Fe is about how you, the player, decide to act when playing the role of Fe, a cute little creature reminiscent of a mix between a fox, a guinea pig, and a cat (although that's clearly subjective). It's up to you to explore the woods in your own mind in order to remove 'the silent ones'. These scary insects come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and, having placed the local animals in captivity, the forest has fallen into silence. The goal is, therefore, to free the captive creatures.
During our hands-on demonstration with Zoink's Andreas Beijer we were able to ask a few questions, including one about why and how the game was imagined in the first place, and to that point, we were told that it's all a nod to their childhood experiences. Beijer told us that he and many others in the team were often out in the woods as children, and there they explored high and low while playing. Hence the idea of a very open game where the player sets the tempo, chooses where to go, and what will happen next.
After a brief demo we were given the opportunity to try it out for ourselves, first on Nintendo Switch, then on PlayStation 4. With the grey Joy-Cons in-hand, we took our first cautious steps into the woods. Soon we stumbled upon a deer, and with care we started to follow it. If you're eager and get too close it will notice you and flee, so if like us you push forward too fast, Bambi's gonna ran away. "You mustn't go too fast", we were told, and so after taking that advice (and a few tries later), we managed to get close enough to start talking to it. This is done by pressing the ZR button and tilting the console forward (the greater the angle, the higher Fe sings). The deer responds, and so suddenly we're tied together by a white rope, which are adjusted by angling the Switch back and forth. When they are synchronised, Fe will learn the language of the deer, and once we can communicate we can progress.
In Fe you talk by singing. By repeating the same procedure described above as soon as you find an animal, you'll be able to talk to them. When different animals are required for different areas, exploration will be required. The same thing also applies to plants, and later on (this time on PlayStation 4) we got acquainted with some flowers. These exchange greetings for 'pollen pods' (basically small grenades that you can throw at the cages the silent ones use to lock up animals). We threw one and, as a thank you, helped free a huge (absolutely mega-huge) deer.
To get on the back of this deer we have to climb up a tree, wait for the right moment, and then jump over the trees that have grown on its legs (did we mention that it's huge!?). As we made our way up the music increased in strength (something that we were told that the developers worked hard on, using sound to enhance the atmosphere) and when we came close enough for it to hear us, we held down R2 and our character sang as loud as its lungs were able to.
Something that impressed us was how smooth it was on both consoles. We were told that the part of the game that we got to play was the most demanding in terms of the hardware, but the framerate didn't even wobble (and it was a regular PlayStation 4, not a Pro).
We had roughly half an hour with each version before our questioning continued. The game has a very distinctive visual style (reminiscent of Firewatch and Ori and the Blind Forest) and we wanted to know more about this side of things. We asked why they chose that style and where the inspiration came from. Beijer nodded and again referred to childhood memories. Since the game's idea stems from nostalgia, this is reflected in the graphics. But it can be also an indication of something else. Were you in danger of danger? A Silent One?
Then the screen became darker and turned a shade of rose red. Moving away from danger, it regained its blue-colouring. It also acts as a kind of roadmap. Items that you can interact with usually have brighter colours (or a surrounding aura) and this, Beijer pointed out, helped the player stay on track (something they were careful about in terms of encouraging exploration, the fear being that a helping hand could make things less interesting).
Beijer then told us that the shift from their previous games was the biggest challenge, moving away from a more defined narrative focus. Fe offers a different way of exploring narrative when compared to the studio's previous titles, and that requires a change of approach. To trim away all cutscenes. Or to get all voiceovers working correctly and get the right feeling across in all music and sounds.
Given that the game is basically finished in terms of its development, there isn't any time for adjustments, not that they're necessary. It's looking good we think it will probably capture plenty of hearts with its wonderful atmosphere when it launches on February 16.