REVIEW: Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

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Forgotten Trace - ch1 | boxart
Title Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia – Chapter 1 Complete Edition*
Developer Almaz
Publisher Fruitbat Factory
Release Date Jun 24, 2020
Genre Visual Novel, Mystery
Platform PC
Age Rating All Ages **
Official Website
JP Website

*This Chapter is a complete collection of four episodes, initially released in Japan individually.

**This visual novel contains depictions of partial nudity and violence, as well as discussions of mild sexual themes, domestic violence, and self-harm. Recommended for mature audiences.

Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia is the first Chapter in an ongoing series of visual novels that will tell a tale of how a single person’s feelings can have the power to change destinies. A fantasy epic with world altering proportions, this visual novel is in actuality a surprisingly deep discussion of personal emotions. Young love, the struggle to find purpose in life, sadness and pain through tragedy, the salvation of a caring friend; the emotions felt through the moments of one’s life hold great significance. Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia illustrates this very truth, that our feelings may create ripples, touching and shaping others’ feelings, thinking, and even their very lives.

Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia serves as the prologue to a transcending saga of intertwined souls. Our hero, Kazuya Nanami, a once gifted high school student with dashed aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player, is thrust into a conflict of cosmic proportions. During the course of this Chapter, he will learn that he is no ordinary human, but a Northzaria, a being with a mysterious connection to the northern constellations. This relationship allots him an enigmatic power, as well as a connection with six other similar individuals who seek to take this power from him. And he must fight, for should he fail, dire consequences of universal proportions could ensue. Yet, Kazuya’s will is shattered into pieces. He has failed his friends, he has failed himself. His depression from his injury has trapped his mind in darkness; convinced him that he no longer has a path in life. For him to move forward, he must reconcile with the painful feelings within himself and rediscover the invaluable emotions he shares with those he holds most precious.

Forgotten Trace - ch1 | plot1

The overarching story of the Forgotten Trace series receives its grand introduction in this Chapter, setting up for what should be an ambitious and captivating saga. Its execution, this establishing of the foundation for this saga, however, is terribly flawed. Although I found this plotline intriguing, throughout most of my play, I was left confused as to what the Northzaria actually are and what made them so significant. From my understanding, they are supposedly beings born and reborn in a cycle of fateful conflict who are now destined to face off against one another again and for the final time. As to why, it’s never made clear beyond a desire for each individual to escape a predestined fate. They need the power of the other Northzaria to do so, however, how that power is wielded will affect the fate of creation itself. And, as to where they came from and how this all started in the first place, this is only alluded to, either through dream sequences or buried in filler exposition. There are elements of genuine depth here, but they are obscured, mainly due to the varying quality of the narrative.

The narrative is framed around the lives of a group of highschoolers, each with their own individual struggles. We’ll experience their emotions through their conflicts, their interactions with each other, and a touch of slice-of-life style. And the narration possesses several high points, which include quality dialogue and personality-building interactions between characters, as well as the play on perspective. Several of the main scenes will replay from different points of view and I found this to be one of my favorite aspects of the storytelling. To see how each character thinks, how they interpret what another says, how they are predicting the thinking or the feelings felt by another character, all of this I found to be incredibly immersive. I also appreciate just how impactful emotions are to the events that play out. Rather than simply saying what emotions are felt by whom, they are poignantly shown. Because emotions play such a vital role within the narrative, I appreciate how the characters’ emotions are conveyed through their actions.

Forgotten Trace - ch1 | plot2

This occurs towards the end of game and is still difficult to understand…

Unfortunately, the glimmers of brilliance the narrative possesses are very nearly buried by the sheer volume of text. Massive walls of exposition, attempts at humor taken to obnoxious extremes, and too many insignificant, mind numbing character interactions that lack the depth and detail to hold attention all plague the overall experience. Several times throughout the first three episodes I found myself struggling to pay attention as I dragged myself through scenes bloated with fluff text. Too much of it was just unnecessary, adding nothing to backstory, world building, or character development. I don’t mind extra text if it achieves something, but too often the filler here is of such a tangent, and again, more obnoxious than anything, that it ruins any immersion achieved. My desire for those hints of detail pertaining to the plot or the characters kept me going, but the fact that far more attention is spent on filler than these major story elements only resulted in my frustration. The only redeeming bright spot is episode four, the final act in this Chapter. If you can make it to this point, you won’t be disappointed, as the moods are palpable, we see character development at its best, and we get the best emotional immersion in the entire game. It’s unfortunate this level of quality isn’t consistent throughout the game, but the fourth episode almost makes the whole endeavor worth it.

As I said, what makes the fourth episode truly shine are its characters, yet overall, the characters and their development needed to be stronger. Our lead, Kazuya Nanami, is someone I find difficult to connect with. I understand his depression as he struggles after his injury, but I find myself not having genuine sympathy for him. I felt for him at first when learning of his prodigy level skill being stolen from him and his withdrawal from his friends afterwards. But I didn’t need to keep hearing about it over and over to the point of fatigue. And it’s not as if this loss of skill has resulted in the end of all hope. He’s still a highschooler who can forge a future. He isn’t suffering from poverty nor a severe lack of means and alternate opportunities. His dialogue does him zero favors as well, as he comes off sounding like a whiny, immature kid. In fact, two of the supporting cast are in tremendously worse situations with far darker backstories, which only makes Kazuya look worse. His problems and his degree of depression don’t even compare.

