I often wonder what processes developers go through when writing games. Not in the graphical or gameplay representations, but in the story-based games that have been hitting the consoles of late. Games such as Life is Strange and to some extent the latest Tomb Raider series have leant heavily on a story mechanic to pull the game together successfully. Fragments of Him by Sassybot is narrative-driven in the way that the game pans out but will it be enough to engage the player throughout the game?
Fragments of Him is an odd combination of elements. You start off by being led through the last morning of Will’s life, not that he knows it. By pointing the reticule at various highlighted areas of the game area, you can select and cause an event to happen. This then moves the narrative on with a small animation or some more of the story. The events that you can choose bear no effect on the outcome, even though the game would provoke that feeling of ‘could I have prevented this?’.
After this initial scene-setting, you’re led to take on the story of one of three key people in Will’s life. Will’s grandmother; Will’s first love at University, Sarah; and his partner, Harry.
The game puts you into the mind of Will’s grandmother at first. Having brought Will up, there are memories to play out of how Will’s parents came to not be around. The story follows Will through his childhood, seen through his grandmother’s eyes. The love that she obviously feels towards the boy as he grows up is evident as you move from the watching him play in the back garden, to decorating the dining room, ready to host Sarah and Will at Christmas. The medium to do this is the same throughout the game and is my main gripe. You’re essentially led around by the nose. There’s not real challenge to the title. It’s a point and click story wrapped in a game.
The grandmother’s chapter concludes by highlighting her old-fashioned views as she discovers something about her beloved grandson that shakes her beliefs. Surprise-visiting Will at University, she spots him being mildly intimate with another man, Harry.
This chapter signs off with Will’s grandmother leaving her surprise visit without making herself known to Will, shocked and hurt at what she’s seen.
The story cuts back, in between these three key people, to Will getting ready to leave on his last morning. In this section, again, you point and click on various objects in the kitchen this time as Will sorts himself out some breakfast. Will is looking to propose to Harry, and the story then introduces Will’s first love into the mix.
Sarah’s chapter starts out by moving into her student digs. There’s some backstory to her looking forward to University life but there is a feeling of repetitiveness initially as you rock up & down the stairs with boxes from the car. It starts out pretty tediously. The story moves on as Sarah describes a chance spotting of Will at the local SU Bar.
This next section of Sarah’s chapter takes us through the SU Bar, past the revellers as she makes her way with singleness of purpose towards Will. This scene closes out as Will leans over to kiss her. Sarah’s story moves on fairly rapidly. A first date is reimagined at the cinema and the obligatory awkwardness that a first date entails. Even down to the stereotype of sitting on the back row.
The time that Will and Sarah spend together is skipped as a series of time-lapses in Sarah’s student digs. Your role in this is to shuffle the items around the rooms that you spent the first portion of this chapter placing. Once this is over, and it’s clear that Sarah feels that Will is spending more time with Harry, then we move on to a break up scene with Will in another drinking hole. This whole chapter is fairly touching and shows Sarah as having a mature head on young shoulders. She wants more than anything to see Will fulfilled and happy and positively encourages Will to start seeing Harry as more than a casual relationship, sacrificing her love for Will in the same breath. It’s a noble thing to do and leads to another cut back to Will in the bathroom.
After a pretty unnecessary digital shot of Will’s back end in the shower, he finishes getting ready, to some running commentary from Will as he prepares himself for proposal. This part of the story again takes you on the same path as the prologue, taking you through Will’s morning until his untimely demise.
The third chapter is all about Harry but it’s different to the other chapters. This is because it’s all about how Harry is coping with the news of Will’s death. This last chapter is somewhat shorter than the other two as Harry copes with his grief. You’ll visit the park where Will used to feed the ducks and there are fleeting visits to a café and back home. During this chapter you’ll be directed to point and click on things to make them disappear and to make an image of Will form. Click Will and it’s on to the next scene.
This part of the story mechanic has a pivot point. You’ve invested time in wanting to remove reminders of Will from Harry’s life, you now go around putting them all back. Once they’re back, it’s clear that Harry is reconciled with his feelings. This brings Harry’s need for closure full-circle and the last scenes in the game do the same for Will’s grandmother and Sarah.
Overall, I enjoyed Fragments of Him as an emotional, human story exercise. The graphics are good, serving their basic function and the voice acting and incidental music lend well to the atmosphere in-game. The story itself is a touching look at how one person’s death affects his closest friends and relations. For hardcore gamers, there isn’t much here to tax the player though and you’re left feeling a little led around by the nose. There are no puzzles to speak of and you’re simply pointed towards something to click on to progress elements of the story. With three main chapters and incidentals, this is also a fairly short game, in which I only missed two achievements, so if you’re a perfectionist, this should be a game that you get 1k on in pretty short order.