In addition to our team-selected Game of the Year Awards 2020 (opens in new tab), individual members of the PC Gamer team each select one of their own favourite games of the year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside the main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
Out of all the games I’ve played this year, none have hit harder than If Found… (opens in new tab)It’s a visual novel about Kasio, a young trans woman returning to her family home in a small rural Irish Town in 1993.
Kasio's arrival is far from a warm welcome, and after a brutal falling out with her mother she decides to escape and move out. With nowhere else to go, Kasio's best friend Colum, his boyfriend Jack, and their bandmate Shans invite her to move in with them, and seeking a safe haven from her family and the freezing weather of Ireland's Achill Island, she accepts their offer.
For many queer folks, this story might hit a little close to home, and that’s why reading Kasio’s experiences feels so gut-wrenching. It's a story with authenticity and you won't find any fumbles with representation here (looking at you Cyberpunk 2077 and The Last of Us Part 2). If Found... is a queer story written by queer developers and Dreamfeel handles Kasio’s story with respect and understanding. Don't worry, you’re in safe hands.
Kasio’s story is told through her journal entries, but instead of clicking through them as you would with a usual visual novel, in If Found… the only way to read the story is to erase it. Using your mouse you can erase the diary entries, rubbing out the penciled words that she's written down. Erasing Kasio’s entries acts as a transition from one scene to the next, and removing her sketches and words reveal more like you're peeling back Kasio's memories.
When I first started to erase the written scribbles and doodles, it felt oddly wrong, like I was destroying something precious. But If Found... uses the act of erasing as more than a destructive force. It's a great way of making the story more dynamic rather than the standard click-to-progress of visual novels.
In one scene, I'm wiping away raindrops to see more clearly in a heavy rainstorm, and in another, I have to erase layers of a crowd to get to the front of the stage at a blood-pumping punk concert. In another sequence, my swipes instead add big splashes of colour to the pages, my eraser turning into a temporary paintbrush.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on Achill Island. Kasio's journal entries are intertwined with another story, a sci-fi adventure of an astronaut in the future named Cassiopea who is on a space mission to stop an anomaly tearing the universe apart. As this magical realist space adventure reaches its chaotic heights, it echoes the struggles in Kasio’s life, heightening the gravity of her situation.
As you read about these moments in the diary, many of the pages have been aggressively scribbled out. Whole paragraphs, pictures, and people scrawled over, as Kasio herself has tried to erase what she has written in her own destructive way. You use the eraser to first remove these scribbles so you can read what's underneath and, when you're done reading, you then erase that too. Erasing the scribbles feels like you're removing the anger and painful memories within the pages, before erasing the memory itself.
I want to put a caveat here that If Found... is not a complete misery pit. It has its hard-hitting moments, but it’s also artistic, vibrant, and hopeful for the future. It’s a well-rounded story that has its highs and lows, but more importantly, it’s a story that cares about its characters. I felt that it's erasing mechanic was not just removing Kasio's memories but helping to absolve her anger with gentleness.
If Found... understands that people who go through trauma need time to heal in order to have a fresh start. Erasing Kasio's words means letting go of the past to make room for a new beginning.