Angsting in the 90s
If Found... seemed like a relatively unassuming visual novel. It mixes together certain contemporary sci-fi ideas with existentialist themes and young adult staples like aimlessness and self-identity but presents it all in a straightforward manner. Within seconds of starting it up, however, it was made clear that this wouldn't be another banal case of mindlessly clicking through dialogue and sifting through still images, and by the time the credits rolled at the end of two hours I was absorbed into an intimate and beautiful tale that burns with tangible passion by its creators.
The game opens up at some point in the future. Dr. Cassiopeia, her friends just call her Kasio, is investigating an unusual anomaly in space, one that threatens to break apart the planet Earth. While attempting to get vital readings on this odd phenomenon, a black hole pulls her in. Her very perception of time and space becomes distorted and fragmented. As her consciousness flies back and forth between different instances of time, she tries to reach out to what little contacts she has on Earth who can help her escape and save her home, all while reliving some vital parts of her own life as they seemingly vanish from memory from the distortions of the anomaly.
Indie Bands, Squatters, and Introspection
Despite this pretty elaborate set-up, the core story of If Found... is, well... found in these temporal flashbacks of Kasio's life. The focus lies in her young adulthood living in the small towns of Ireland during the 1990s. Some pretty familiar tropes are on display with Kasio's development: Rebellious attitude towards her parents regarding how she wants to live her life, moving in with more accepting friends that slowly develops into a found-family dynamic, awkward possible romance, etc.
What really helps every single moment brim with emotion is the audiovisual presentation of it all combined with its simple yet effective gameplay. Every single scene transitions by you using your cursor (or touch screen swipes) to physically wipe one scene before going into another. It's a relatively simple feature, but it helps you dictate the overall speed at which you enjoy the story. Plus, the very act of moving from scene to scene in this way gives everything an ethereal dreamlike atmosphere. This is further enforced by some impressively managed shifts in art style – going from rough and crude pencil sketches to expressive moody light colors to abstract repeating patterns with beautiful ease – and a low-key electronic synth musical score.
The best use of this swiping comes from journal scenes that bookend each chapter in the story where you effectively erase personal entries from Kasio's own memory as she recalls key parts of her life as the anomaly further erodes her sense of self. In some ways, the story reminded me of indie films like Donnie Darko or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with how it mixes the ennui of young adulthood with a creeping sense of unease tucked into the margins.
In fact, I must include how well If Found... handles the theme of self-identity. It's revealed throughout the story that a lot of Kasio's tension with her family and more conservative peers – as well as her own struggling concerns regarding what she wants for her future – comes from her coming out as a transwoman. It is in this area that Dreamfeel should be applauded since their representation of Kasio comes off aces. The reveal comes up with no major self-important splendor, but it is explicitly stated with absolute confidence. There's no deniably muddy subtext here. Everyone's reaction to such a thing threads the line between believable, accepting, and well-meaning but misguided, even the more antagonistic of the bunch, Kasio's brother and mother, come off more as more dismissive at best and put on the all-too-common authoritative “shut up you're just having a phase” fork-tongued savagery at worst. Ultimately, Kasio's reveal doesn't pull or detract from the overall story, her struggles and concerns are still deeply human, personal, and universal; a beautiful statement that speaks more volumes about acceptance than any soapbox preaching could hope to achieve.
Swipe To Erase, Swipe To Continue
My only real major complaints about the narrative amounts to limitations baked into the genre. Besides the extremely novel mechanic of scene transitions by way of a giant magic eraser, you really are just moving scenes along, occasionally clicking through dialogue boxes when characters speak – and occasionally hitting an icon in the corner which explains certain Irish cultural references. There are no puzzles or challenges at all, and the only thing close to dialogue options you are given come in the game's epilogue when you can choose to figure out what happened to certain characters and possibly the very Earth itself after everything is said and done.
That's just how visual novels are, and it does wonders for setting the mood and keeping the pacing crisp and precise for the two hours that If Found... occupies. However, when it comes to the climax where the mystery surrounding the anomaly meets Kasio's lowest possible point in her personal history that it leads to an odd and not fully explained ending. Thematically it does gel with the entire game's heightened emotional state and surreal atmosphere, it feels like Kasio's own personal world is ending combined with a possibly literal end of the world, but when it comes to concisely concluding loose threads or wrapping things up in a bow it left me tilting my head in mild confusion even while the resulting emotional climax kept a smile on my face.
If Found... Review | Final Thoughts
Overall, If Found... manages to be a visually striking, intimately moving heartwarming experience that excels so well in mood and atmosphere that it helps gloss over some iffy plot structure and handwavy thematic elements. If you know someone, anyone who has struggled in the same way Kasio has who wants to feel like they're not alone, this visual novel is a beautiful affirming gift. Even if you don't, it is still a gorgeously bold vision of an experience that I am glad to have experienced.
TechRaptor reviewed If Found... on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Visually Distinct
- Well-Paced Emotionally Charged Narrative
- Unique "Erasure as Transition" Mechanic
- Headscratcher Ending
- Very Little Replay Value