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ICYMI is GAMINGbible's simple way of highlighting a game that's not quite brand new, maybe as much as a few months old, but that we've been playing and loving, and we really want to tell you about it.
Remember the tumult of your late teens and early 20s? Maybe you're not there yet; maybe it's a distant, but still vivid memory. It's a time where huge changes can come about: where you live, who you're friends with, what you do with your days, what career path you're embarking upon. Who you are. And while all of this upheaval is going on in your own life, the lives of the people, the friends and the family, that you've temporarily moved on from are going through their own changes.
The result, sometimes: when you reconnect with your past, it's incredibly different from the memory you had of it. Almost unrecognisable - just as much as yourself, when you gaze into a mirror and reflect upon the last few years. And that's the core of If Found..., a fascinating, gently heartbreaking visual novel of limited gameplay but resounding confidence in storytelling.
This is a game that asks you to wipe away the past of its protagonist, Kasio, as she tries to create a present that works for her, for her state of mind, while everyone and everything around her just doesn't fit like it did. So she finds fresh means of escape, brief shelters from a raging storm. A new family, of sorts. Loved-ones to confide in, one night at a time. Sounds and colours to become absorbed by, and dance within the centre of. Also: a curious subplot about black holes and a race against time as existence itself is under threat.
All of this plays out against a hand-drawn backdrop that is surely unique for video games: rural Ireland (specifically Achill Island, County Mayo), in the early 1990s. Throughout the game's text, there are little guides to the slang used, a glossary of colloquial phrases (and place names), many of which will seem fairly commonplace to players based in the British Isles, but I've no doubt our overseas friends would otherwise struggle with some of the dialogue.
And the deeper into the story you go, more of who Kasio was is erased - quite literally, as if you're using a cursor on PC, rather than the touchscreen of a Switch or mobile device, it becomes an eraser undoing the notes and pictures of a pencil-penned diary. She's self-destructing as she struggles to turn around what others thought she was before she left this place; and it's on the player to carry the burden of her stress, her strain and all of the cracks that creep across her psyche, on their shoulders. As each chapter is wiped out, so you fall through the empty space into the next vignette; and so Kasio comes closer, and closer, to what looks certain to be a tragic conclusion.
But to say more is to spoil a story - and that's what If Found... is, a story. A compelling book at bedtime, that you sweep a finger across rather than flip the pages of, well-chaptered to make picking up and putting down an easy process. Like the multi-award-winning Florence, it's a game where interaction is a vehicle of progression rather than a procession of fun, and all the satisfaction comes from how developers DREAMFEEL slowly make you come to care, incredibly, about the fate of a young girl on a small island she doesn't know anymore.
There's also some ear-splitting punk rock involved. Wild, loose, raucous, sweat-stained punk rock. A whole other, far noisier black hole to fall into and lose yourself for a little while. Because, sometimes, it's a good thing to blow up the outside world.
If Found... was played on Nintendo Switch with code provided by the game's publishers, Annapurna Interactive. The game is out now on Switch, PC, and iOS.
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