Fran Bow, the point-and-click psychological horror game, is unlike most games available today. Combining a strong narrative, a unique art style, and a riveting plot, I can honestly say that my experience with Fran Bow was one of the most memorable this year and Steam agrees with me — with over 1,000 Overwhelmingly Positive reviews. Following the imaginative story of Fran, an eleven year old girl suffering from mental illness in the 1930s, you are introduced to bliss, terror, and a strong, pure emotional narrative.
At the game’s introduction, Fran Bow Dagenhart finds her two parents butchered in her home by a large demonic creature. Shortly after she escapes, her feline companion, Mr. Midnight, goes missing. Fleeing to safety into the nearby forest, Fran awakens in an insane asylum for young children and is told to take a red pill to help with her post-traumatic, bad thoughts.
These “bad thoughts” that Fran experiences include decapitated heads, floating black demons, and all other sorts of terrifying creatures and environments. However, the red pill doesn’t actually help her and in fact, makes the bad thoughts materialize and come to life.
Since Fran Bow is point-and-click and is played from frame to frame, taking the red pill will trigger an alternate dimension in the same room of which you are playing. For example, say that Fran is sitting on her bed in one shot coloring with crayons. Once she takes the red pill, the surrounding environment will change and Fran will no longer be coloring. She is now playing with intestines or a big large monster will now be standing behind her. The music and ambiance will change entirely, and characters and items will appear and disappear. This unique style of gameplay makes it seem as though you are playing two games at the same time.
This switching from dimension-to-dimension depicts mental illness in a way that no game has ever done before. With a chapter by chapter plot line, players will delve deep into Fran’s psyche. Each world or area that she experiences in each chapter are all representative of her mental health (ex: Chapter 2 Double Personality, Chapter 3 Vegetative State…etc). This in-depth visual and verbal portray of mental illness explains that regardless of how typical (or “normal”) your current mental state may be, someone can easily slip back into paralyzing fear, pain, or sadness.
The art style of Fran Bow is by far one of its strongest attributes. With a simplistic, storybook-like, Alice in Wonderland vibe, this game feels magical, frightening, and truly special. Through Fran’s adventures, she encounters many different areas and dimensions — some blissful and some nightmarish.
Although this title may be categorized as a typical point-and-click, its puzzles bring some challenge to the player. Trying to figure out where to go, what to do next, and how to decipher tricky mechanisms or riddles makes for the perfect gameplay style for such a classically styled, mentally weighty game.
Check out Fran Bow on Steam for only $14.99. If you enjoy games like Broken Age or Alice: Madness Returns, this title is perfect for you.