Trace Memory and To The Moon are two titles that, while short in duration, left me far more fulfilled than many games ten times as long. Sometimes a short game that offers a poignant experience is preferable to a lengthy game that wears out its welcome. Quantity does not always equal quality, and Gone Fireflies by Quiet Bay Studio joins the esteemed company of Trace Memory and To The Moon as one of those video game hors d’oeuvres that fills its short duration with big flavor.
Gone Fireflies may not have the dynamic full motion video cutscenes with varied camera angles that bombastic, big-budget titles do, but I cannot think of a better word to describe it than “cinematic.” There aren’t many locations, but it is clear that a lot of thought was put into mapping and crafting the visual design of each place. Gone Fireflies also does a surprisingly good job of using sprite animations to convey emotion, making it appear more akin to an interactive movie than a game. Although clearly created using RPGMaker, it’s a sharp looking RPGM project that exudes a quiet elegance. There isn’t a vast amount of music, but what’s there perfectly complements each and every scenario. I especially liked the stirring piano pieces. Sound effects are also used judiciously to really set the immersive atmosphere. The way the sound interplays with the visuals and story really allows each scene to breathe and have the subtleties shine through. In short, the aesthetics of the game are beautiful thanks to their refreshingly effortless modesty.
Gone Fireflies is driven more by a deliberately paced narrative than by dynamic gameplay, so it features only rudimentary graphic adventure mechanics such as searching environments for clues and making decisions when they’re presented in the dialogue. Sometimes, pixel hunting for clues feels a tad imprecise when lining up the avatar to a place or object you want to search, but it’s a very minor nitpick that does not impede the game’s flow in the least. Be sure to play the latest version of the game, though, as the April update smoothed out scene transition times, some dialogue, and even a few minor hiccups I discovered in earlier versions (e.g. sprites flickering out, hotspots locking up, some freezes during scene changes.)
The narrative tastefully jumps between the past and present of two adult protagonists. One is the gruff yet likeable Detective Reed and the other is a married professional named Thomas May. Neither man knows the other, both lead disparate lives, yet we learn that they have crossed paths on occasion and are both coping with crippling losses. I love that the protagonists here are adults dealing with complex adult struggles, giving the game a maturity that I don’t see very often in gaming. I would say more about the story and its theme of loss, but it’s so short that I couldn’t do so without revealing spoilers. All I can really say is that the proverbial can of worms is opened when Detective Reed receives a late-night phone call to investigate a crime scene, and what he hoped was an easy assignment is the entrance down an emotionally turbulent rabbit hole. I recommend doing at least two playthroughs since the game is only about 1.5 hours long, some key decisions affect the final outcome, and the story has many nuances I did not pick up on initially yet noticed the second time around.
Gone Fireflies is less of a game and more of an engrossing interactive movie that I gladly experienced multiple times, despite a few hiccups. With an engaging story, sharp visuals, stirring music, and price tag less than half of a movie ticket, Gone Fireflies is something that fans of plot-driven software should definitely check out. After such a compelling debut, I look forward to seeing what Quiet Bay Studio comes up with next.