That Dragon, Acceptance
Last year, at the beginning of lockdown, my octogenarian grandmother suffered a minor stroke. Luckily, my mother was with her at the time and could rush her to the nearest hospital for immediate care, but it rattled all of us. The matriarch of our family — the one keeping her six children and dozens of grandchildren connected with gentle words and a calm presence — could have left us that day had it not been for the quick thinking of my mom. At a loss for what to do with my emotions and with few outlets due to quarantine, I set up an Animal Crossing New Horizons cataloging event, hoping to spread some good cheer in an effort to receive it. I was surprised to make a friend that day — one that was coping with her own demons as well. In our shared efforts to spread kindness, we ended up connecting through our respective grief, our days a little brighter during uncertain times. A wise video game once said “spread kindness, and you shall receive it threefold.” That video game is Lost Words: Beyond the Page, and to say I was unprepared for the emotional journey it took me on is an understatement.
Developed by Sketchbook Games and published by Modus Games, Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a beautiful 2D adventure platforming game with a focus on the immense power of words. Having previously released on Stadia as a year-long exclusive back in early 2020, Lost Words: Beyond the Page will be gracing PC and consoles on April 6, 2021 for the fair price of $14.99. With a touching narrative penned by Rhianna Pratchett (Heavenly Sword, Overlord, Mirror’s Edge, Tomb Raider, and Rise of the Tomb Raider) and high-quality voice acting, Lost Words: Beyond the Page is guaranteed to make you feel deeply about love, loss, acceptance, and learning to be okay.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page follows the story of a young girl who received a journal from her grandmother as a birthday gift. An aspiring writer, she immediately begins jotting down all her thoughts, feelings, and memories, eager to fill the journal’s empty pages with words and color. With her watercolors and a nice pen, she recounts time spent with her grandmother, walking along the beach, setting up an aquarium, and words of wisdom treasured by the young girl. Her love for her grandmother is exceedingly apparent, the pages soon filling up with joy and admiration for the older woman.
At her grandmother’s urging, the young girl begins to pen a story — a fantasy novel taking place in the magical world of Estoria. It follows some familiar faces in the form of a young girl and an older woman, the latter passing down the tradition of village guardian to the former. Unfortunately, the peaceful transition is short-lived, as a dragon soon attacks the village, setting it ablaze and wreaking havoc on the only home they’ve known. Now, armed with her magic words and her clever wit, the young girl must travel through desert, ocean, caves, and more to find the dragon and restore the village back to its serene state.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page’s gameplay is split between two modes; first, the journal mode, where the young girl will walk across the lined pages, jumping onto highlighted words to further the narrative. As she progresses, the journal often lights up with color to depict her mood — a bright, vibrant background means everything is okay, while colorless pages signify a numb depression in response to a terrible turn of events. As she writes, the pages slowly begin to fill up, the lined journal a receptacle for all manner of emotions. The girl expresses her fond memories of days spent with her grandmother, her fear of losing her to a stroke, and her frustrations with all the confusing aftermath. A beautiful record of a fragile emotional state, the journal itself becomes an environment to manipulate, a living testament that evolves as the girl grows through her trials.
When it comes to the action portion of Lost Words: Beyond the Page, the heroine’s mood and environment is also shaped by its author’s emotions. On good days, the protagonist’s surrounds are cheerful, fairly simple to navigate, and have problems with manageable solutions; on bad days, her world is cold, bleak, and hopeless. It’s clear when the author is feeling inspired to write and when she’s barely able to drag her pen across paper, struggling to eke out single letters. I genuinely loved how each world evolved to fit the author’s emotional state, the young writer embarking on a journey of her own alongside her protagonist during this difficult time.
Controls in Lost Words: Beyond the Page are simple — both WASD and arrows perform the same function, with “E” being used on occasion to move blocks. The mouse is utilized when the power of words is necessary, summoning actions such as “repair” or “rise” to manipulate objects in the environment. Need to get across a wide canyon but the only bridge leading that way is broken? Never fear — simply use “repair” and you can now safely trot across! Big rocks blocking your way? Not anymore — use “break” to create a path so you can forge on ahead. It certainly proves true the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword!
The aesthetics of Lost Words: Beyond the Page are lovely, my favorite being that of the journal portion. The watercolors danced across the pages as the words filled in the blank spaces, a vibrant, earnest depiction of emotions and processing them in their most visual state. I particularly loved the beach portions of the journal, spending quite a bit of time there just watching the bioluminescent waves break against the shore. Coupled with some of the loveliest music I’ve heard in a long while — including a beautifully sorrowful oboe melody — Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a treat for the senses in every respect.
Although Lost Words: Beyond the Page comes to a point of emotional profundity that is as effective as a therapy session (yet cheaper than one!) — one that had me shedding quite a few tears of gratitude for words I had been needing to hear — I found the pacing of the action portions to be slow-going to the point of tedium. Where I breezed through the journal portions at my leisure, pausing for dramatic effect in certain places but whizzing by in others, the action side of the game had me struggling to get through it. I believe it’s because the puzzles/exploration aspect is honestly a bit too easy; if the narrative wasn’t so applicable to all age groups coping with loss, I would have thought this to be a children’s game. While I think the journal side of gameplay and powerful delivery on emotions made up for the slow-going action sections, I can’t deny that I was fighting to stay awake as I scrolled sideways through otherwise beautiful environments.
Despite my criticisms, I love what Lost Words: Beyond the Page has done here. I think the words appearing on-screen, contorting to things in the environment to show movement down to the individual letters, was a really fun and unique way to portray “word magic”. This aspect is what truly brought both the action and journal components of the game together, as if the heroine was running through the words lining the pages of the diary instead of physically being off in a faraway land. I think it’s tremendous that the developers were able to sell that perspective so well. I guess that’s the power of words for you!
Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a deeply beautiful, daringly emotional journey, tackling grief from a child’s point of view that still resonates strongly in adulthood. Clever wordplay spanning two different sections come together to create one touching story about an aspiring writer’s method of coping with the loss of a loved one. It may not be the most exciting game you’ve ever played, but it will be one of the more therapeutic ones. If you are looking for a lovely, healing game that will get you right in the feels, be sure to check out Lost Words: Beyond the Page.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Modus Games; Developer: Sketchbook Games; Players: 1; Released: April 6, 2021
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Lost Words: Beyond the Page provided by the developer.