A jazz quartet in the dark forest
In the small narrative game The Forest Quartet by the Danish indie developer Mads & Friends, everything revolves around individual grief processing and dealing with the loss of a loved one. In the almost 90-minute puzzle adventure, a jazz band has to cope with the death of their singer and find each other again for a last concert to pay their last respects to the musician and friend.
This motif is not new to video games – indie titles such as What Remains of Edith Finch or the Zelda-like action-adventure Rime deal intensively with the loss of a loved one and the grieving that follows. In The Forest Quartet, I control the mind of the late jazz singer Nina through the thoughts of the other three band members and have to help them process it by solving little riddles.
Assistance in coping with grief
For example, I have to free bassist JB from his fears by activating lamps scattered in the forest in the right order and driving away shadowy creatures that are up to mischief among the gloomy trees. Or I help the pianist Kirk out of his crippling depression by arresting the decay of his surroundings, illustrated metaphorically by a fungal growth, which ties him to his house. For this I have to reactivate abstract devices in the forest, find elements and activate them with the voice of the singer.
Nina’s spirit can interact primarily through her voice and breathe life into devices. Individual passages require a certain timing, for example when I have to activate lamps in the hands of shadow creatures. In addition, she can also float to higher platforms at the push of a button, for example to pick up the necessary items there or to activate a switch.
Great atmosphere, mediocre game
The Forest Quartet is particularly convincing audiovisually – because Nina bathes the dark forest in a very attractive, warm light, which sometimes draws great panoramas and sceneries on the screen. The gentle soundtrack and clear effects underline this dense atmosphere. Unfortunately, this great strength of The Forest Quartet is not underlined playfully. Where Rime sometimes stages exciting puzzles, there is very seldom any real claim here.
Most of the tasks can be solved very quickly, even if there is an astonishing number of puzzle variants, ranging from switch puzzles to mini-puzzles, in just under an hour and a half of gameplay. Nevertheless, after the credits you unfortunately have the feeling that you have only completed the tutorial of a game. The important topic and its emotional implementation, which is given even more depth with podcast-like conversations between the band members, unfortunately cannot fully compensate for this weakness, which ultimately makes The Forest Quartet appear somewhat trivial. In terms of narrative, too, the adventure doesn’t offer much more than its basic theme and relies on the abstraction of the mourning forms of the individual characters. That is empathetic, but also not particularly versatile.