The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories Review (PS4)
I’d lose all my limbs to find Emily quickly.
Publisher: Arc System Works
As you can guess, this follows J.J. Macfield, a young college student, who sets out on a camping trip to Memoria Island with her friend Emily. We get a quick history on Memoria Island, on how it’s ancient inhabitants called it a “place to find the lost”, before we go skip to after J.J. and Emily already set up their tent and relaxing by the campfire. Looking up to the stars, laughing, and promising that they’llbe together forever. However, this camping trip isn’t going to end well. J.J. wakes up to Emily calling out to her in a distorted voice during a thunderstorm and when she fully wakes up, Emily is nowhere to be found. J.J. runs to the direction Emily went, as they did seem the camp against a mountain, and she comes across a weird monster attacking a copy of her before running after Emily. She eventually runs into a field of flowers before being struck by lightning herself. She pretty much dies here before a weird deer head guy comes along, sprouting some weird words (which he’ll pop up every so often in future levels), before J.J. regenerates. Being able to continue on her quest of finding Emily.
If you have any hopes in finding Emily, and finding out what the heck is happening here, you’ll have to solve some puzzles. Most levels you’ll get to will have you solve a puzzle or two whether it’s solving how to navigate through the area while others ask you to figure out how you’ll open up the way to the exit. There are stones you can certainly throw to bring something down, J.J. can jump with her long legs to pass through gaps, she can crouch/crawl when needed to go under dangerous spikes or low areas, and she can speak to try and call out to Emily (or really anyone) to cause owls to wake up and fly away. But, the main way she’ll be solving puzzles is by mutilating herself. She won’t be cutting off her limbs herself, no, but by walking into hazards like spikes instead. You can throw your dismembered arm/leg and even go all the way down to a head if something needs to be weighed down or if there’s a really tight opening you want to get through. And often times you’ll have to set yourself on fire to transfer it to flammmable vines or cause a concussion (along with some broken bones) to cause the world to be turned upside down. And depending on her body, there’s also a cool feature where J.J.’s way of holding herself and how she walks is dependent on her injuries. Though not so cool are how you can hear her bones just cracking as you walk, her scream as she burns alive, or the sound of her setting her bones back in place. At least she can regenerate fairly quickly (and we don’t see any of the gruesome stuff as the camera is pulled back enough and her model is turned into a silhouette.
Anyway, the puzzles presented are pretty clever and satisfying to figure out. There is some clunkiness here with controlling J.J., and the fact that her speak button is tied to her interaction button gets in the way, but I really liked the puzzles here. The checkpoints also doesn’t seem to be too bad (at least most of the time when I died), but there are certainly a couple points where you’re put at the beginning of the level and before cutscenes/times where you receive texts, which you can’t skip.
There is also that weird monster that you saw at the beginning that will make some appearances as well. Dubbed as the Hairshrieker, she’ll chase you until she either kills you fully or you fall into the various hands that pop up wherever she walks and in pits that J.J. can easily fall down into. Don’t worry about getting hit, as it’s often preferable so she propels your body parts, as you can quickly regenerate and continue on. J.J, can escape if she’s quick enough though!
While there are occasional bouts of Emily towards the end, the majority of the story is told through text messages that were sent before the start of the game. There are three contacts that are directly tied to your progression as more messages will come in as you progress through the game. You’ll be able to read messages from Emily, your Mom (though it seems the intended order is to read the messages from Emily first than your Mom so keep that in mind), and your plushie FK who can weirdly text you now. Which is probably due to J.J. holding FK while she got stuck by lightning, but J.J. isn’t at all warm to him.
You may have also notice four other contacts that are empty. Weird for sure, as contacts don’t usually show up in your messages if they haven’t sent anything to you yet. Well, this is actually tied to a collectible. As you’re solving the various puzzles and traveling to the next area, you might have noticed some donuts floating around or seeing them hidden in a place that you can’t easily get to. J.J. is seemingly obsessed with donuts, specifically from the local Sleepy Donuts, so of course she’ll want to eat some on the way. There are even standees of the mascot that will give you a box of donuts for finding him. Collecting these will unlock the optional texts from J.J.’s other contacts, which gives you more insight on J.J. and the people she interacts with. It will also grant you some concept art and some cheats. And by cheats, it means alternate costumes in the form of altering the color scheme of J.J.’s attire.
Though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wished the storytelling wasn’t mostly relied on you reading text messages.
After you do complete the game, a couple of things are unlocked. Of course, you can go through the game again to get the missing donuts as each level has a running count on the select screen, but you’ll also find that there is a new collectible where you’ll be finding FK to unlock some more texts. More cheats option will also unlock, with most of them falling more in line with cheats to make finding and getting to the missing donuts quicker like increasing J.J.’s speed or forcing a dismemberment/injury.
While there are some points where it can be frustrating (well, mainly the two sections where you use yourself on fire as a light and being extinguished means not being able to make it back to what caught you on fire), the concept The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories brings to the table was very interesting. The twist was also handled really well and was pretty heartwarming, especially with the rough path J.J. had to take to get there. I’d say if you like puzzle games and the thought of having to mutilate yourself to continue sounds interesting, and you don’t mind some clunkiness and the text being small, check this out. There’s even a demo available if you’re not too sure that features, I believe, three levels.
Though, I’d maybe get this when it’s around $15. The premise is certainly interesting, and was the main reason why I picked it up, but I would say $30 is a tad bit too expensive.