the game forward. It’s a very story-driven game. Gameplay-wise, we’re drawing elements from the adventure game genre, so you’ll have dialogue options, which are fully voiced, and your actions can affect the outcomes of certain situations. And the other part is the puzzle platforming side. It will be a bit more reminiscent of the old ’80s and ’90s cinematic platformers like Prince of Persia, Another World and Flashback in the way we focus on the animation; there’s some gravity and realism to movement. It might feel a bit sluggish to modern-day audiences – it’s not as snappy – but we wanted to make it tactile and immerse the player through this.
Seamlessness is one of the key concepts in our approach to Forgotton Anne, and it’s informing both big and small design choices. We’re rendering most of our cinematics in-game, so you can seamlessly transition between cutscenes and in-game action. There’s no stylistic difference; it’s all hand-drawn and hand-animated. With 3D games, you can say that the lines have been blurred these days when you’re watching something and when you’re partaking, but when we first started out in the 2D game space, we didn’t really feel like there was anything taking this cinematic approach. We’ve tried to apply the seamlessness concept to the flow of the game as well: we don’t feature ‘game over’ either, as it just disrupts the narrative. As Anne, you don’t die and revive again and again during this day of her life.
The key mechanic in Forgotton Anne revolves around this magical stone, called the Arca, that you, as Anne, wear on your right arm. You are the enforcer in this realm, trying to keep order as Master Bonku tries to build a machine that gets you back to the human world. So, with the Arca, you’re able to store Anima energy. Everything in the Forgotton Realm is more or less made up of Anima energy or powered by it. So you can go into Anima vision, and sense the Anima energy in your surroundings like different targets, and you can draw and transfer it. The souls of the Forgotlings, the creatures that you encounter, are also made up of this energy. You can think of Anima energy as memory energy or time; energy that has built up over time as our attachment to objects.
CM: In terms of the art style, I can probably think of a few obvious ones, but what kind of influences did you have?
AN: The most comparisons we get, and the most well-known, are Studio Ghibli, but there are a lot of great animation masters in Japan but also in the West. In Japan, we were really inspired by the works of Satoshi Kon; he deals with the subconscious and the psychological a lot in his films. But we also took inspiration from slightly darker, Western fairytale fare: movies like Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which dealt with more serious themes, even to the quirkiness of the old Labyrinth movie with David Bowie as the villain – it was terrifying to us as kids. It’s a mix between East and West in both aesthetic and design.
CM: How did the collaboration come about with the Square Enix Collective?
AN: It’s funny, because we have several members of the team who have been big fans of Squaresoft – as it was called back in the day – and played a lot of their classic games on the NES and PlayStation 1. But it came about when we met Phil Elliott, the head of the Square Enix Collective, at the Nordic Games Conference last year, and the ball just started rolling from there. It’s really a good match with the Square Enix brand, I think, and has a lot in common with the old Squaresoft games that were story-driven and atmospheric – and also the aesthetic.
CM: How has working with them helped drive things forward? Has it helped you to go beyond what you’d be able to do otherwise? Getting the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra involved, for instance, was that something Square Enix facilitated?
AN: With the Philharmonic, it was actually our composer; it’s mostly an in-house connection. But what Square has brought is incredible support. It’s a wonderful team; just getting the game announced here at EGX is pretty amazing.
CM: It must have been pretty exciting to have had the game announced on the PlayStation Access stage to thousands of people live?
AN: Yeah, we’re making really trying to make Forgotton Anne accessible for a broad audience. It’s not super-long; it’s not a JRPG game. We want players – just like they watch a movie, or pick up a book – to be able to complete the game and not have to stop midway. We’re trying to make it accessible to people with an interest in story; the progression, the pacing of it should be fairly accommodating to the kind of audience interested in those experiences.
Forgotton Anne is scheduled to release on PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2017. Do you have any thoughts on the cinematic adventure title? Let us know in the comments below or contact us via Twitter, @PowerUpGamingUK.