The aesthetic may be one of anime warmth: bold androgynous characters with wide eyes and over-pronounced gasps, reams of childlike dialogue and an atmosphere that's more sentimental than melancholic. But with its young, semi-amnesiac protagonist, stumbling lost and confused around a deserted town, raw with the grief of bereavement, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Wii adventure Fragile Dreams is Silent Hill: Pre-Teen Edition.
Meaning and metaphor certainly runs as deep as it has been known to in Konami's dark psychological series. Seto's progress through a post-apocalyptic dreamland mirrors the journey of any child lost in search of answers following a death in the family. The game and its locations look the survival-horror part, too, packed as they are with all the usual destinations in the modern horror vernacular: abandoned fairgrounds, merry-go-round seats rusted and strewn about; deserted malls, with crumbling floors and walls daubed with strange symbols; corn fields bowing from the wind as windmills creak, silhouetted on the moonlit horizon.
But Seto's weaponry is the makeshift arsenal of the playground. He swings bamboo swords and fishing nets in eager but awkward swipes, and his foes are oversized dogs and frantic pigeons. There's the odd apparition - translucent, jellyfish-like souls that haunt the streets and houses - and, certainly the torso-less, cackling phantoms you occasionally chase will give youngsters a rough nightmare. But on the whole, Fragile Dream's brand of terror is more spooky than distressing.
Darkness in this game is put to more effective use than merely - as it is in so often elsewhere in the genre - shrouding the shoddy handiwork of the game's artists. Here it's a stylistic choice as much as technical one, allowing for colour and texture as the game's swash of blues and purples seeps into the odd crimson sunrise or yellow glow from a health-restoring bonfire. Your primary reach into the world is down the barrel of a torch too, the Wiimote's angle bisecting the darkness and revealing the detail and geography of Seto's vicinity. The result is one of the best-looking Wii titles in the anime tradition.
Fragile Dream's fortes are its ambiance and, to a lesser extent, its storyline. The world in which Seto finds himself may be crumbling and forsaken, empty of humans, but emotional connections are there to be made through the non-human talking characters Seto encounters and the memories that can be found scattered around the world. Taking the form of short stories and sketches linked to random objects Seto comes across, these narrative vignettes build a rich picture of the recently departed past.
You might hear about a dog that comforted its master when you find a discarded dog collar under a park bench, or a young girl eagerly awaiting her father's return at the end of the work day. Though less potent or well-written than the character reminiscences by Kiyoshi Shigematsu that peppered Lost Odyssey in a similar way (some of Fragile Dreams' short stories were written by Japanese fans before the game's release), these memories add detail and texture to the world.
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