Review: If Found – Stars and Erasers Tell Her Story

If found… is the story of Cassiopeia, an astronaut fighting to save the Earth from a rapidly approaching black hole. It’s also the story of Kasio, a woman seeking acceptance and family on the tiny Irish island of Achill. It’s also a stunningly designed visual novel, the result of a collaboration between Dreamfeel and Annapurna Interactive, which utilizes a single, simple game mechanic to create a deep, engaging and emotional story.

Players progress through the story of If Found… in a single way: by erasing. The player-controlled eraser symbolizes Kasio’s destruction of her diary, and allows readers to experience her story day by day in her own words. She breaks into her own house, meets new friends, fights with her family, attends a concert and, ultimately, comes to learn so much more about who she truly is. Storytelling methods alternate between diary entries, conversations between Kasio and other characters, and beautiful wordless scenes which utilize If Found…’s gorgeous art style to explore Achill and its environs.

Here, the eraser mechanic is used to show the passage of time

If Found… manages to do so much with a simple mechanic like erasing. It conveys the ever-increasing patter of rain during a chilly Irish night. It replicates the feeling of Kasio pushing herself through a tightly packed crowd at her first concert. It represents the raw, angry destruction of her memories as her mother, brother, friends and more struggle – and, in some heartbreaking cases, fail – to accept and understand who she truly is.

At the heart of If Found… is a beautiful story about identity featuring some of the most relatable, flawed, ultimately human characters I have ever encountered in all my years of gaming. It brutally confronts the reality of living as a member of the LGBTQ community. Kasio’s mother and brother struggle to see her as a woman and keep calling her “son” and “brother”. Her friends Jack and Colum, a gay couple, are seen as “embarrassing” and “going through a phase” by their family members. Another friend, Shans, is unsure about their gender identity and has difficulty accepting that they may never be “normal.”

Trans and queer gamers will see harsh and often heartbreaking language that they have likely experienced before in their real lives. Brid (Kasio’s mother) constantly laments why she has to be “so public” about her identity. Colum’s aunt Maggy says she “doesn’t understand” why her nephew “wants to live this way,” but she’s trying to figure it out. Shans angrily demands to know whether Kasio likes men or women or neither, and Kasio breaks down because she simply doesn’t have the answer to that right now.

Just a few scenes later, the eraser now represents movement

This game touched me on a deep level. It uses gameplay mechanics, words, art and music to truly draw the player in emotionally. I cried, laughed, raged and exulted with Kasio and the rest of the cast. If you are going to play If Found…, you should prepare for a deep, emotional experience – and one which will not always be happy. This is a story that is unafraid to confront some of the harshest realities of the queer experience. So, was the gamut of both positive and negative emotions I ran through while playing worth it? Absolutely.

If Found… tells a complete story which blends realistic slice of life elements with more fantastic trips into the science fiction genre. The characters are human. Their struggles are real. The presence of an event horizon caused by a black hole allows the story to explore multiple endings – some heartwarming, some bittersweet, some realistic, some fantastic, some sad but all well-written and beautiful. Plus, developer Dreamfeel has included lots of helpful notes allowing players to learn more about Irish culture and life on Achill. You’ll even pick up a couple of Gaelic words and sayings as you go along!

It features a gentle, hand-drawn, watercolor-inspired art style ripe with pastel hues, grand, sweeping lines and intriguing use of black and white negative space. Every single moment of every single scene is stunning to look at. The interior of Maggy’s small cottage is captured with just as much detail as the vastness of the cosmos itself. The equally catchy soundtrack merges subdued instrumental tracks with vocal Irish pieces and a variety of sound effects, ranging from the crashing of waves to the chatter of a concert crowd. 2mello and Eli Rainsberry’s soundtrack is definitely something you will find yourself listening to long after completing the game itself.

Just a few scenes later, the eraser now represents movement

The only thing I didn’t like about If Found… is that it’s not the longest of games. I completed the entire experience, including all of the alternate endings, in about three hours. The average playtime on Steam tends to range between two to three hours, meaning that my experience was normal if not a little bit on the longer side. As most of the endings were fairly ambiguous in nature, I found myself wanting more (I did, however, appreciate the Chapter Select function which allowed me to experience the different endings without having to replay the entire game).

I also feel that If Found… potentially lacks replay value. There is an achievement system present in the Steam release, but most of the achievements are things I was able to complete in my first playthrough (like erasing a certain number of diary entries) or challenges that would be pretty much impossible for me to complete (such as playing the entire game with the language set to Irish). While I want to share If found with all of my friends and encourage them to experience it for themselves, I don’t know if I necessarily see myself playing it a second time – especially given how intense my emotional reactions were.

Still, If Found… is a wonderfully unique visual novel experience which members of the LGBTQ community will find especially relatable. Sci-fi enthusiasts and fans of more down to earth “human experience” stories alike will both find something for them in this unique tale. If you are looking for a story-focused game which you can play in a short amount of time while still coming away with a feeling of lasting impact,  you should definitely give If Found… a try.

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