A lovely platformer that fails to do anything interesting with its best ideas.
For a game about communication, Fe can often be unclear. Its wordless, visually striking journey is filled with charming creatures to sing with, but its 3D platforming world can sometimes feel aimless. And while I enjoyed learning its musical languages, the short trip it took me on left me with the impression that Fe missed most of its best opportunities.
You play as a small, fox-like creature called a Fe, but what you’re doing in a forest under attack by strange robotic creatures isn’t entirely clear. The whole idea is to sing to form bonds with different animals, and eventually learn to sing their languages as well. Harmonizing with another creature is a cute moment, even if the process doesn’t really change at any point throughout Fe. Bonding with a dozen little lizards so that their mob would follow me around and excitedly sing along as I serenade other creatures can be extremely charming.
But beyond the singing, Fe is first and foremost a 3D platformer, and it’s resoundingly average in that regard. There generally isn’t much challenge to the obstacles put in your way, and your character can often feel slow and a little clunky instead of spry and fun to control. That makes the times I did miss a jump and had to do a section over pretty frustrating – it wasn’t all that rewarding to complete the first time around, much less the second.
The major exception to this is Fe’s tree climbing, which is snappy, adorable, and a lot more fun than just walking around. You can scamper up nearly any tree with a series of lightning-quick hops, then leap from them for extra distance. Fe’s best platforming moments were generally best when it leaned into this ability. One sequence had me leaping between trees that were growing out of an enormous creature walking around the map. It was wonderfully reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus, but was also brief and the only moment like it.
Paint by Platforms
Fe uses a lovely mix of polygonal landscapes with washed out, monotone color schemes that set it apart from other recent platformers and make its forest feel strangely mystical. But while those colors shift from area to area, the environments themselves don’t change nearly as much. As a result, the distinct style that makes Fe so pleasing to the eye at the outset quickly begins to feel a bit one-note and repetitive.
The levels are nearly all just mountainous piles of rocks, plants, and rivers that would be hard to distinguish if it weren’t for the color shifts. More of the same isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but it made me wish there were more drastic differences between areas. The only one that really distinguishes itself is the snowy section which has icy slopes and a lot less vegetation, but it’s definitely the exception rather than the norm.
The idea of rexploring an old area with my new abilities was more tedious than exciting.
While Fe is a relatively linear game, each area has lots of nooks and crannies to explore, some of which hide collectibles that you can use to unlock new abilities. I was excited to hunt for these at first, but my patience wore thin before long. The similar environments combined with the slow movement and generally bland platforming challenges discouraged me from really wanting to explore to the fullest, and made the idea of going back through an old area with my new abilities and songs more tedious than exciting – especially when abilities like the run felt like it should have been there from the start.
Fe is pretty short as well – it only took me about three hours to complete. After beating the story, the map opens up and you can see how many collectibles you’ve missed in each area. It would likely only take me another couple hours to get everything Fe has to offer, but I’m not left wanting to.
If there’s a place Fe really stands out, it’s in its audio. While the visuals don’t hold onto their shine as much, Fe sounds stellar the whole way through. Its music is passionate and beautiful, adding a sense of wonder to the forest you are running through. The six different singing voices you can find are also charming and unique, with different tones and inflections as you sing softer or louder.
Those voices play into the platforming in that forming a bond with an animal will allow it to sing for you if you haven’t learned their song yet, and each new song allows you to use a specific plant that helps you get to new places. For example, the green bird song opens up a plant that lets you pick up its seed and throw it at destructible walls, while the orange deer song will open a flower that boosts you into the air.
The story I pieced together was intriguing, but never clear enough to get me invested.
I liked the idea of switching between songs to affect the platforming challenges in front of me, but this system is never really used in interesting ways. The plants rarely ever need precision or timing to activate, so tapping the sing button to open one is pretty much just busy work. That undermines the concept that you’re really interacting and communicating with the world around you.
Fe tries to be subtle while telling the story of that world, but it does so to its detriment. Backstory is almost exclusively told through slow, wordless cutscenes that come too frequently and don’t really explain much. These cutscenes are viewed through collectibles that are put more directly in your path, so they can be skipped entirely if you want, but then I’d have even less of a clue as to what I was trying to accomplish. The story I did piece together was intriguing, but was never clear enough to get me invested, and its finale was downright confusing as a result.
I can tell Fe wants to be one of those games that lets you discover its mechanics and story on your own, but its environmental cues aren’t clear enough to do that successfully. As a result, tooltips and hints pop-up with surprising frequency, which seemed at odds with the otherwise wordless approach. This actively hurts Fe’s atmosphere at times, especially when the guide bird appears to draw you a path to your next objective if you sing at max volume for a second or two.
Map waypoints can be turned off in the main menu, but this bird can’t. Honestly, though, Fe’s objectives aren’t really clear enough to get by without at least one of those enabled. Even when I tried not to rely on waypoints and explore my way through the world, I’d often accidentally call the bird while noodling around with different voices. That made me stop singing for fun as much (because I didn’t want to accidentally spoil the path for myself) and that seems antithetical to the entire idea of Fe.