"...inspires introspection in the way a short film might."
Fragments of Him is a story that takes place from multiple perspectives in response to the untimely passing of a beloved young man named Will. The breezy, laid back experience hops from one important person to the next as they retell in past and present how they felt and feel about Will. Similar to "walking simulators," Fragments of Him is more of an interactive story than a "game."
Unlike walking simulators, Fragments of Him offers rare moments in which players can make choices that slightly alter the story and dialogue. However, players are strictly confined to areas throughout each character's location and forced to find a highlighted clickable to progress the tale. The intent seems to be that players are "in" the story, though I never felt this way. If anything, I experienced mild frustration at not being able to locate the item that would set me on a forward momentum.
Fragments of Him can't quite decide what it wants to be: an exploratory experience, a story with choice, or a laid back "movie." Having to interact with the environment felt purposeless and taxing; I wanted to just listen to the characters tell the story, but I had to constantly click to set the next string of dialogue in motion. Readers might find this complaint eye-roll-worthy, but a game like this needs to decide what it wants to be. Other adventure titles like Walking Dead can justify this type of player interaction because players are actively involved in shaping the tale or talking to other characters, but Fragments of Him feels starkly voyeuristic in nature.
Now that the interactive woes are out of the way, I want to highlight what a passively reflective joy this brief journey was. Will's story is one of love, loss, and perspective. Each character relives moments in which they loved Will in different ways, which on its face isn't entirely new to storytelling, but the composition of the environments, script, and voice acting makes this a story unique to Will. Insofar that the story's unique to Will, it became unique to me. As I listened to how he touched others' worlds, I thought about people in my life and what they would say about me if I left this reality unexpectedly. Do I even have someone like his grandmother in my life? What would my wife do if I was gone? How would she cope? Would an ex-girlfriend appear out of nowhere and share positive stories? All of these thoughts came to my mind, and with them, emotions.
I suppose the greatest compliment I can offer Fragments of Him is that it inspires introspection in the way a short film might. And while it's no more than that, it's powerful in that quick visit. Even now, weeks after playing it, I have vivid recollections of key — and benign — scenes, with dialogue and voices firmly imprinted in my mind. The harmony of the heartfelt script and skillful voice actors makes these people feel real. While the audio experience might be enough, the game is also visual, and that might be the most contentious part of the game.
At first gaze, Fragments of Him is harsh on the eyes. Scratch that — perhaps too minimalistic in this day and age. For some people. I, personally, found the style appropriate to the tale told and that it allows players to focus on the people rather than things. Still, some might find the appearance jarring and unpleasant, though those folks might not be the key demographic for such a game in the first place.
Fragments of Him is a worthwhile venture that the creators seem to have put much time and effort into — which shows. Stories like this lack punch or "wow," but excel in heart, mood, and introspective qualities. While certainly not for everyone, those who want a relatively relaxing and short insight into human relationships may find the people in Will's life able ushers.