My first impression of Fragments of Him came from its cinematic trailer. The nostalgic theme of the setting accompanied by the stringed instruments’ melancholic tones captivated me; the small glimpses of the different pieces of scenery were beautifully intricate. The portrayal of a same-sex couple was uplifting, and the game’s premise was all too relatable. From this, I believed that Fragments of Him had tremendous potential — a potential that never fully comes to fruition.
Fragments of Him tells a poignant tale many of us can relate to: the loss of a loved one. The story begins moments before the incident. Will, the man whose death this story is centered around, is presumably heading off to work. While waiting for the light to turn green at an intersection, a speeding car comes crashing into him and the screen darkens. You then get a glimpse into his past as each of three characters connected to Will reminisce about the times they have spent with him.
After finishing the game, I found myself contemplating how those around me would react to my own passing. How would they cope? What words would they have for me? Would they be okay? And when I thought about the people I have lost in my life, I was overwhelmed with emotion. What makes Fragments of Him remarkable isn’t its story necessarily, but these sentimental after-effects.
In fact, some of its story elements were sorely lacking. My biggest complaint is the lack of development around Will’s sexuality. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I was extremely elated to see bisexual representation in a video game — especially since it is one of the most underrepresented and chastised groups in the community. I find it lamentable, however, that Sassybot didn’t utilize Will’s character to raise awareness of the struggles that bisexuals face regarding their sexuality. Due to his lack of characterization, Will is unrelatable and his sexual orientation seems like an afterthought.
One event where this feels particularly true is the controversial same-sex kiss. It is unclear in which time period this particular scene occurs. There are small references that suggest it happens during the mid or late 90’s, a time when societal homophobia was prevalent. Piecing this together with Will’s grandmother’s blatant disdain towards liberal views and the absence of any LGBT social movements, the kiss itself feels more like an anachronism than a statement. While I appreciate the notion of normalizing homosexual relationships, it comes across as insensitive regarding the community’s trying history and contradictory to the game’s realistic approach in conveying its message.
There is also no profound connection amongst Will and the other three characters. I found it perplexing that the writer chose to express such a relationship-centered narrative through internal monologues. Throughout the game, the characters never truly converse with Will (aside from an instance in Mary’s arc). Because of this, I spent most of the game wondering why Will meant so much to them. Sarah expresses that she loved him when she first saw him, but why did she fall in love with him? Why did Harry? As a result of these portrayals, it was difficult empathizing with any of the characters while they were grieving. Yet, this was not too upsetting because these characters serve as relative placeholders to some extent. In addition to hearing their stories, they are also a means of projecting your loved ones onto them.
As an interactive story, Fragments of Him proved to be more frustrating than relaxing. The loading times are incredibly long. On top of this, players must continually find the next clickable object that contains the latest piece of exposition in order to progress the narrative. Most were easy to spot. There were times, though, when I spent more time than I wanted to searching for the smaller items. While the intent was to immerse the player in the story, this process constantly pulled me out of it instead. In the end, the gameplay aspects did nothing in terms of enhancing the game’s narrative; it would have been more effective to simply omit this feature altogether and let the tale unfold seamlessly.
The mesmerizing scenery shows how much time and effort Sassybot put into this game. From the shadows cast by the sun’s rays to the artistic paintings hanging on the wall, every detail in Fragments of Him mimics a realistic setting. To further enhance the ambiance, the added sepia filter invokes that raw sense of nostalgia usually depicted in films. It’s unfortunate that the developers didn’t spend as much effort on the character models as they did with the scenery. For the most part, every model is expressionless and robotic in terms of movement. This, in addition to its detracting gameplay, is why I believe that Fragments of Him would have been better as a short film instead of a game.
In the sound department, Will Davis’s musical composition perfectly captures the sorrowful tone of Fragments of Him. Each stroke of the piano’s keys almost feels like a pluck at your heartstrings. Each song is a musical translation of the characters’ emotions. I would often halt my progress in the narrative just so I could listen to the music in its entirety. But what’s the most striking in Fragments of Him is its realistic voiceover performances. To compensate for its inhuman models, every actor poured real human emotion behind each of their characters. It has been some time since I’ve last played it, but I can still hear the authenticity in each character, the sincerity in each word, and the rawness in the delivery.
It was difficult for me to give a proper overall score for the game. Despite my many criticisms of the game, Fragments of Him definitely succeeded in leaving a lasting impression. At its core, Fragments of Him is a hopeful reminder that death and existence are not mutually exclusive — the fragments we leave behind transcend the border between worlds.