Forgotten Trace - ch1 | tone2

Several of the other cast members are just your typical character types for now, although it is alluded to that they will develop in later Chapters. For now, Miu is your overly positive ray of sunshine who is hiding a far darker side to her. Kei is your playboy without a care in the world, but who is again hiding something deeper and perhaps more sinister. Then there is Ibuki, Kazuya’s girlfriend, who has trauma and heartbreak in spades and who I expected to have her strength, friendship, or her ability to see joy through those struggles define her character. Instead, she is a frustratingly inept damsel in distress who fails to find the resolve to confront her weaknesses. There was an opportunity for a fantastic character arc here and I can only hope she receives the development her character needs to make that intended impact.

Despite the shortcomings of its cast, there is one brilliant character that is an absolute show stealer; Madoka Houjou. Her tragic backstory full of torment, emotional pain, and physical abuse, the psychological elements that remain in her present, the pains and struggles that will plague the rest of her life, and the utter hopelessness of her very being are all palpably heartrending. And yet, there is a fierce hope; a determination that cannot be stopped and which makes this individual all the more incredible. She single-handedly carries the fourth episode and establishes the groundwork for the upcoming Chapter. She is so well written that she will be the one character I will acutely remember, even giving me the hope and excitement to hold interest in the Forgotten Trace series. She alone made it worth the playthrough for me.

As Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia is your typical kinetic visual novel, there isn’t much to say about its gameplay. The few decisions available to make only show slight variations to scene text, but perhaps these choices will have more impact in future Chapters. The one aspect I do wish to applaud is the Dictionary. During some of the longer stretches of exposition, many new terms will be introduced and it can get overwhelming. Having access to that Dictionary at any time is quite helpful. I also like how certain terms will have different explanations or details depending on which character you select, as if viewing their personal thoughts on the subject. It’s a subtle, but noteworthy touch. I do admit, I would have liked to have had more detail for several terms, given the obscurity of the main plot. I suppose I’ll just have to wait for the story to continue.

Forgotten Trace - ch1 | dictionary

Lastly, I find the aesthetics of Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia the most robust aspect of this visual novel. The visuals are acceptable, bringing to life a group of characters that need all the help they can get. Their reactions to major plot points and to the behaviors of the other characters are clearly depicted to emphasize that emotional element of the narrative. Their designs are what you would expect from a group of highschoolers, thought I do wish there were more facial details, as they all tend to look a bit similar. What I am particularly impressed with are the individual story CGs, as they brought a wealth of vividness and life that the narrative struggles to do. Especially those CGs that depict raw feelings and the bitter consequences of one’s actions are poignantly moving. I wish there were more efforts like this throughout the game, as they are what make this visual novel truly memorable.

As for the sound score, I find this the most impressive feature of the aesthetics. Every piece of music is fantastic, bringing tone and palpable mood to their scenes. The emphasis they add to actions and emotions of the characters on-screen help bring that much needed immersion. Each tune not only matches perfectly with their scenes, but are themselves a joy to listen to. And the variety and number of tracks offered means you’ll never get tired of listening. The audio is truly remarkable, which makes my one complaint all the more obvious to me. In several scenes, the music doesn’t loop, leaving you in silence, even when silence does nothing to emphasize the scenes. Intentional or not, this comes off like a misstep. But other than that, the audio is near flawless and most enjoyable.

Forgotten Trace - ch1 | tone1

Deadly serious to super silly, you’re in for an emotional ride…

Even as I’m writing this, taking the game in its entirety, am I struggling with my feelings for Forgotten Trace – Thanatos in Nostalgia. It has its moments of pure brilliance, but they are buried under such striking flaws. I also cannot ignore Almaz’s development of this series, as this Chapter was originally completed and released back in 2015 in Japan, meaning it has taken five years to reach this point for Western audiences on top of the fact that little progress has been seen from Almaz since. And so I find it incredibly difficult to recommend this game, both as a stand-alone visual novel, as well as the series prologue it’s meant to be. This first Chapter will leave players with a sense of ambiguity due to the lack of closure and there has been little news coming from Almaz, leading me to believe that the continuation, let alone an eventual conclusion, to this series will not happen in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t fault Fruitbat Factory for bringing this visual novel to Western audiences, but given the fluctuating quality of the original product and the assumed length of time before we may see any continuation, this might be a hard pass for many. It’s truly unfortunate, as I, myself, am enticed enough, desiring to see the Forgotten Trace series to its next installment.

Review Score

Review copy provided by the publisher.

About Drew D.

Drew has been an avid gamer most of his life, favoring single-player campaigns. For him, a worthwhile game is one that immerses you; it envelops you and draws out an array of emotions that produce those memorable moments we live for as gamers.