Burning rituals are a common therapeutic exercise in which you write down something you wish to escape, then burn it, and watch as the pain, given physical form, turns to ash. If Found… is a burning ritual in virtual form, making you erase diary pages. And as they become cinders of the past, it’s as cathartic and emotionally fulfilling as any real-life practice.
Kasio is a transgender woman returning to Achill Island, off the west coast of Ireland, in December 1993. Living and going to university in Dublin – and escaping the confines of the rural west – has done wonders for her sense of identity, but has created friction among her decidedly conservative family members. Luckily, she has a small group of friends to find solace with, and squats with them in their band practice space during what becomes a life-shattering three-week stay that players gradually scrub and draw their way through.
This is done via Kasio’s diary, a yellow-paged notebook full of profiles of everyone she meets, doodles, scribbles, memorable events, and observations. Using the mouse as an eraser, you wipe away the lines and images on each page, gradually peeling back the layers of Kasio’s life. The pages often give way to vividly drawn scenes and vignettes that change the action to a simple click, still leaving you in full control of the overall pacing. Sometimes it’s both narration and action, cluttered by attempts to cross something out and offhand sketches. Such is the way the animations on these pages deftly capture her winding emotional state that Kasio’s elation on the dance-floor of her friends’ local gig carries the same buzz as an actual concert, the flashing neon delivering much-needed emotional shelter.
An early argument with her mother, for instance, starts as an easy back-and-forth, then degrades as Kasio learns she isn’t going to be safe and welcome in the family house. The background shifts to repeating patterns as composer 2 Mello’s cheery electronica is overcome by sadness, and eventually Kasio storms out to a friend’s doorstep. But the tale If Found… tells is broader than one woman’s life.
While all of this is happening, astronaut Cassiopeia is jumping through space and time to find an anomaly before our solar system collapses. She and an accountant named Mac eventually triangulate steady coordinates, which intertwines the two disparate threads. Cassiopeia’s cosmic quest is more abstract, with the colours and shapes bending across the screen contrasting the loosely etched village houses and trails of Kasio’s tale in Achill. These breaks from the initial narrative give time to ruminate on each chapter and further break up all the diary-scrubbing.
It’s in the way these stories mirror each other that If Found… leaves a lasting impression. Kasio isn’t bouncing around the cosmos like Cassiopeia, but she is still floating, searching for anything resembling terra firma on which she can truly grow. It’s a personal victory she seeks to achieve, and one as important as that of any threat to the universe being averted.
The cultural translation goes beyond words and phrases to pillars of Irish upbringing during the nineties and beyond. The Late Late Toy Show, an annual Christmas edition of Ireland’s benchmark talk show, gets a mention, as does Bosco, a red-haired puppet that was a staple of children’s TV for decades.
A compelling and beautifully illustrated narrative, as moving as it is memorable.
Genre: Visual novel | Format: PC | Developer: DREAMFEEL | Publisher: Annapurna Interactive | Price: £10.29 | Release: Out now