STAFF REVIEW of Fragments of Him (Xbox One)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Fragments of Him Box art For some, graphics are what matters most in their games, while for some it might be the audio or the gameplay, but if you’re like me, story usually triumphs all. Sure, there are games that have great mechanics and are fun to play, but without a good story behind it all giving you purpose, it can be a hollow experience that doesn’t last long. Fragments of Him, developed by Sassybot, is something almost completely in the other spectrum, focusing solely on story and seemingly forgetting almost any gameplay elements. I’ve never “played” anything quite like it, as it’s much more of a somewhat interactive story than a true 'game'. Luckily, care has been taken to employ strong voice acting and intriguing writing, as a story-only focused game like this could have turned out a disaster if it didn’t do these two things right.

I struggled writing this review for numerous reasons. The main being that Fragments of Him is, as mentioned, simply an interactive story, as there’s not too much else to write about other than the plot itself, but doing so would spoil the intriguing narrative, which is the whole point of playing it. That being said, ignore telling about portions of the story and there’s literally almost nothing to write about, so I will describe the core basics of the story without trying to spoil too much, but there’s details that need to be relayed for you to understand the emotional weight of the narrative being told.

Fragments of Him is a somewhat of an exploration game but with many constraints. You’re being told a story so there’s really no deviating from the linear plot aside from searching around some small confined spaces looking for the next object to interact with and progress the story forward. Revolving around the life of Will, a simple man that impacted the lives of people around him, it depicts not only his final day before his sudden death, but travels back in time to explore the relationships he had with others, specifically his grandmother, ex-girlfriend, and current partner, and the effect he had on them.

You experience the story almost in a 3rd person’s perspective, simply controlling the camera much like a ghost reliving the memories of Will and the people close to him. You are confined to a specific area, usually a room with one of the characters, and as you inspect predetermined items that are highlighted it triggers some narration and progresses the story forward, somehow relating to the object that’s been clicked on. It’s a very linear experience, as you’re given an exact path of what objects to click, allowing the narration to go in order for the larger plot pieces to link together.

The world is portrayed in bland grey and light tones with a minimalist approach to the models and animations making the objects you need to inspect stand out with their highlighted yellow or red outlines. Noticing a large bookshelf or door is easy, but sometimes you’ll need to look at smaller objects that are more subtle, like a toothbrush or alarm clock, to progress forward. That’s not to say that you’ll get stuck, ever, but there will be the odd time where you’ll spend a few extra moments trying to find the next object to click on and progress.

At the very beginning of the game you’re given a few dialogue options, which I thought would be a recurring theme throughout the whole game, but there was really only two or three spots where you get some selection of such. Though in the end this doesn’t truly matter, as your choice has no bearing on anything else in the story, even the ending. I thought that by the end I would be able to somehow help Will avoid his untimely death with my choices, but it’s a linear story that’s being told with emotional weight to it.

There are multiple times in the game where you’ll bounce from character to character in an effort to describe Will in a different light and perspective, and how he has affected each person specifically. One that stood out for me was the section where you interact with his grandmother. She helped raise Will, so when she finds out about his lifestyle and doesn’t approve, it plays out like you might imagine a closed-minded thinking person would react. She later discovers that regardless of his lifestyle, and her disapproval of it, Will has turned out to be an amazing man and human being. At times though it seems that certain points of the narrative are repetitive, as it takes a good dozen times for the grandmother to explain why she doesn’t agree with his lifestyle just to make a point.

Will’s ex-girlfriend was madly in love with him, but like many couples they drifted apart for specific reasons. Her character doesn’t get as much screen time as I would have liked, as she felt a little two dimensional, and at times cliché. They had an interesting relationship that gets hinted at, but it's never delved into too far to become truly interesting. I know this sounds vague, but it’s one of the plot points that should be experienced without being spoiled.

Given that this is more of an interactive story as opposed to a traditional game, some might be turned off by the lack of interactivity outside of clicking on a few objects here and there between narration. Even though it would have been essentially the same experience without any of the interactivity, I’m still glad I got to experience it and the accompanying narrative. There’s no challenge within, no scores, nothing, aside from selecting the various highlighted objects and pressing A. This doesn’t constitute as your traditional “fun” type of game. It’s a unique experience though that tells a story, it's as simple as that. You can’t explore as much as you would like and the game dictates where you can go along its linear path.

The voice acting is very well done, but the issue that appears early on, and consistently throughout, is that the lines are broken up and linked to the items to be clicked on. This means that if you don’t click an item directly after one paragraph of dialogue is spoken before clicking the next, there’s a jarring pause between the spoken lines that becomes distracting, slightly taking away from its emotional weight and importance.

Fragments of Him is a fascinating take on storytelling with the game medium, and while I know that many simply won’t “get it”, I appreciate what it was trying to accomplish: showing the fragments of a man that touched people in his life who died much too young, and the aftermath of said event. Even with the bland visuals, the emotional storytelling is well written with plenty of subtext for those willing to pay attention and enjoy the plot that unfolds. While there’s a fascinating story within, there’s sadly no replayability after you’ve completed it. Even so, I’m still glad I got to experience its uniqueness and got to look into the beautiful life of Will.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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