E3 2019: Lost Words: Beyond the Page Hands-on Preview
Words can be powerful indeed.
06.28.19 - 9:40 PM
The story behind Lost Words: Beyond the Page is that of bonds forged over multiple game jams and game writer Rhianna Pratchett (of Tomb Raider fame) wanting to pen a more intimate, family-oriented story. As such, this game is a 2D light adventure title with the protagonist's words literally at the fore of the gameplay. Entire sections of the game involve platforming through our hero's journal, with words not only serving as the platforms but also often providing special effects to get her from page to page. Focusing on narrative over complex in-game manipulations, Lost Words offers a beautifully told and visualized story with puzzle solving and choice to create a compelling character portrait. Be warned, however — this game is anything but fast and frantic. If that's what you're expecting, look elsewhere.
The game starts with an aspiring and unseen writer who introduces herself through pages of her journal. An illustrated avatar jumps through the words on the page as we learn more about her, her family, her desire to become a writer, and the frustrations she's experienced along the way. Meanwhile, watercolor images and text create "magic words" that help our character navigate the pages. Her aim is to use the journal to improve her writing, and she is encouraged by the support of her grandmother, whom she confides in a lot (as the journal reveals). Through the journal, the player is also able to choose a name for her novel, the colour of her clothes, and her personality.
...and finally we move from page to plains as the papers peel away to unveil a beautiful glen. Gameplay shifts into Estoria, the fantasy world our hero creates through her writing as a way of coping when her Gran becomes ill. Our demo showed hints of this happening through the journal, but we expect it to be thoroughly woven throughout the game as a whole. The journal has a charming storybook feel, with splashes of fanciful watercolor illustration, whereas Estoria is vibrantly colorful and feels like a more complete landscape. Both are unquestionably beautiful. It's easy to see the connection between the two, though, and according to written information about Lost Words, your actions across the board will influence how both stories play out.
The consequences of choosing the protagonist's personality are clearly observed when arriving in Estoria, too. Because our plucky author-to-be is "playful," she uses orbs to navigate and force her way through the fantasy world of Estoria. A wise woman who looks suspiciously like the author's Gran is about to pass down the title of Guardian of the Fireflies to our author, and the adventure begins — but not without a generous amount of support. Tutorial messages similar to the ones that introduce you to Lost Words' novel version of platforming also appear occasionally to highlight similarities so the player knows how to act in Estoria.
Regardless of whether you're in a journal segment or Estoria, words continue to be tied to gameplay. While our demo only showed this concept in the earlier part of the game — using the word "rise" by dragging it across a platform to have the phrase literally change the environment and lift a rock face — written language is clearly your best bet to reach new heights, even in the fantasy world segments of the game's level design. This core mechanic remained fun and clever for the duration of the demo — truly a highlight of the game so far — but how the game builds upon and changes this concept will be absolutely key to ensure that Lost Words remains engaging to play.
While more "hardcore" gamers might not jell with the slower pace and style of Lost Words, this is a narrative-driven story meant to speak to the heart. Lost Words wants players to invest in its main character as she finds her voice but faces real-world sorrows and difficulties that affect her ability to commit to the story she wishes to write. Whether it's the struggles involved with a creative project or the idea of family bonds and loss, there is a lot here for players to relate to on an emotional level. As the game points out, though, many worthwhile endeavors and experiences involve risk. Lost Words looks to be a high-quality title to try out even if these sorts of stories aren't your usual cup of tea.
Watch for Lost Words: Beyond the Page later this year on Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and (recently announced) the Nintendo Switch.
Written by Stephanie Sybydlo and Hilary Andreff