Well folks, we lucked out this month with FIVE whole Fridays, which means we get one last spooky game to close out October. Choosing this week's game was tough—we've already covered some serious bangers, so finding a worthy final entry was no small task. Thankfully, a friend introduced me to Fran Bow, which might edge out Oxenfree in the pure horror department.
For the purposes of this review, we'll be touching on story beats included in the game's first chapter, but these are foundational pieces that won't spoil the game for you. The story is the biggest reason to play the game, so the less I'm able to say about it, the better. To lay some groundwork, Fran Bow is a point-and-click adventure game following the tragic and terrible tale of—you guessed it—the unfortunate Fran Bow.
Fran is a young girl being held in a mental health facility for treatment after witnessing the aftermath of her parents' brutal murders. In the process she was separated from her beloved cat, Mr. Midnight, and now her only desire is to escape the facility and be reunited with him. And who could blame her? The facility she's in is quite horrible. Grim-faced doctors and nurses, other children just as bad or even worse off than Fran, and pills after pills after pills.
Speaking of which, the doctors seem to be having trouble getting Fran's prescription right, as each new pill they try seems to cause bizarre side effects and vivid hallucinations. After Fran faints from a particularly bad hallucination spell, Dr. Deern orders the nurses to never give her Duotine again. Unfortunately for him, the nurses aren't the ones he should be worried about. In Fran's visions, she's told that these pills will actually help her see the truth and that taking them can help her escape and recover Mr. Midnight. Obviously, Fran now needs to steal the pills and get the heck outta dodge to find her kitty!
Enter the gameplay, which is standard point-and-click adventure fare with a few puzzler twists here and there. Controlling Fran in 2D scenes, you'll navigate around rooms, talk to people (and other...things), collect objects, and figure out how to progress. It's not always obvious what you can and cannot interact with and many things are there as decoration or as narrative padding packed into the margins, like getting to read your own medical chart and the charts of other patients.
The real kicker is getting to toggle back and forth between reality and the fantasy world that Fran sees whenever she takes one of her pills. In her visions, the world warps into a horrifying hellscape of shadowy monsters, blood, guts, dead bodies, and more. In this other world, Fran can often do things that aren't possible in the real world, leading to some interesting environmental puzzles and of course, some wild storytelling.
The hardest thing that most players might encounter is simply adjusting to the game's point-and-click logic. Some solutions are obvious, like spilling coffee on a guard to make him leave. Other solutions are more convoluted and require many smaller steps to unravel. It's nowhere near as obscure as Thimbleweed Park though, so once you catch start picking up what Fran Bow's putting down, you'll probably have a fairly easy time of things.
A small gripe that I have with the game (which is a mobile port of the original PC title) is that the controls seem to have been minimally redesigned for mobile. It's an okay system, but you can tell that inputs are wonky at times and that the game as a whole wasn't tweaked much to be optimized for mobile. I also ran into just a few odd glitches here and there, mostly with music suddenly cutting out when it seemed like it should still be playing during that scene.
Overall though, Fran Bow leaves a lasting impression. Killmonday Games' distinct artistic style brings scenes to life with grisly efficiency. It's worth mentioning that Fran Bow has some pretty intense imagery and a hefty amount of gore, particularly earlier on, so more sensitive players may not be right for this kind of game.
The full game is purchasable over 5 separate chapters in the Play Store, $1.99 per chapter. As of today though, each chapter is only $0.99, so you can snag the whole game for 50% off! The whole experience could be completed in around 8-10 hours, so it's a fairly hefty game for the money. For those of you looking for a great story dressed up in fantastically horrific trappings, then Fran Bow may be right up your alley.
Oh Bow You Didn't
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A lifelong gamer, Mogan has had a controller in hand since the PlayStation 1 ruled the world and Neopets seemed eternal. She loves to play new and old games alike, especially if it's something weird and charming. Puzzlers, JRPGs, adventure, and rhythm games are her favorites.