One of the things I love about indie games is that many of them explore concepts that are usually avoided by more mainstream titles. Don’t get me wrong – I am fully aware that there have been mainstream horror titles like Resident Evil, Outlast and The Evil Within. The very fact that this is the third season of The Witching Hour should prove that. However, true horror games are still relatively niche in this industry. Especially when the game explores concepts such as a child’s mental health and coping with the death of loved ones. Fran Bow does all of this while also managing to be a very bloody experience.
While the themes of mental health and death may sound similar to Ninja Theory’s Hellblade, the gameplay in Fran Bow could not be any more different. This is a point-and-click adventure along the lines of classic like The Secret of Monkey Island. The game takes place in the 1940s and puts you in the role of a young girl named Fran. She has been separated from her black cat – Mr. Midnight – and taken to an asylum after she saw the brutal murder of her parents. One of the doctors gives her an experimental medication which gives her visions of a strange and macabre world. It’s a twisted and grisly place adorned with the bodies of dead children and dismembered animals. It is a place that mocks Fran’s own world. Fran decides to escape from the asylum and search for Mr. Midnight and ultimately make her way back home.
As you solve puzzles and make your way through the game you will see Fran’s mental state deteriorate to the point where she cannot differ between the “real” world and this morbid mirror universe. It is disturbing to experience and begs the question of whether the dark history Fran has endured causes her to perceive the world as such a bloody and hopeless place. I actually began to dread learning about the murder of Fran’s parents as I worried that the truth might actually break her.
A word of warning – While the game does indeed offer a disturbing experience, the story also has implications of sexual abuse. That is a line a lot of horror fans simply will not cross so be aware of this before taking on the game.
If you do decide to play Fran Bow you won’t have a hard time finding a platform to play it. The game has been released on Windows, Mac and Linux as well as iOS and Android devices. Chances are you have something that will play this bloody but profound masterpiece.