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Fran Bow is exactly what I wanted out of a horror adventure game

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Looking through my back catalog for horror games to play during October, I decided to try "Fran Bow". It's one that had been sitting in my library for a long time and I'd never really given it a shot. I thought I did, but I realize now that was a different game (Edna & Harvey I think). I always just saw the girl on the banner image staring at you, with her creepy expression. It seems like it was going to be kind of a silly, maybe gross-out humor game with a few horror elements.

It wasn't. I found a game that was incredibly dark and satisfying, and scary without relying on jump scares. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the movie Coraline, the way it follows a kind of childhood horror logic as you watch a child try to deal with a paranormal world that is far scarier than anyone their age should have to deal with. In a lot of ways, it also reminded me of
Sanitarium (video game) - Fran Bow is exactly what I wanted out of a horror adventure game

Sanitarium, in the way you can go between seemingly real and dark, horrific worlds, trying to uncover the truth.

It's a dark game. Much more horror-based than I expected and much darker than Coraline.

I will talk about the ending. I'm not going to describe what happens, but give me opinion of it. It's still in spoilers.


The good.

I found the horror elements to be incredibly satisfying and scary without relying on the usual cheap tricks of jump scares. The horror parts rely more on surrealism and unsettling imagery. And they are unsettling. There's also a mechanic where you can move between two different "worlds"; one, the regular world with seemingly nothing paranormal, and the other a dark, hallucinated world full of disturbing images and spirits. You are able to switch between the two of them at will, and will need to do so in able to solve puzzles and proceed. It's a cool mechanic.

Speaking of puzzles, overall they're pretty good. A few of them feel simple enough that the greatest amount of effort that goes into solving it is just walking to where you need to go. But most of them feel like a good difficulty. Even a couple that were difficult enough that I felt I needed to look up the solutions, but with all but one of those I realized I was just being stupid after finding the solution.

I also like the character of Fran. The pictures promoting the game have her making this weird facial expression that sort of makes her seem like this opaque, sardonic character. Playing through the game though, she actually has a pretty well-balanced character. Her motivations are relatable, and it's easy to put yourself in her shoes. She's scared and upset as anyone (especially a child) would be in her position, but she also manages to show a lot of sweetness towards other characters and genuine moments of joy. It makes her very endearing.

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The bad

As mentioned above, there was one puzzle where I had to look up the solution and I didn't feel like it was just me being an idiot. It was a particular game mechanic that they didn't do a great job explaining to you, and there's a certain way you can use it, which the don't tell you about and you only use to solve this one particular puzzle. It feels a little unfair.

It's an adventure game, and most of the gameplay is solving puzzles. There are a couple of couple of "action" sequences though in between the chapters. While one of them is visually appealing, gameplay-wise they feel very generic and uninspired.

The art also sometimes feels a bit… off. Not always, but in scenes especially where Fran is in any position but standing or walking, she just looks kind of strange. It puts me in mind of Angela Anaconda.

Also, the ending.
Vague impressions about the ending


The Neutral

Fran Bow is a horror point-and-click adventure about a young girl in a sanitarium for children after her parents were killed and she was left there. Her main motive is escape so that she can find her cat, Mr. Midnight, and reunite with him and make her way home to live with her aunt. It's not terribly long, taking about 8-10 hours to complete, with a story told in 5 chapters.

I say it's horror, but only some of the segments are. Others better described as fantasy or dark fantasy.


Verdict

Overall, I liked it quite a bit. It got it's hooks in me and pulled me in. I don't remember buying this game, so it must have been something I picked up in a bundle at some point. And it just sat in my backlog, something that I never got around to playing. Well, I got around to playing it this month because I was picking out a random horror game to play, and I'm glad I did. If you like horror and/or adventure games, and like me you already have it, I say definitely play it. It's well worth the time.

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