by March 30, 2021 @ 11:25 am
Reviewed on PS4
Grief. Loss. Fear of a potential loss. Uncertainty as it pertains to that potential loss. These are all feelings we experience at some point in our lives. To put it plainly, these feelings suck, and the moments when they fill your head are some of the loneliest, most desperate moments a human being can experience. Lost Words: Beyond the Page shines a light on those feelings, and it shows you that there is hope — hope beyond those feelings of loss, anxiety, and sadness — and it does so in a compellingly beautiful puzzle adventure.
The Power of Words
Lost Words: Beyond the Page is interesting because it utilizes the written word in so many ways. For starters, it’s a wonderfully written story about a young girl named Isabelle. As you play, you’ll read Isabelle’s journal, where she talks about her experiences with her grandmother, trips to the beach, and her desire to write a story.
These parts allow you to a control a hand-drawn Izzy from page to page. Words, sentences, and phrases act as platforms that allow you to move across the journal. You can grab certain words and move them to create new platforms or to solve simple puzzles. The solutions to these puzzles are right in the words Izzy writes, so they’re never difficult to figure out. For example, one early puzzle requires you to grab the word “glowing” and move it over Izzy’s drawings of fireflies to make them glow.
The journal parts of Lost Words were some of my favorite moments in the game. It’s here where you get to know Isabelle and her grandma, and it’s here where you learn about the hardships and loss that Izzy is forced to face. Though Izzy is a child, she’s a relatable protagonist due to how well she was written by game writer Rhianna Pratchett.
The journal gameplay isn’t so much about providing you with an intense experience in terms of mechanics, but rather through the writing itself. The story and Izzy take center stage here, with the light puzzle-platforming mechanics used primarily to guide you through that story and Izzy’s thoughts. It works well, and thanks to the nice hand-drawn — and in some cases hand-painted — look of it all, it’s very aesthetically pleasing, too.
The Magic of Words
Aside from the journal sequences, you also get to play through the fantasy story that Izzy is writing throughout Lost Words. The story follows a young girl named Grace (which is one of three names you get to choose from when Izzy is coming up with a name for her protagonist). In this story, Grace becomes the new Guardian of the Fireflies, following in the town elder’s footsteps.
Gameplay in the storybook parts also requires you to use the words around you, though in a slightly different way. Grace has a magic notebook that stores words with special powers. For example, the word “rise” can be grabbed from the notebook and used to make certain platforms or obstacles rise from the ground. “Burn” can be used to light a fire where necessary. “Break” can be used to tear down obstructions in your way. Along the way you’ll find more words that grant you different abilities.
In these parts, you’ll also do a bit of block-pushing, climbing, and crawling. Overall, the puzzles are a bit more involved here than in the journal sections. That said, like the journal parts, the storybook gameplay is fairly straightforward, focusing on the narrative and audiovisual experience.
Speaking of which, the art style in the storybook sequences is a pretty big departure from the journal sequences. Everything here is much more colorful and dynamic. It’s a nice aesthetic change from the pleasantly quaint notebook page style of Izzy’s journal entries, and moving between the two creates an interesting dichotomy.
Looking Beyond the Page
Delightful art style aside, Lost Words also features a nice collection of music that plays quietly in the background. A lot of it consists of piano compositions that convey Izzy and Grace’s emotions. It’s a touching, emotional, and at times melancholy score that works perfectly with everything happening on the screen.
For as appealing and heartfelt as Lost Words is, it isn’t entirely flawless. For starters, character animations are a bit stiff at times. Moving Izzy through her journal’s pages is fine, but controlling Grace in the fantasy world isn’t as fluid as it could be. It’s nothing that’ll break the game or your immersion in the narrative, but it does stick out given just how great overall the game looks.
It’ll take you about four hours to experience the story of Lost Words from beginning to end. That’s the perfect length for a game with a heavy narrative like this. In that time, you’ll likely go through a roller coaster of emotions right alongside Isabelle. You’ll feel her triumphs, her falls, her joy, and her sorrow. Lost Words: Beyond the Page is an expertly written tale about a young person who goes through one of the toughest moments in her life. If you’re up for it, the game will let you be a part of that special, meaningful journey.
Score: 8 out of 10
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