A streak of light flashes across the sky. Soon Fe, a black, fox-like creature with spikes lands on Earth — or what we assume is Earth. You have to play as this creature, but you’re not sure what to do or even what you can do. All you can do is move forward through the dark trees and toward the light.
But what happens next? In the next 10 minutes, a lot.
Fe made a splash when the first trailer dropped at E3 2016 during EA’s presentation. The adventure and exploration game, developed by Swedish studio Zoink Games, garnered a lot of attention thanks to its strong visuals, which are based in traditional Nordic depictions of nature. Fe was touted as a piece about connecting with nature, a game that has the player engage in a symbiotic relationship with the world around them through the power of music. This doesn’t make much sense out of context, but just a couple minutes with the game will sweep you up.
I played about 10 minutes of Fe on the Nintendo Switch — just long enough to get a sense of the game’s main thrust. The player takes on the role of Fe, who lands on Earth in a Nordic-inspired forest, confused and unable to do much besides walk forward. They spot a deer in the distance and — if game logic has taught us anything — it’s a good idea to follow it. But the deer skittish and afraid. How is Fe supposed to get close enough?
That’s where the game’s core mechanic comes into play. Fe has no dialogue, but it relies heavily on sound. The player uses the power of music to “resonate” with the creatures and plant life in the game, which then opens the line of communication. This allows the player to either make friends with an animal or connect with the local flora to gain abilities or open up new areas.
So you have to get close enough to the deer to resonate with it, but it’s fearful. Similar to real life (although you probably shouldn’t approach a wild deer unless you know what you’re doing), you move in slowly. Having this be the first big moment in the game helps to establish a tone and goal for the character. It’s not about utilizing the animals and plants for your own gain, but to build trust. You have to be patient in order to move forward.
And you need to rely on the elements around you to make that movement. When you first land, you can’t do much of anything. Fe is a cute little fox-thing, but because Fe is so small, it’s tough to reach certain areas. It can’t jump very high, so you are forced to crawl and hoist yourself over stairs and obstacles. That is, until you ride your new deer friend, who helps you to reach a flower that can propel you to higher platforms. Later, I came across a jewel that teaches you how to climb trees. There’s a giant tree in front of Fe, so you test out your new ability to reach its top branches. That’s when you see the giant landscape waiting beyond the area, and you realize: It’s all traversable.
Fe has no loading screens. It’s one, long, continuous stage. I’ve played a very small part of the game, so I can’t say whether you run into any issues later, but in the demo, the level remained smooth. There’s a long loading time as you boot it up for the first time (although the representative from Nintendo who was demoing the game mentioned that I was playing an older build), but it’s worth it for a continuous experience later.
And you won’t want any lagging or loading times in the middle of your playthrough. There’s so much to look at in Fe. Splashes of color among the game’s fairly muted, blue color scheme really draw attention to various environmental details, such as plant life. The trees and pathways are beautiful with their color palette, but seeing a giant orange flower in the distance or the edges of a pile of leaves makes you appreciate how deliberate it all is. These starkly different colors become an important aspect, since they helps guide you through Fe’s early stages. You’re not given much instruction besides how to resonate musically with creatures, so these subtle touches are key. Fe is gorgeous, but beyond just being aesthetically pleasing, it’s meticulously designed.
However, there’s a lot of secrecy in the details. When I offered my interpretation of the introductory cutscene — that you play as some sort of alien, who looks like a porcupine Pokemon, who crash lands on Earth and has to bond with the local life to get by — the aforementioned rep couldn’t offer a confirmation or even allude to whether I was on the right track. When I asked him about the game’s possible length, he couldn’t give me an answer, either. After going through the basic mechanics, I asked him whether the bulk of the narrative would require the player to bond with animals to unlock new areas and abilities. He continued to be coy about which way the story would go.
We know a bit more about what to expect. Sometimes you’ll have to rescue creatures from what are called the Silent Ones, beings that are trying to destroy the forest. As you figure out the world around the protagonist, you’ll also uncover things about them, such as where they came from and what they want. You’ll also find out the secrets behind your existence as you commune with nature and grow.
The first level of Fe makes a strong impression. That’s extremely important for a game that’s from a first-time studio and is conceptual. But there’s even more to be revealed, if the Nintendo representative is to be believed. Hopefully, the first 10 minutes will hold up, even after we see everything else it has to offer.
Correction: Fe is not Zoink Studios’ first project. The story above has been corrected to reflect this.