Fran Bow: Ithersta

I said that Fran Bow reminded me a little of Alice in Wonderland, but in chapter 3, it takes a sharp turn towards Oz. Fran has lost her horror pills, rendering the dark world inaccessible; instead, we find ourselves in the magical land of Ithersta, a brightly-lit, extremely whimsical fantasy world populated mainly by carrot people. Fran has been reunited with her cat by now, so, like Dorothy, her new goal is to return home. And to do this, she needs to enlist the aid of a Great Wizard.

Ithersta is a place of safety and healing. Fran reaches it simply by needing it to be there. When she arrives, she’s transformed into a tree, and unable to do anything for herself — you temporarily play as the cat until you can get tree-Fran to a healer, who at least restores her to humanoid shape, although she’s still made of wood and knows that this is a temporary form that she’ll have to abandon to become fully human again. This whole chapter is, to my mind, the most clearly metaphorical part of the game I’ve seen so far.

Since toggling between different worlds is a fundamental part of the game, we soon acquire a substitute for the pills: a clockwork device that lets us change the season. (“Time is just an infinite layered reality”, explain the locals.) Suddenly, we have four versions of every room instead of just two! There’s less of a contrast between them than there was with the pills, though, except perhaps in the Winter scenes, where snow covers the bright flowers and the rustic country market lies empty. This is the only time of year when the Great Wizard’s cave is accessible. It’s also the only time that the shadow creatures are seen in Ithersta.

So, for all the air of comfort, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still an edge to things, and it has a lot to do with forgetting. The Wizard himself has forgotten everything he knew, and needs you to fetch him things to help him remember. Elsewhere, an unreadable plaque is described as saying “what everyone learn[s] in the precise moment of birth. But we forget its meaning within the first seven minutes alive… So, we have to spend our entire life… trying to understand it.” And the theme of a great truth that needs to be discovered keeps coming up. The entire questionably-real, comparatively-paradisical environment is telling Fran that there’s something she’s forgotten, something important that she needs to know before she can wake up.

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