By Jason Quinn / November 9th, 2018
|Title||The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories
White Owls Inc.
|Publisher||Arc System Works|
|Release Date||October 12th, 2018|
|Platform||PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC|
|Age Rating||M for Mature|
The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is a puzzle platformer developed by White Owls Inc. and published by Arc System Works. The game starts out with the protagonist, J.J. Macfield and her friend Emily enjoying a nice camping trip on a nearby island. After a days enjoyment however, J.J. suddenly discovers Emily is missing and rushes to find her. She soon discovers that this island is rather strange, and Emily seems to be avoiding her. It’s now up to J.J. to solve this mystery.
As a fair warning, I’m going to be delving fully into spoilers with this game. The game starts with the phrase “This game was made with the belief that nobody is wrong for being who they are”. If this phrase resonates with you in any way, I highly recommend checking this game out first. That said, let’s get into it.
Throughout the game, J.J. traverses various environments and has to solve puzzles in order to progress. Injuring yourself in some way is the solution to these puzzles. For example, hurling yourself into a wrecking ball to launch yourself, or setting yourself on fire to burn down obstacles. Despite how rather horrifying and disturbing some of this can be, it’s not gratuitous. It serves a purpose, and ties into the theme of the game, but we’ll get into that in a bit. Fortunately for our protagonist, she can recover any injury she sustains, so long as her head is intact.
Before going deeper into the story, let’s discuss the mechanics a bit more. The controls are mostly fine, and though J.J. can be a bit slow, it suits what the game is doing. She’s struggling to make it through all of this, and that means she’s sometimes not too quick on her feet. Nothing in this game really requires fine precision though.
The puzzles are fairly clever, though some of the internal logic can be a bit weird. For some reason, being hit with a wrecking ball causes the world to flip upside down. Healing yourself results in the world becoming right side up again. Your body explodes if you jump from almost any height while you’re on fire. Weird rules like this are important to keep in mind. Some of the puzzles felt a bit too obtuse, but none felt unfair. Mess around with them enough, and you’ll come across the solution before long.
Chase sequences involving a giant knife-wielding monster are probably the most stressful parts of the game. You gotta be pretty quick to get away without it attacking you. Fortunately, J.J.’s ability to recover helps out with this and makes it a bit more bearable. Occasionally though some hands pop out of the ground, and if these grab you, you have to start the sequence over. The segments aren’t too long though, and there’s only a few throughout the game.
There are collectibles in the form of donuts. They’re scattered throughout each level, and usually require a bit of extra puzzle solving. You don’t need to get them, technically, but it’s worth your while. Throughout the game you can read text message conversations with J.J. and the people close to her. These just reveal more about J.J. and slowly shed light on what the game is actually about.
After specific points in the story, you can read conversations J.J. has had with her mom and Emily. These are the most important ones, but the conversations with her friends are good too. Each one of them is pretty interesting and reinforces the central theme. Getting certain amounts of donuts unlocks more conversations. If you want their full story, you’ll have to collect most of them. Fortunately, you can wait until new game+ to get them, as you’ll get some handy abilities that make it easier.
Having to hide who you are, or not being able to accept who you are causes very real pain, and that’s what the game is about. This comes through in various forms with the secondary characters. For example, your professor is a huge Star Wars nerd, and talks about having to keep it a secret from his peers. He also mentions that living in solitude, not being able to freely express who you really are, is torturous, and this is how the mechanics are tied into the game.
All the injuries J.J. sustains over the course of the game is a literal representation of the pain she endures. The player has to forcibly dismember themselves in various ways to progress through the game. This is the purpose of the gruesome nature of the game. If J.J. never cried out in pain, I don’t think a strong connection between her and the player can be made. You have to be able to empathize with her. If it makes you uncomfortable and disturbed, then I’d say it had its intended effect.
The final sequence of the game starts with J.J. finally catching up with Emily at a clock tower that they apparently went to as kids. During this visit, J.J. apparently divulged some secret to Emily and they made a promise with each other, though it’s not revealed what that exactly is. Trying to catch up with Emily, she sounds increasingly suicidal. When J.J. finally catches up with Emily, she discovers that Emily has taken her own life, and overcome with grief, she does the same. However, this isn’t the end.
The game very slowly hints at what’s going on with J.J., and eventually the player can put together the pieces that she’s trans. Unfortunately, she has to keep this hidden from her mother who does not seem willing to accept this, and even seems to keep it a secret from most of her peers at college. However, her mom eventually finds out after discovering girl’s clothes in her closet and reading her diary. After arranging an appointment with a psychiatrist to “fix” her, J.J. feels like she’s at the end of her rope. Feeling hopeless, she attempts to take her own life. This entire sequence on the island seems to be a final dream she’s having. It wasn’t Emily that was suicidal, it was herself. All of the denial she’s faced was personified by the monster that chased her throughout the game as well.
The finale ends with J.J. eventually reviving, and the player learns more about how truly alone she was. She eventually is able to confront the denial that has tormented her, and after coming to accept who she really is, the pain of denial no longer has any effect on her. In gameplay terms, this means J.J. now immediately recovers from any injuries, and there is a final confrontation with the giant monster. The sequence ends with J.J. defeating it, and finally waking up from her dream. She’s lying in the middle of a classroom with a paramedic at a her side, who presumably managed to save her life after she slit her wrists. J.J. now has the strength to accept who she really is. Maybe there will still be hardships, but it will probably be better than having to live secretly in torment for your whole life.
The MISSING does a fantastic job of turning the inner torment one endures when having to deny who they are into something very real and literal. It’s not subtle at all with its message in the best way possible. The game boldly proclaims its message and it’s better for it. Even though this game is primarily about a trans person coming to terms with who they are, it has an even broader message than just that. Having to deny yourself is painful, no matter who you are. This comes through in the text conversations with the other characters, who all deal with this in some way. As the director Hidetake Suehiro, or SWERY put it, he didn’t make this game for certain people. He made it for everyone, even himself.
If you haven’t played this game and read this review anyway, I still highly recommend playing this game if any aspect of this sounds compelling to you. I didn’t go over every little thing in the game, and it’s worth going through yourself. It only takes a few hours to play, and despite the somewhat steep price tag of $30, it’s well worth it. Judging it on the mechanics alone, it might seem underwhelming. But the way it ties all of its mechanics into the narrative and theme is fantastic, and the final sequence just knocks it out of the park, and had me in tears. Despite the odd direction in voice acting and the really lackluster visuals, its sincerity is what makes it compelling. It’s easily one of the more memorable games I’ve played this year, and it’s one I’m gonna be thinking about for awhile.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
Arc System WorksPCPS4Puzzle PlatformerswerySwitchThe MissingWhite Owls Inc.Xbox One