If Found… – a rare & perplexing indie artwork

If Found... is a single-player visual novel developed by Dreamfeel and published by Annapurna Interactive in 2020. This adventure video game is available for Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, iOS, and macOS. The goal is to erase journal entries using the fingers or mouse cursor as a tool. The player goes through two intertwining stories, deciding the order they remove the journal elements and how fast they’ll do it.

The Dreamfeel founder, Llaura McGee, started working on If Found… designs in 2016, and she trusted her work to a small team of developers who took two years to finish the game. McGee used her personal experiences to create the most significant emotional arcs of the game, but other devs also contributed to the story. However, the rest of the scenarios aren’t autobiographical.

The creators wanted to make players feel emotionally connected to the game using particular mechanics and deliberate actions. Before finding inspiration for If Found…, McGee had solo projects, but she wanted to make this one team result.

She knew how to use everyone’s strengths to develop an impactful story where each detail is meaningful and contributes to the overall experience. As a transgender woman, McGee aspired to make a game that uses mesmerizing visuals to express emotional struggles.

The result was the combination of science fiction and magical realism that represents how it is to have your world fall apart through metaphors. Although not autobiographical, that speaks of the difficulties McGee experienced during the 90s and how her feelings were overwhelming.

She added her interest in the notebooks and marginalia to her desire to create a complex visual representation of people’s struggles and how they process them. However, McGee explained that the ultimate goal of If Found… is to show players why it’s more significant to express love for those around them than to understand them.

If Found… reached McGee’s objective, and it received nominations for two prestigious awards, but it also won three, including for Best Game Design. Moreover, the game encounters favorable reception. The critics praised the storytelling, artwork, and emotional expression of the game.

Many reviews described If Found… positively overwhelming and as the only game that spoke that genuinely to their experience of being transgender, causing a whirlwind of emotions. Others said that If found… feels like an examination of life. It’s no surprise that some critics call it the most brilliant game of 2020.

But is If Found… really that good is there something missing? Here’s what we thought about this visual novel.

Undoubtedly unique and memorable

As a combination of science fiction and emotional journals, If Found… follows stories of two women. The sci-fi chapters center around a space explorer Doctor Cassiopeia who travels to Planet X and discovers a black hole that is about to destroy the Earth due to an accelerating expansion.

Cassiopeia hopes to stop the black hole from destruction by examining it. Meanwhile, she receives helpful but mysterious messages from a source who calls himself Control. Dr. Cassiopeia soon discovers that she can travel to Earth using the wormholes the black hole creates.

However, Control reveals his identity and tells Cassiopeia that an image from the future created the black hole, sending a signal back in time.

On the other side, the journal chapters center around a transgender woman named Kasio. She completed her Master’s degree in Dublin and is going back to Achill Island, where she struggled in the past due to her father’s death and her mother and islanders not accepting Kasio’s identity.

There, she meets new friends, resulting in a series of determining events and, ultimately, Kasio’s near-death experience. Two sides of the story merge in the end, resulting in an epilogue that concludes the chapters and allow the player to decide how Kassio feels about these developments.

If Found… is unique and hides refreshing simplicity in its apparent complexity. An eraser is the only tool in this game, and it moves all the pieces throughout the story. When the player erases an image, a new one will appear, continuing the gameplay.

It starts with Cassiopeia approaching the black hole, where you can stay in space for eternity if you don’t erase the skies and stars. However, as you move through the story, your eraser will keep getting smaller. You’ll also notice its marks on the page as you keep erasing the elements.

All you have to do is to eliminate the memories to move forward through If Found. It’s how the story unfolds before your eyes. The other part of the game includes Kassio’s journal, starting on December 3, 1993. She’s reading it from the future, and your task is to erase the last 28 days of her life. But you don’t know at all why you’re doing it and what’s the big mystery.

The book tells these two stories simultaneously, although the journal part seems to be the principal element of the game. You don’t need to make any decisions, guide the protagonist, or judge their character. The goal is to erase every word and be a witness that ensures no one else can peek into their lives.

Moreover, If Found… continuously reminds you that everything has already happened and you can’t change it. Instead, you have to let go to move forward. Even though you’ll form a connection with Kassio’s story, family, and friends, you have to purge the good and the bad, hoping she makes it through.

If Found… Is a refreshment we didn’t even know we need

If Found is never overly explicit, nor it provides details. Instead, you’ll find your own meaning in the sketchbook drawings that you can resonate with and, perhaps, feel understood. But you’ll feel Kassio’s loneliness and suffering due to the harsh fact that her family doesn’t accept her.

Indeed, this visual novel is specific and speaks to the LGBTQ+ community. It’s set in the pivotal year when Ireland legalized same-sex sexual activities and decriminalized homosexuality. If Found might feel particularly comforting for those struggling to come out or had traumatic experiences due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet, everyone who feels the abyss of overwhelming loneliness could feel at home erasing the pages and skies in If Found. Whatever the scenario, this visual novel is not your usual gaming experience, but that’s what makes it perfect.

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