Grief has been an ever-present part of my life since my early teens. It was a time when the rose-tinted glasses were taken away from my eyes and I saw the world a little darker than it was before. Since then, it has existed as a part of me, never far away from sight. I think this is why I am drawn to video games with narratives that center around grief. It’s a way for people (in this case, the developers) to say ‘I see you. You’re not alone.’ This was the case with The Forest Quartet. 

The Forest Quartet by Mads & Friends is a 3D narrative puzzle game that allows you to play as the recently deceased Nina – the dearly missed lead singer of a quartet living amongst the forest. The game consists of three acts and as Nina, you must bring hope back to the remaining musicians so that they can play music once more. The Forest Quartet manages to portray grief in a metaphorical, but realistic way. Each of the remaining musicians are battling with the familiar stages of grief: depression, fear and anger. Living with depression and an anxiety disorder myself, the imagery presented in The Forest Quartet really hit home. The pianist living with depression exists amongst the forest but the beautiful terrain is overtaken with darkness that lives and breathes alongside him. The first time we see the cellist is through the scope of a gun, a perfect representation of how it feels to live with anxiety and dread. The drummer’s world is engulfed in flames, his anger almost a living, breathing thing in the forest as you traverse through. 

Lamps will light the way in the dark, gloomy forest.

In what sounds like a dark and desolate game, The Forest Quartet is about hope. It is a reminder that those we love are always with us and can inspire us to continue onwards. The forest is eerie and full of terrors taking the form of inky growths and walking demons like the ones you see in your nightmare as children. However, Nina radiates light. She cuts through the darkness and remains a beacon of hope as you progress throughout the game – her voice like the call of a siren breaking through the otherwise silent forest. It feels like a very personal journey and you feel Nina’s will to want to help her friends that are left behind in the only way she can. It is clear a lot of love was put into The Forest Quartet.

The voice acting really stood out to me. It felt authentic, especially during the moments in The Forest Quartet where you hear snippets of the quartet being interviewed. You hear them laugh and joke together and be full of life when Nina was still with them. The dialogue is simple and not littered with flowery language – you really feel like this is just a group of guys who have lost an important part of themselves. Their voices emphasise the emptiness they feel but when you complete the puzzles and restore hope to them, you almost hear the weight lift off their shoulders. I feel like voice acting can be very hit and miss for indie studios, but The Forest Quartet made the narrative even more powerful with their choice of actors. 

The demons we fight within materialise in The Forest Quartet

I would say that I am quite a knowledgeable person, but I do sometimes lack common sense. As a result, puzzle games can often leave me quietly seething. The Forest Quartet combined puzzles that were both challenging and fun to try and solve (if you do have the same problem as me, I wrote a helpful guide which you can find here!). Each act focuses on a different mechanic until they all come together in the final act. Nina’s ability to transform into butterflies to fit into small pipes, joining lights together to illuminate the way and using her Sing ability to activate mechanisms were effortlessly done and had a good amount of difficulty. The only thing I would say is if you are used to very challenging puzzle games, this is not the game for you. However, I also believe that the narrative is the main focus of The Forest Quartet and the puzzles are just there to assist it.

The Forest Quartet took me just over an hour to complete so although it is not a long game, it still managed to pack enough power to stay with me days after. When reviewing a game, I like to sit with my thoughts and fully appreciate what story the game was trying to tell and to me. The Forest Quartet had a very powerful message: we all experience loss, we all experience hopelessness and loneliness, and we all battle with demons and even our own thoughts. The world can be a dark place but there is also light. Nina is the light. Her love is the light. We all have our own lights – whether that is a person, a place, or a thing. The Forest Quartet emphasised that for me and I am thankful for it. As the game ended with the beautiful voice of Nina as she sang for the last time with her friends, I had a teary smile on my face and the comforting realisation that the grief I carry is my love for those I have lost, transformed.

The Forest Quartet shows how it feels to live with grief

Angharad played The Forest Quartet on PC with her own copy. The Forest Quartet is also available on PlayStation 4. 

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