Forgotton Anne Shows Memories Are Often Bittersweet

By Laura Kate Dale on at

Forgotton Anne is a hard game to talk about in depth, because part of what makes it special is the discoveries you make. The game tells a beautiful and bittersweet story about loss and the double-edged sword of remembering something long gone, but the less you know going in the more impact it has.

It will probably take more than that to convince you to check this game out, so here we go: I'm going to allow myself to describe one early incident involving a scarf. I may ruin that moment, and apologies, but hopefully it'll give you an idea of why the overall structure and ideas here are worth paying attention to.

Forgotton Anne is fundamentally about lack of knowledge, both with reference to yourself the player and the primary character Anne. Anne is one of only two humans in a desolate world inhabited by living sentient items known as Forgotlings. Forgotlings are inanimate objects from our world which, when lost by humans, end up living a life of their own in this new world, aware of their lives before being forgotten. Anne's self imposed role within that world is that of an enforcer, someone who ensures the law of the land is followed, and that anyone stepping out of line or causing trouble is dealt with. The only other human there is her mentor, trying to help her find her way back to our world.

Right at the very beginning of the game, you encounter a character named Dilly, a living scarf wearing a pair of glasses. He appears inside Anne's apartment shortly after an explosion occurs, and Anne's instinct, as well as mine as a player, is to deal with this intruder. He looks pretty harmless, but I drained him of his life essence, one of the first in-game interactions you're made aware of your ability to enact. You just reach out your hand, drain the life from him, and watch him crumple in a pile on the floor.

Forgotton Anne never told me not to do this. It didn't bring up a prompt, asking if I wanted to make this choice. It wasn't presented as a moral choices, a point of no return, or something which would play out with later consequences. The game simply gave me the ability to drain his life, and I did it. He was gone as a result of my actions as a player.

I had in fact made a moral choice, though I didn't realise this until much further into the experience. Forgotton Anne's take on this concept, that gamers will do what they think they are supposed to without question, in spite of the consequences those optional actions may have, works better than many examples I could compare it to. For example, Spec Ops: The Line failed to commit fully to the idea, forcing you to enact at least one choice that you're later criticised for making, even if other in-game choices were ultimately optional. Forgotton Anne fully commits to a world where, yes, there are possible paths ahead of you – but it never frames them in an obvious way, meaning your behaviour often makes a choice before you realise there was one. Anything the game punishes you for, you'll find can be handled differently on future playthroughs.

Pulling back to the scarf, killing Dilly is optional, and that was something that simply never occurred to me at the time. I played the role the game presented me with unquestioningly, and found myself halfway through the game wondering what might have been if I had just not done what I thought I was supposed to do. It's an odd feeling because ultimately, the only person to blame is oneself.

Putting that aspect of the game's design aside, it's worth talking a little about the moment-to-moment experience. Forgotton Anne is primarily a puzzle platformer, where your character is able to carry one unit of energy with them at any one time, which can be used in order to help solve puzzles. The game is largely linear, with branching paths leading to optional side characters that I would highly encourage getting to know. Much of the game's charm is in meeting all these forgotten objects, whose personalities are reflections of the items they are and the people who once owned them. There's a lava lamp who reflects much of the faux-intellectual worldly wise nature of its stoner owner, or a family heirloom blanket whose personality reflects the years of life it has seen pass by. These personified items are fascinating to interact with, and really help to flesh out the world around Anne.

Forgotton Anne's plot heavily focuses on loss, and the bitterness of being forgotten. It tells a deeply relatable series of stories, teasing out various themes about remembrance and whether good memories can override a bad ending. Forgetting about something can have real consequences but ignorance is also often bliss, a contradictory line that Forgotton Anne walks rather gracefully. It's a game with hidden choices that take advantage of assumption and instinct, and crafted so skilfully that it creates a real sense of mystique and misdirection. You certainly won't forget it anytime soon.