[Trigger warning: Sexual abuse, cutting, suicidal tendencies, rape, and pedophilia. The entire game involves gory hallucinations. Or are they?]
I backed Fran Bow two years ago after seeing a few YouTubers tackle the Alpha Demo. It has been officially released a few days ago, and I am playing it to observe the game from a few angles, as both a feminist as well as someone with a mental illness. Additionally, some other matters may be brought up along the way, depending on what developer and artist Natalia Figueroa decides to throw at us through this quaint point-and-click adventure horror game.
Are you ready? Be warned: SPOILERS ahead!
Chapter 1 shows our protagonist being sent to a children’s asylum after witnessing the morbid murder of her parents. When she initially ran away from the gory scene of the crime with her cat, Mr. Midnight, only to collapse in a forest to be taken in by unknown parties, Mr. Midnight runs off. Upon investigation, you discover that you are being sent here not only against your will, but that your legal guardian, Aunt Grace, appears to have something to tell you.
From exploring the backdrop and observing the style of dress, this probably takes place around the ’50s or so, especially since the concept of institutionalizing people is no longer as widespread as it used to be back then. Fran Bow reminds me of the early Monkey Island games with its puzzles and simplicity. I found that I end up kicking myself when the solutions were right in front of me and I just spent too much time making things more complex than they really were.
A few matters explored in the game include sexual abuse and cutting, where one of the girls uses drawings as an escape. Additionally, the guard standing watch is also implied to be a pedophile as he tries to coax Fran to “give him a kiss” or “sit on his lap” in return for an item Fran needs. Thankfully, she pretty much tells him to shove a pineapple up his butt and there is no option to subject her to his predatory behavior, which is good, because we don’t really want to use a rape trope here.
If you continue to interact with him after exhausting all dialogue options, he says things like “why do you want me so badly” and “if you keep doing that, I won’t be able to resist myself”—a nod to victim blaming and rape culture.
After reading the reports attached to each child, it seems to me that most of them have been brought here to be silenced. However, it is still unknown if it’s just traditional adults who shun imagination or a higher, darker power known as “shadows.”
Early in the intro, Fran is shown to have reacted badly to a fictional medicine called Duotine, which causes her to see a lot of gore and violence in her surroundings. She is soon taken off the meds after she collapses, but over what seems to be three days of falling unconscious, her cat, Mr. Midnight, tells her to use the pills to find him.
The chapter is concluded with Fran escaping the asylum by running into a nearby hedge labyrinth, following a clockwork version of her pet cat and having to avoid “shadows,” which will insta-kill her. At this point in the game, one does question what is real and what are hallucinations. Are these “shadows” that some of the children speak of and seen by Fran actually real?
We see the lines of reality and fantasy being blurred in Chapter 2: Part I. Even when Fran is “off” the drugs, she can see creatures that we don’t see in reality. She meets an elderly ant with narcolepsy and his pet “beetlepig.” The ant is quite large—taller than our young protagonist. However, when she visits his house, it initially looks like a mildly pleasant anthill-inspired cottage. Taking Duotine while in the building reveals a large mound of ants infesting a dead body, which got me asking: are the effects of the medicine kicking in?
Previously, in the asylum, the Duotine’s effects were rather consistent: you see chunks of meat, organs, blood, chopped heads, disembodied animals, and fellow patients who appear to be accompanied by dark shadow monsters. Now, it seems that in certain areas of the outside world, things are blurring between realities. You are seeing unreal things even without Duotine. Perhaps what you see with the medication is the real world.
It quite reminds me of the dark comedy The Voices starring Ryan Reynolds. [Spoilers] His character is initially shown seeing the world as bright and Pleasantville-like, but when he finally complies and takes his prescriptions, he sees his home as disgusting with the filth of his pets all over. [/Spoilers]
In some ways, I can relate to the symptoms that can happen when beginning medicine and during/after the time it starts setting in. When I was on Epilim initially, it was terrible and I wanted nothing to do with it as it did not feel like it was helping me at all. Today, I am off of it after a suicide attempt and am taking Lithium. It’s been months now and I feel stable.
There is no doubt that Fran Bow is a world mixed with the supernatural as the shadows appear to be very important to its characters and the things around them. The final puzzle reveals that in order to proceed, you have to create a door to a sealed up while on Duotine. Fran is shown crawling in, then being taken by another unknown entity.
Boy oh boy, I have A LOT more to share about what happens after this fiasco! Review of Chapter 2: Part II and so forth to be continued.