Wednesday, May 22, 2024

If Found Review: an emotional journey from start to finish

In a time where everything and everyone feels so far away, Dublin-based studio DREAMFEEL’s game, If Found has been the emotional sucker punch that, in all honesty, I’ve needed. It’s made me realize just how important my family really is to me, and what makes up a ‘family’ in the first place.

From the get-go, If Found feels a lot like a fancy movie, which makes sense when you realize that writer and game maker, Llaura McGee, directed this game. If Found’s story is told mostly through diary entries from the protagonist, Kasio McHugh, a young, Irish queer woman. There’s scribbles, pictures, and even inside jokes. Sometimes the writing is all over other pieces of writing. It’s pretty hectic, at times, but already it fits you right into the narrative frame of someone whose young, messy, and trying to get their life together. I can relate, as I’m pretty sure everyone can.

Kasio tells her story through her diary entries, with short anecdotes where you’re able to rub out and turn pages. And for the most part, it’s a happy, if a somewhat complicated one. It starts in the year 1993, with Kasio returning home to her family in Achill, Ireland. Only, returning home has opened up some serious, life-changing questions about Kasio’s identity. You see, Kasio is trans and as we learn, it’s a concept that her family members – particularly her older brother – aren’t too understanding about.

When you’re 23 and you feel as though your family is out to get you, what are you to do? Run to the only place you’ll feel accepted. For Kasio, that solace is Colum, her best friend, his boyfriend Jack, and a young person called Shans. All three of them are in a band, which thanks to the help of 2mello, Eli Rainsberry, and various Irish artists, makes some pretty damn good music. Seriously, go listen to the OST over on Spotify — you won’t regret it.

Even outside of the band’s jamming, the music of If Found is utterly captivating, and it’s clear to see the absolute love of Ireland this game has within its characters, music, and narrative. I’m from the Black Country, which due to Irish migration back in the 1800s and 1900s, borrowed a lot from the Irish, including how they spoke. So I understood a lot of what was being said thanks to my origins. But if you’re going into this game not knowing anything at all about Ireland, then don’t worry, you’ll get a glossary that’ll help you understand locations, phrases, and more. If you do understand though, then as anyone will tell you, it’s good to be surrounded by a history that you know as well as the back of your hand.

While Ireland is familiar to Kasio and her friends, the people in and outside of their village label them as outsiders. Colum being a man and having a boyfriend, Kasio being trans and Shans being seen in their company, is more than enough ‘evidence’ for those outside of their slum-house that they are different. Yet, despite being in this rotting, decaying house that has almost no amenities, Kasio realizing that she has people that she can be herself around is such an important development for both herself and us to discover. I still am not sure of who I really am, but I know that I have a select group of people who I can be myself with — even if that person is still a mystery to me. To be shown that that’s okay, and that you’ll have people who stick by you, is still so pivotal for queer people to see, particularly those who are transgender. Often we are seen as outsiders to a heteronormative and cisgender society, so to be shown that we can find happiness is still an excellent reminder even now. It’s at these moments of pure happiness that is conveyed brilliantly in the artwork from Liadh Young, who makes even the smallest of pictures feel as large and overwhelming as a crescendo.

Identity is a major factor in If Found and is something that affects Kasio and her friends, particularly Shans. Who they were before, who they are now, and who they will be in the future is often what drives the tension between characters. Kasio knows who they want to be, but is scared to embrace it, whereas Colum and Jack want two different things, but are still tied to one another. As for Shans, it’s all in finding the right name…

No matter who you are, identity in a world that so often wants only certain people to shine can make finding out what makes you, well, you, so arduous. If Found understands that right to its very core, and it’s what makes Kasio feel so very real to me. I could see my friends struggles in her thoughts and feelings. How they shouldn’t be here. How society doesn’t want them to exist. Even in the way you’re supposed to ‘rub out’ Kasio’s writing, If Found is open to letting the player understand how erasing your memories, whether you want it to or not, almost feels like erasing yourself. Each time I had to do it to progress, it felt wrong.

  • If Found

Ultimately, love is what pulls me into the heart of what I loved about If Found. Love is a powerful thing, and in my opinion, is something that video games still struggle to convey in a meaningful way. It’s still not perfect, but I think that If Found is the closest game I’ve ever seen to portray the complexity behind love, particularly familial love. It’s not always easy. And sometimes, you really do just need to make a family of your own.

But there’s more to it than that. While I cannot relate to Kasio being a trans woman, I can relate to the struggles of how my identity affected my relationship with my mother, pushing us away from one another after small misunderstandings quickly turned into gigantic gulfs of space. It isn’t all bad, nor is it all good. But it feels raw and real, which I feel is the biggest compliment I can give to If Found.

Nonetheless, there are some parts that I found tiresome. Kasio’s diary entries are broken up by sections of where a character Cassiopeia, whom I can only assume to be a fictional Kasio, is in outer space. Cassiopeia is trying to stop the destruction of the world as we know it, and ends up trying to fix an anomaly to do so. It’s often very confusing, and though I played the game a couple of times, I still felt as though it added very little to the overall game. It’s a nice way to convey Kasio’s dreams of being an astronaut, and in some ways I do appreciate it being there, but not enough for me to feel as though it added anything significant.

DREAMFEEL’s If Found is dazzling in every single way. It’s an artistic, yet hard-hitting look at how life can treat those who are considered outsiders in society without resorting to complete, utter tragedy. There is hope and love to be found in this game, all you need to do is be brave enough to embrace it.

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