Lost Words: Beyond the Page was originally a Stadia exclusive; but is now making its way to PC, Switch, and other consoles. Now players who didn’t buy into the Stadia hype have a chance to play this narrative-driven game.
Combining gameplay with story is a tenuous balancing act, that’s all the more precarious the more emotional the story is. Sometimes leaning into being a narrative game works (as with Root Film); but sometimes those who balance gameplay and ambitious narrative need to be more careful.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page takes the emotional story of a young girl processing grief and wraps it up in a casual puzzle platformer.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page
Developer: Sketchbook Games, Fourth State
Publisher: Modus Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia
Release Date: March 27th, 2020 (Google Stadia), April 6th, 2021 (Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Price: $14.99 USD
Author’s Note: Like all reviews of narrative heavy games, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers beyond about the halfway point of the game.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page follows the story and introspections of Isabelle Barbara Cooke (affectionately referred to as Izzy), a young girl living in the United Kingdom. After being given a journal, Izzy begins writing about her beloved grandmother, and has the idea in her head to write a story to show her.
Izzy’s story follows a young girl, whose name is variable depending on what traits the player selects for the protagonist (in my playthrough she was called Georgia). The heroine is the apprentice of the Firefly Guardian Elder Ava, and today is the day she becomes the Guardian herself after befriending a firefly.
The fireflies are host to primordial energy that protects the residents of her village, and perhaps serve some greater purpose in the world of Estoria. The heroine visits the shrine of the fireflies at an old tree and is accepted by them, becoming the new Guardian of the village.
However this peace and triumph don’t last, as the very night the heroine ascends to Guardianship, a dragon attacks the village, raining fire down from above. Worse yet, the dragon has set fire to the shrine of the fireflies, and scattered them all across Estoria.
The heroine takes it upon herself to track down the dragon and retrieve the fireflies, traveling across Estoria on a grand quest. Along the way she makes new friends, helps people, and encounters strange ancient beings.
The game takes place in two different types of stage. First are those when Izzy is journaling; these simply involve standing on the highlighted words, and sometimes collecting optional little asterisk marks that give additional commentary. There’s no risk of failure here, and nothing to miss. Sometimes puzzles are solved by dragging written words onto parts of the page; a task which is also present in the other stage.
The second type of stage is Estoria, the story of the heroine as it’s told in the pages of Izzy’s journal. These stages are longer, and in them the heroine can use the magic book of the Guardians to use “Word Magic”.
The heroine has a set list of words in her book; such as “Rise” which can life platforms, “Break” which can break obstacles. Some words are only available temporarily, like the “Silence” word to sneak up on easily scared flora.
The Estoria stages encourage exploration, as there’s 120 fireflies scattered around all the stages. More than a handful are directly in your path, but almost as many are tucked away in little alcoves and secret spots.
The stages in Lost Words: Beyond the Page aren’t difficult by any stretch of the imagination, and that’s OK. The game is a vehicle for the story the developers are trying to tell, and being too difficult or making loss too punishing would get in the way of that.
However, the fireflies exist to add a little extra challenge. Gathering them isn’t too hard, but it will make players more diligent and thoughtful when trying to collect them all.
Visually, the game leaves a lot to be desired in the form of its 3D models. The heroine’s hair is jagged, and some objects clip into each other in an unseemly way. Putting those issues aside, the rest of the game looks beautiful. It’s obvious detail was put into designing the environments and characters that the heroine meets along the way.
The animations also lack polish in a few places to be honest. There’s an all too common bug, where the heroine will kneel and just slide on the floor while kneeling when she’s meant to be crawling. Other times, she’ll get stuck on walls and do her falling animation when standing next to it.
One thing worth noting is that brightness can be an issue in some scenes. While there are explicitly dark sections that are illuminated with a Magic Word, those parts aren’t the problem; there’s at least two narrow tunnels that are virtually invisible due to how the background of the tunnel matches the stage around it.
The game also features artwork in the Journal stages which are meant to reflect Izzy’s doodles and memories as she writes about her feelings and grief. The cartoonish pictures suit the story and are cute to look at, whether it’s Izzy’s smiling grandmother, or a drawing of a hospital.
The soundtrack is even more beautiful than the aesthetics of the game, with sweeping and dramatic musical pieces that are perfectly paired with what’s happening in the story. Composed by David Housden (Thomas Was Alone) and performed by the Nashville Scoring Orchestra, the amount of emotion put into the soundtrack ties the game together. It wouldn’t be the same without it.
The game is also fully voiced with most of the story told by Izzy as she describes her thoughts and feelings in the journal, while narrating and speaking for the heroine of Estoria. The lines are told with great timing to emphasize the emotion in the storytelling.
Ultimately Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a heartfelt tale bound in the pages of a story, but its themes of family and kindness go beyond fiction.
Those looking for a platforming challenge will want to steer clear of the heavy narrative focus in Lost Words. Meanwhile, fans of visual novels will likely be able to overlook the lacking conventional gameplay and really appreciate the story and beauty of the game.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by Modus Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.