STAFF REVIEW of Lost Words: Beyond the Page (Xbox One)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

Lost Words: Beyond the Page Box art Grief is a complicated and powerful emotion, one that a lot of us have experienced more so this past year. When someone close to you passes away it can sometimes feel like things may never be okay again, and that the feeling might never go away. You will miss that person for the rest of your life but those memories aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a game that explores grief. It tackles the experience and feelings head on but is done in a way that could possibly help kids process their emotions in a healthy way.

Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a 2D puzzle-platformer developed by Sketchbook Games, Fourth Slate, Fourth Slate Limited and published by Modus Games. It tells a beautiful story using a familiar gameplay loop to keep players engaged and pushing forward through the story.

Lost Words follows a young girl named Izzy, who starts keeping a personal journal as she hopes to one day become a writer. Izzy creates a character (you can choose 1 of 3 names, but she'll be referred to as my choice of Grace from this point on) who resides in the fantasy realm of Estoria. Although primarily a 2D platformer, Lost Words takes place in two distinct settings, with Izzy controlling the characters in both. In the journal sections of the game, the player uses the words written on the page as platforms to navigate through the entries and can interact with different words (or pictures) to solve simple puzzles. You will jump on and collect highlighted words and objects to move things forward as well as making choices that affect the story. These segments of the game include some beautiful watercolor visuals, representing Izzy's memories as she puts her thoughts on paper.

For the sections of the game in Estoria the player controls Grace as she explores various fantasy stages, like deserts, caves and underwater cities. Grace is chosen by the fireflies in Estoria to become the next village guardian. When a dragon attacks and burns her village down, she goes after the dragon to confront it and collect the remaining lost fireflies along the way. The player controls Grace with the left stick of the controller and her firefly companion with the right. The aim of each stage/chapter is to guide Grace to the end while removing obstacles with the firefly along the way.

Lost Words is a game that proves that words have power, literally. Grace finds magical words along her journey and she must use them to manipulate the story and environment around her. Using your trusty firefly companion, you use words such as ‘break’ to destroy blocks or ‘repair’ on a bridge or pillar to move forward. The puzzles were quite simple, leading me to assume that the game is geared towards a younger audience. Most of them only needed one word to solve and move forward. This could also have been a conscious choice to focus more on the story and emotions of the game, rather than making it more about the mechanics and puzzles.

One thing that really stood out to me from Lost Words was how it wasn’t just a story about family, loss and memories. It was also a story about powerful women across multiple generations. Through Izzy, her mother and grandmother, you really get a sense of the strength and connection of these women. The game also smashed stereotypes; Grandma played video games and Dad was baking cakes. These were small written memories that stood out to me. You don’t often see these details in games geared towards a younger audience.

The game is stellar both in terms of the audio and visual components, and the brief glimpse that players are given into Izzy's life is a memorable one. It falls into the niche of the short indie puzzle game that aims to pull at the heartstrings and it succeeds in telling an engaging story about dealing with grief. Over the course of the few hours it took me to complete it, I will admit that I started to tear up playing the game and had to take a few breaks between some chapters. My grandmother passed away just over 5 years ago, and the game managed to still tug at those memories. It’s more about the emotions than the actual plot.

I can’t talk enough about how beautiful the water colour aesthetics are in the journal segments of the game. They capture both the childlike quality of Izzy’s memories while holding a certain nostalgic quality in their use of colours and tone. Text on the pages was also crisp and easy to read. The Estoria segments used 3D visuals to emulate a 2D art style but they didn't have as much impact as the watercolour graphics from the journal sections of the game for me.

The journal segments of Lost Words: Beyond the Page are fully narrated and the voice work is excellent, which helps form an emotional attachment to Izzy's story. The writing by Rhianna Pratchett, the lead writer of Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, is also stellar. I can’t comment on too much of the story without giving away spoilers.

The beautiful soundtrack by BAFTA nominated composer David Housden (also known for Battletoads), is whimsical, moving and something I have listened to a few times since completing the game. A lot of care and attention was taken in his journey to covey the full scope of emotions that Izzy is experiencing in the game.

The story of Lost Words manages to be both sad and beautiful at the same time. Having been written in part by Rhianna Pratchett (daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett), the game excels at taking you through the grieving process in a safe and comfortable way that may help prepare some for when they inevitably have to experience it for themselves. I highly recommend taking the time to check out this moving game, but please bring your tissues.

**Lost Words: Beyond the Page was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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