The 2D Puzzle-Platformer The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories starts with the phrase “This game was made with the belief that nobody is wrong for being what they are.” That is certainly an apt statement about not only the story but the game as a whole, and one that puts the theme of the game at the forefront. It also displays the greater freedom Director/Writer Hidetaka Suehiro (fondly known as Swery or Swery65) has after establishing his own studio, White Owls Inc. Very few games nowadays would be made with the themes this game pushes onto the player, and the developer has achieved this with care and creativity.
The game follows the character of J.J. Macfield as she sets off to have a camping trip with her best friend (and possibly lover) Emily. A sweet campfire scene plays out before a storm comes, and as J.J. awakens she comes to find Emily is missing, setting off to find her only to see a decaying, ragged gray monster chasing Emily deeper into the forest. Things only grow stranger from there, such as J.J.’s stuffed animal F.K. sending her text messages (along with many other characters never seen), a doctor with the head of a moose, and of course the main gameplay ability of the game, J.J.’s inability to die. Instead, in a genuine element that is important to the story and contains a morbid sense of humor, J.J. is able to mutilate herself in various ways (including rolling around as a head) so the player can solve puzzles to help progress through the story.
And the story is the single most important element of this game. The gaming medium as a whole can arguably be described as gameplay first, story second. Of course, there are games that can be debated as being the inverse, but largely that is the standard for the industry as a whole. The Missing is within that inverse, and as I said earlier, the game’s opening statement is a reflection upon that, as it wears its heart on its sleeve. Also, with its limited camera, the game chooses to tell its story primarily through text messages, with only a handful of cutscenes. The plot won’t be spoiled here, but it is both extremely oddball in its storytelling, and also incredibly resonant to our times and anyone who has ever truly questioned if they were happy with themselves for various reasons as J.J. not only seeks to find Emily but also to come to terms with who exactly she wants to be. All of this is done in surrealistic imagery and some surprising revelations.
And with that imagery in mind, it is no stretch to say this is one of the most beautiful games using the Unity Engine to date, even with the 2D camera space. There are some clipping issues here or there with J.J.’s legs going through the environment when falling on her back or jumping, but these moments are few and far between and rarely distracting. The game won’t stretch the graphical boundaries of any system it’s played on, but there are both very strange, disturbing, surreal, and beautiful images that are all extremely satisfying to see by the time the game has ended. Throughout is a bleak color palette for the majority of the game that contrasts beautifully with J.J’s striking red poncho and Emily’s vibrant blue dress. Also if a player really wanted to dig deep, there is a surprising depth of symbolism to not only the characters used in the game but the environments and monsters that grows more clear once completed.
That’s a lot of positives, and while it would be lovely to say The Missing is a perfect game for what it is trying to be, there are some small problems that could be pointed out, but nothing that removes it far from that goal post. It is very rare to actually obtain a “game over” but when doing so it will set the player back a large distance, which wouldn’t be so bad if J.J.’s movement wasn’t so incredibly slow. This isn’t something the player really notices until they are set back so far from where they were that they have to do everything they just completed over again, which at times can grow to be frustrating.
Overall, The Missing is a fantastic achievement in games that I will probably find myself revisiting from time to time and shows just how much of an art form the medium progresses to be, with a touching story that peels layers upon layers back about its main characters. The entire purpose for J.J. is to be comfortable with herself, and search for what makes her so special. Thankfully, her game doesn’t need to, because it already is.