If Found Review: A little empathy goes a long way. Especially when it’s for those for whom we seek unconditional love and support, this can mean the difference between crawling into a black hole of depression and having the comfort of merely existing without judgment. It’s one of the themes If Found so vividly portrays in a sketchbook-style visual novel form. Expressive minimalistic illustrations, ethereal sound design, sharp writing, and thematic coherence, the chaos, and serenity of young adulthood pops out of the pages for a story that is heartbreaking, heartwarming, and utterly gripping.
If Found Review: About
- Platform: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Macintosh operating systems
- Developer: DREAMFEEL
- Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
- Genres: Adventure
- Release Date: May 19, 2020
If Found Review: Official Trailer Video
If Found Review: Gameplay
With a diary and eraser, we remember and go beyond the memories of the main character Kasio during a crucial time in her life. It is December 1993 in County Mayo of Ireland, and now that she has returned from Dublin, her small hometown of Achill, for the holidays, she is a little lost. With two degrees of higher education to her credit and a lukewarm desire to obtain a Ph.D., she gets the word “why don’t you get a decent job and start a decent life” from her mother – a conversation some of us know all too well.
Ultimately, this is Kasio’s journey to find where she belongs. The core group of friends – Colum, Jack, and Shans – are a bunch of early-twenties young misfits squatting in a secluded house that is falling apart. They play in a three-piece punk band, and as an outsider, Kasio joins this short period. Despite the state of the house, it is a house where she has the freedom to be herself. The morning fry up, band exercise, gathering around the TV and blowing up in the attic while watching the stars – here she finds comfort.
The pair of Colum and Jack make a great backbone and seem to have it most together, so it’s through Kasio’s interactions with Shans – whom she didn’t previously know – that we see her more in-depth thoughts and feelings emerge. Their budding friendship is a disturbingly accurate representation of the anxious excitement of getting to know a new person who maybe just like you and a perfect match in your life. It also shows how vulnerable and fleeting those relationships can be.
As poignant as the writing can be, it is the beautiful illustrations that speak a thousand words. Sometimes there is a little color in the background to create the stage or to create contrasts; however, the real beauty lies in the pencil sketch style. Each character and most scenes are brought to life by raw freehand drawings, but their appearance and characteristics are fully realized, radiant with final charisma. Facial expressions, attitudes, body language, and the precise emotions of the moment, all sharply communicated in that simple pencil sketch art style.
The hard scribbles that make up a boisterous crowd on the crew’s punk show recreate the madness of wall-to-wall one evening as Kasio fights his way through the well to get closer to the front. Only after erasing the layers of the crowd several times will you reveal the crew rocking on stage in all their glory. At a more intimate moment, Kasio and Shans find reprieve in the Shans family’s chip shop, share life stories and reflect on the things that make them outsiders.
If Found is chock-full of moments like this, where the lively manga-like character designs tell the story as well as the text. The game is also not afraid to change its presentation style, sometimes from a neat pop-up book to surreal dizziness, or from simple doodles on lined paper to canvases colored in duotone. If Found’s ability to communicate so much by showing so little with a variety of impressive techniques is a definite achievement and an excellent example of the adage that less is more.
The game is completed by a capable, ethereal soundtrack of post-rock instrumentals and ambient tones. It’s minimalistic in many ways, sometimes allowing light and stable synths to form a basis for acoustic guitar strings, often peaceful, contemplative moments, or the warmer feelings Kasio experiences. At other times, heavy bass lines add tension when a somber melody floats over them, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere that you can play with strangely. And when things get real, the music will begin a poignant, entirely composed post-rock track to tie it all together.
The atmosphere can be just as provocative as if he wants to transport you in his storybook scenes at the time. When Kasio has a heart-to-heart relationship with Colum’s aunt, Maggie, on the shores of Keem Beach, you hear the hum of the still air and the light waves rushing around. In the middle of the night, the gust of wind gives the feeling of a cold winter. In each of the chapters, If Found uses a wide variety of sound and music to make each sketch even more intimate.
Tying it all together is a heartwarming observance of the game’s Irish setting. It is essential for If Found because, like the painting style, the cultural references, and the vernacular, you are taken to a world that is real and alive. You will learn some regional terms and a few things that make everyday life in Ireland a little different from yours, such as holiday traditions, the role of religion, or even how the post office offers many core officials. Useful footnotes provide definitions, statements, and the context in which these terms are used.
Even with Kasio’s visions of space interspersed with the whole story, her struggle and turmoil are firmly out of this world. When Found’s pillars of stellar writing, artwork, and sound design create a perfect storm of emotions that effortlessly express what it feels like to be lost and to be found as a marginalized young adult barely scratching by. Relationships and identity, happiness, and despair – they are all put together in the storybook that we have continuously erased all the time.
As you draw to the conclusion, Kasio’s mental health is tested in a panic. But since the beginning, she has longed for acceptance and empathy, which may save us from denying ourselves happiness and maybe even our own lives. And when we find both, only then can we take full control and start writing our story to ourselves. That’s not If Found’s only takeaway, but it’s one that is powerfully contextualized throughout the influencing, humanizing tale. That’s it for our If Found Review.