This is part of our series reviewing visual novels and storytelling games. You can watch our streams and hear our live reactions on Twitch.
“Family isn’t only the one you’re born into.” – Kasio, If Found…
If Found... is a coming-of-age queer visual novel by the developer dreamfeel that takes place during December 1993 on the island of Achill just off the coast of Ireland. The story follows Kasio, a young transgender woman who is returning home from school in Dublin.awaiting news of a scholarship to see if she can continue her studies as a physicist. Awaiting her at home is her mother, Mam (Colloquial for “mom”), and brother (or should we say, “bother”), Fergal. Kasio is only partially out to them, and does all she can to get out of the house during her month-long stay back home.
Interwoven with Kasio’s story are messages from an astronaut who has encountered an anomaly within a black hole that is predicted to destroy the earth. She delves into the black hole on a dangerous mission in hopes of getting enough data to stop the anomaly before its irreparable damage can be done. Meanwhile, her only connection to Earth is through intermittent radio signals as she tries to warn of the coming catastrophe.
Throughout the main narrative, we follows Kasio’s journey as she finds people who will love and support her. She reconnects with an old friend and his band who are living in the big house, a condemned, dilapidated old house on the island. Kasio forms a strong friendship with Shans, who is the drummer for her friend’s band, the son of Indian immigrants, and a major influence on Kasio throughout her journey.
If Found… uses a very unique gameplay mechanic of erasing the narrative as you uncover it. The story is told through entries and illustrations of the events of that month which Kasio had written in her own journal. We follow Kasio as she reviews and erases those events and prepares to burn her journal. As the story progresses, we see the eraser start to dwindle along with Kasio’s feeling of security. This is a linear story that is nevertheless engaging because of the erasing mechanic “revealing” portions of the story as we experienced it. The erasure mechanic was a fresh take on the typical “click to progress the narrative” option of most visual novels.
One mechanic we really enjoyed in this game were the footnotes that appeared with any potentially unfamiliar terminology. As we mentioned, this is a very 90’s Irish story, complete with references to pop culture and the Irish political landscape at the time. The footnotes were optional and non-intrusive to the story, providing information that helped us follow the narrative and understand any confusing references. Since much of the story was “written” in Kasio’s journal, the act of having footnotes seemed natural and did not distract us from the story.
When Kasio’s narrative and the story of the astronaut merged we were impressed by the deep connection between two seemingly disparate stories. The ending rocked us and left us eager to play the series of after stories that open up after finishing the main narrative. These epilogues offer glimpses into the lives of the characters after the main events of If Found… are concluded.
The art design in If Found… is beautifully done and fits the game perfectly. The style was sketchy, with simple lines capturing very human interactions. It felt very much like what a young woman might sketch out in her journal as she chronicles her life. Though the style is sketchy, this visual novel is far from being grayscale as it utilizes color in spectacular ways, really drawing in and deepening the mood of the moment you’re in. The sound design was equally stellar and certainly no afterthought. We were engaged from beginning to end by the thoughtfulness of the art direction.
As queer people, we related a lot to Kasio’s story. Be it her interactions with her brother, her Mam, or even the small interactions she had out in the community, there were multiple occasions that felt familiar to us. Kasio is just existing as herself and trying to find happiness. This is her norm. Around her are people who are telling her to stop because she’s making them uncomfortable just by existing as she is. This is the experience of existing as a queer person in a prominently heteronormative world, and we felt that If Found… handles this narrative with a deft hand.
We were hugely impressed by dreamfeel’s ability to draw us into the narrative and keep us engaged from beginning to end. The mechanic of erasing the story made us feel deeply connected to Kasio and her struggles. If Found… was at times emotional, heartbreaking, and uplifting. We’d highly recommend the story for anyone, but especially those who are interested in queer narratives, science fiction, and found family.
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