Before I Forget Review
Discovery, Rediscovery, and Undiscovery
It is difficult to properly convey the struggles of mental illness through media—be it games, movies, books, or otherwise. There is a delicate balance to be struck between portraying these very real struggles as relatable and sincere. If the balance is off, it can be tough for audiences to truly empathize with the story. If it isn’t relatable, they may believe it is an exaggeration of what people really go through (especially if they have never encountered it themselves), and if it doesn’t come across as sincere then it may be perceived as pandering. Before I Forget is a rare example of perfectly executing on this balance, and sharing a sincere, relatable story about mental illness.
Real life isn’t always black & white
Dementia is, put simply, a waking nightmare. For those who have to endure it, it is exhausting and existentially confusing. For those actively supporting anyone suffering with it, it is painful to see someone you care for struggling so deeply. I have been among the latter, and can wholeheartedly attest to the pain of watching someone you’ve known your whole life slowly lose sight of both who and where they are. It is easy to feel despair when in these situations, however something which I appreciate about Before I Forget is the fact that – despite the subject matter – it is not a dour game. In fact, its story is one brimming with hope.
The game was brought to life by Three Fold Games, which is primarily a two-person team composed of Chella Ramanan and Claire Morwood out of England. They clearly put a lot of heart and soul into the creation of Before I Forget, and it shows. For ensuring authenticity, they consulted with mental health professionals (psychiatrists Dr. Donald Servant & Dr. David Codling), and released the game alongside the Alzheimer’s Research UK charity. There’s a lot of care, thought, and passion visible in every aspect of the game, and that effort certainly doesn’t go unappreciated.
The format of the game is essentially that of a “walking simulator” (not unlike Gone Home, Edith Finch, The Unfinished Swan, or Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture). You experience the world through the eyes of Sunita, an older Indian woman who is living in her home in the UK. Suni is a notably brilliant woman, one with many accolades to her name in scientific fields, and clearly beloved among her friends and family. You enter the game to a drab, mostly monotone world wherein you join Suni in adding colour & detail to the world around her. As you inspect items, they regain details and dynamically change the room around them. It is an effective motif, and one which feels satisfying every time you experience it.
Sometimes these interactions will be a short story from a memory where Suni (voiced by Anjali Kunapaneni) interacts with any number of people in a variety of situations. Sometimes it will be recent, other times it will be from her youth, and everywhere in between. As you continue down the path, you’ll note that when exiting these short stories you won’t always be in the room you started in. It might be nighttime now when it was certainly daytime when you started it. Wait, how many days has it been? Huh.. I don’t remember the lights being off. Were there always these notes in the corner? Is this the first time we’ve been through this content?
Let the colour wash over you
Subversion is a core mechanic in Before I Forget, and it is an important one. It is what so clearly and effectively conveys the real-world consequences of the condition Suni battles every day. While we are finding all of these items, notes, and stories for the first time as a player, it feels like it’s Suni’s first time too. However, the further we get, the clearer it becomes that these moments of discovery aren’t the first time Suni has encountered them. By taking control of the character and having agency of the character, we are given a sense of combined discovery, rediscovery, and undiscovery. It is not the first time Suni has seen all of this, and it is likely not going to be the last—It just happens to be where we, the player, happened to gain a window into her life.
It is easy to Empathize with Suni and her story, and there are a number of scenes which effectively convey exactly what the authors intended for you to feel. The thing is, as was mentioned with the “balance” near the start of this review, it feels even-handed through and through. Nothing ever feels didactic, and the whole experience comes across as a personable, believable, single-sitting story.
The experience is not a long one, it will only take you a little over an hour to get through; but the short playtime feels like a deliberate choice from the creators, every moment feels curated. The world of the game feels lived-in and carefully considered, with much lore surrounding each interaction. There are likely many other stories from Suni’s life which could be told, but the ones we experience in the game are the ones which carry us through the story being told. Said another way, Before I Forget never overstays its welcome, and has absolutely zero filler.
There is also a DLC for the game, however it is wholly unrelated to the story of the core game. It is a radio play called The Garden written by (and starring) Chella Ramanan. It is a fun, pulpy listen which left me smiling by the end. If you are a fan of short stories delivered with good acting and a compelling/weird mystery, it is also worth giving a shot.
Sincerity carries a lot of weight in games, and I can’t think of many games who come across as more sincere than Before I Forget. While it isn’t perfect in execution, it is doing a lot with a little and carries more weight than one would expect from first glance. It is cathartic, moving, hopeful, witty, and affecting all wrapped up in a relatively short experience. It is a game I have no problem recommending, and one I won’t soon forget.
To hear us discuss Before I Forget, check out Episode 130 of Gaming Fyx!
- A mature, sincere, hopeful approach to Dementia
- Beautifully written & acted dialogue
- Reading the written piano music along to the game’s audio
- Occasionally ran into some triggers needing a few interactions to trigger
- Random sound bugs (emitter coming from wrong area, etc)