Nothing’s scarier than waking at night to find your parents dismembered in their bedroom. For 10-year-old Fran Bow, the shock of the incident leaves her reeling, fleeing the scene of the crime with her kitty, Mr. Midnight, in hand. After finding herself in Oswald Asylum, Fran has to piece together what really happened to her parents, why she’s being haunted by a goat-faced demon, and how to escape from the asylum to reunite with her kitty.
Fran Bow is an independent point-and-click horror and puzzle game released on Steam from Killmonday Games. Killmonday, founded in 2012 by Natalia Figueroa and Isak Martinsson, is based in Stockholm, Sweden. I’d seen a Let’s Play on YouTube for the demo a while back, and while Let’s Plays are usually my go-to gaming route, I decided to treat myself to the full version.
Released in August, Fran Bow has amassed numerous of strong reviews praising its story, art style, and its way of dealing with mental disorders from a child’s prospective. With vague allusions to a creepy Wonderland-like world, I just had to play it.
The first thing that struck me was the art style. Largely two-dimensional, it’s colorful and texturally interesting. It reminded me of the works of Edward Gorey and John Tenniel. The animation is flawless and the little cut-scene images are adorable. Mini games between chapters offer stop-motion animated gameplay, flat puzzle games, and more. The character design and world-building are impressive and incredibly immersive, from the asylum’s grim and grimy interior to the outlandishly brilliant and detailed Ultrarealities Fran stumbles into.
Through most of the game, Fran has the option to take Duotine, the medication the asylum prescribed to her. The pill allows Fran to see a dark alternative to reality. In most cases, the Duotine reveals the terrible truth of what’s she facing. The asylum truly is one of the most disturbing parts of the gameplay, and if you’re squeamish, or have difficulties dealing with certain medical scenarios, I’d advise you to play with caution.
While the game is visually stunning, it was storyline that blew me away. Fran is a young girl, living in an asylum and dealing with PTSD and shock resulting from her parents’ death. Her interactions with the other patients and nurses are genuine and childlike, but every so often, Fran makes profound or disturbing observations about the world she now lives in. For example, many of the rooms in the asylum have clown paintings on the walls. Click one, and Fran makes a comment about “smiling clowns in the house of madness.” The writer’s ability to keep Fran innocent and observant impressed me more than I can say.
The story comes full circle, and though it wasn’t the ending I expected, it offered an interesting way to look at dealing with depression and other mental illness. Fran is encouraged to ask for help, to gather a support system who understands her feelings, and to acknowledge that how she feels is valid.
In terms of overall gameplay, it took me about six hours to complete. There are five chapters with different worlds to traverse, mini-games, and a couple of fun surprises. My favorite chapter was probably the one with the twins. Baking cakes AND exorcisms? Yes, please!
And yes, there is, somewhere in the game, an allusion to Alice and her Wonderland.
That being said, it does get a bit tedious clicking through the dialogue. There’s a lot of reading and choosing your answers, and sometimes the objectives in the puzzles aren’t clear. As for the price point, I’m a bit torn. The game is $14.99, and while it’s definitely worth it in terms of art and inventiveness, I almost feel like it could have been longer.
Is it worth it? Short answer: yes.
Killmonday Games doesn’t appear to be working on anything new at the moment, but they’re certainly a duo I want to keep my eye on. After their success with Fran Bow, I’m interested to see what they do next. Hopefully, it’s something just as wonderful and creepy.
Meghan Harker is a Horror writer for Girls in Capes. She’s currently working on her own Gothic novel and hosts the Courting Casualties podcast. When not writing, she’s either drawing, reading, hunting antiques, or lamenting that she wasn’t born in the 1800s. If you follow her on Twitter (@ExquisitelyOdd), you might get the chance to play Guess Who’s Dead!, her favorite post-mortem photography game (no one else likes to play.)