The “are games art?” argument is essentially moot at this point, of course they are. I’ve played plenty of games I would consider art that go further than most to actually say something or make you feel a certain way. But it’s been a long time, if ever, that I’ve played a game which resonated so much with me, that I think not only should gamers play this, but everyone. I just never expected it would come from the guy who made Deadly Premonition.
In The MISSING, you play as the titular J.J. as she and her girlfriend (Maybe? It’s complicated) Emily go on a camping trip. J.J. wakes up in the middle of the night to find Emily missing and goes off to search for her. Shortly after, she is struck by lightning and discovers that she cannot die; if she loses a limb or breaks her neck, she can regenerate parts of her body at will. This is the game’s main gimmick: you have to use these new powers to solve puzzles and find Emily. Needless to say, it can get pretty gruesome, but thankfully all of the gore is censored with J.J. and her body parts becoming silhouettes once she’s injured. So while this is a horror game it’s still tolerable even for a coward such as myself, and this mechanic is integral to the game’s core message as well.
This unique method of puzzle solving can create some very interesting scenarios where oftentimes you can see exactly what you need to do, but the tricky part is figuring out how. For example, there’s a section where you enter a dark cave and the only way to illuminate it is by lighting yourself on fire. The problem is that the cave is filled small waterfalls that will put you out and big drops that will break your legs while the flames engulf you. So, you must find a route that will allow you to stay on fire, not break your legs, and leave you just intact enough to burn the brambles that block the exit.
While you injure yourself to solve puzzles, you can also find J.J.’s favorite doughnuts scattered about the island to collect. These unlock additional text threads on her phone for you to go through. While most of the plot is conveyed through texts from J.J.’s mother or Emily, you can get a lot more insight into J.J. and her friends through these collectables. I would recommend trying to get as many doughnuts as possible, as each of these plots are engrossing and trying to get the pastries provides an interesting additional challenge.
On Switch at least, the game isn’t the best in its technical performance, though it’s not the worst either. There are occasional frame rate dips and even points where the game hitches for a few seconds, but it never broke my immersion or made me stop wanting to play. Speaking of performance, the voice acting all sounds a bit off. While I thought this added to the creepy, surreal atmosphere I can see why many would find the game lacking in that department, while J.J.’s acting may sound uncanny at least her efforts and other various voice clips during gameplay sound believable.
As much as I want to talk about the plot here, almost anything I could say here would be a spoiler, and this is a story you want to go into knowing as little as possible. The great art makes you uncomfortable, and The MISSING definitely succeeds at that, but the best art does that while providing a hopeful message at its core. Through its themes of depression, self-harm, loneliness, bodily discomfort, The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories explores what it means to learn how to be yourself in a world that desperately doesn’t want you. It’s a message that is inspiringly hopeful, and something everyone should experience.
Don’t lie, we all know you have one: A monstrous backlog of games from sales past, gifts from friends we really should appreciate more, or even that impulse buy from that raging party last night. Whatever the reason, Gaming Trend has come up with a solution: Each week, we’ll cover a random game from one of our backlogs, go into it and see how we feel about it. Whether we only get a little into it or complete it, this column will act as a reminder that no game should ever be forgotten, no matter the quality. Check out last week’s column here, and stay tuned for more here on Gaming Trend.