In most Western post-apocalyptic videogames, the broken and ruined remnants of society are populated by bandits, mutants, and Max Max-style ruffians. In the Japanese-developed Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Bandai Namco / tri-Crescendo, 2009), post-apocalyptic Tokyo is populated almost entirely by ghosts, robots, and cats.
Based on what I know about contemporary Japanese society, this seems about right.
Fragile Dreams is a bit too rough around the edges for me to recommend it as one of the true hidden gems of the Wii library. But I do have a soft spot for it. I love that it treats the end of civilization as something more than just an opportunity to stroke survivalist fantasies about being a kewl dude who could totally rough it better than anyone else, and instead as something almost unbearably sad. This world is suffused with remnants of lives lived and lost, revealed as memories and letters as you huddle by a soothing campfire, unpacking the obscure detritus you’ve scavenged. It wouldn’t be until 35MM (Sergei Noskov, 2016) that another game scratched this particular itch for mournful post-apocalypso.
35MM, however, doesn’t have cats. Fragile Dreams has cats in abundance. Your inventory can fill up with cat toys and cat food, as the game throws you pro tips for befriending cats.
At one moment in the game, you can’t proceed unless you have successfully befriended one particular cat. This genuine challenge. There is some advanced cat AI in this game, realistically portraying the hard-to-please nature of our feline friends.
Successfully completing this challenge gets you closer to the girl your character is chasing, who has a veritable cat stash in her living quarters. I think I’d be perfectly happy living in the post-apocalypse if this is what my bombed-out shelter looked like.
At one point, late in the game, your character gets stuck in a cave-in with a flirty but resentful ghost. The ghost explains to you that the world ended when a bunch of misguided techno-futurists tried to make an empathy machine. (Yes, really. This is actually the plot of this game.)
As she tells her tale of woe, a cat nonchalantly strolls along in the foreground. What seems like a throwaway bit of the mise-en-scène becomes a crucial moment, as our two heroes realize that, if a cat can get in, than this cave-in might not be as impregnable as they initially feared.
The next few minutes become a nail-biting chase in which you have to follow the meows of a cat through tight passages.
If this isn’t enough for you, there’s also a side story that’s possible to unlock if you diligently pick up items in the environment in this area. Utterly disconnected from the larger plot and themes of the game’s story (I don’t know if one of the game’s writers stuck it in without the others noticing, or what), it tells the story of a veritable kitty Tom Ripley, who steals the bells off of dead cats she finds and convinces the owners that she’s their missing cat.
Fragile Dreams is sad, and it is weird. It offers up cats that are realistically disinterested in you, and cats that are alarmingly sociopathic. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I’m not sure what will.
Up next week: we make the generational leap from the Wii to the Wii U.