I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the first things that drew me to Lost Words: Beyond the Page was Rhianna Pratchett. If that last name looks familiar to you, you’d be right in recognizing it. Like many fantasy nerds, I was a big fan of her father, Terry Pratchett’s work. It wasn’t until doing some further research into Rhianna’s writing portfolio that I realized she’s actually a badass video game writer, that has worked on some of my favorite games in recent memory like Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite. With that in mind, I was ready to take the leap and jump into Lost Words: Beyond the Page’s gameplay, but what I wasn’t ready for was the rollercoaster of emotions Rhianna and the team had set up for me.
It’s incredibly difficult to know where to start when talking about Lost Words: Beyond the Page, because I just want to grab the nearest person, shake them silly, and tell them to play this game so they can experience its incredible story on their own. Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a shorter title that took me about 4.5 hours to complete, but it’s the kind of game that stays in your heart for far longer after that.
We follow the journey of Izzy as she confides in her Journal about life and the struggles that come with starting your own story. As her daily life unfolds, you control a charming illustration that moves around the pages and climbs on top of words and sentences like a 2D platformer. I opted to play with my controller which made things feel pretty seamless! Through this narrative view, we come to learn that Izzy is a very young aspiring writer, and spends a lot of time with her grandmother, Gran Gran. Gran Gran is always excited and supportive of Izzy, and is fairly fond of giving her wise words of advice like “Write what you know” and “A writer writes.”
Surprising Choices in Izzy’s Story
With this relationship established, Izzy begins to sift through the kind of story she’d like to tell, and as the player, you have some autonomy in what she writes. Three options appear regularly for choices throughout the game that determine some slight changes as to how your story will play out. For example, when Izzy is describing the color of the heroine’s cloak, you get to pick which color you’d like, and that determines your character’s appearance! This inclusion was a surprising but always welcome sight whenever it popped up. I thoroughly enjoyed having a say in guiding Izzy’s hand, and frequently agonized over what choices I should make. It’s not that there was necessarily ever a wrong choice, but I felt very attached to my heroine, Robyn, and truly wanted to write a rewarding journey for her.
Izzy’s story soon starts to take shape, and our character, Robyn, has the classic hero’s journey thrust upon her. As the new Guardian of the Fireflies, she will have to travel through this world of Estoria, tracking down the frightful dragon that set fire to her village in order to bring back the fireflies that previously protected it. The previous guardian, Elder Ava (a noticeably grandmother-like figure in Robyn’s life) bestows upon Robyn an ancient book with “word magic” that allows her to manipulate the world around her.
With this, we’ll begin to pull certain words from the story Izzy is telling us, store them in the book, and use them to overcome obstacles ahead of Robyn. For instance, you can cast the word “rise” on platforms with blue, glowing runes to reach higher places, or cast “break” on stubborn blocks that block her way. Along the way, you’ll need to help Robyn keep an eye out for the fireflies that hide in some clever nooks and crannies.
The magic mechanics are simple enough to understand and use right out of the village gate. Everything you can interact with glows gently with those blue runes to indicate that you can interact with them, and it’s fairly easy to figure out which one you’ll need to use. If you do happen to get stuck, you can just try each one. There isn’t any resource management or consequence to proceeding this way, and there typically isn’t any rush to overcome obstacles.
Everything is very casual and easygoing, letting the mechanics speak for themselves and lend their aid to furthering the story that Izzy wishes to write about Robyn. I did find myself wishing things could have been just slightly more challenging, or that I could have felt a little more danger, but everything was a rather enjoyable experience and made sense for the story that was being told.
Slowly but surely, the lines begin to blur between fiction and reality. Izzy’s pages become stained with tears, and her world begins to lose color. The story she tells reflects these changes in the challenges that she faces and how her main character interacts with those around her. We see our heroine falter, and at some points give up hope.
It would be an absolute disservice to the game and its creators to say that the “real gameplay” strictly revolves around Robyn journeying through Estoria. Izzy’s story, her real story, weaves effortlessly between her real, and fictional world, and we’re there to see it all unfold together alongside her.
We see Izzy go through periods of complete wonder and joy, as well as denial, guilt, depression, and regret, and my heart never stopped breaking for her until the very end. Seeing the pure joy that undoubtedly lit up her features in the face of adversity, reminded me so much of a smaller Emily, cooped up in her room writing stories on her little Mac computer, and one day waking up to find her world forever changed.
I remember feeling the same as Izzy, sitting in the hospital, feeling useless and lost, but still clinging on to the hope that everything was going to get better. I remember that numbness and pain that eventually settled into my stomach when I learned that there was no more hope left, and how I kept waking up expecting my dad to still be here. To say that Izzy’s character resonated deeply with me is a gross understatement. Knowing her own writer’s background and how beautifully the subject of grief and loss was approached, I can’t help but wonder if Rhianna felt like this once, too.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been moved to tears by a game’s story. I know this review is supposed to critique the mechanics just as much as the story, but as an atmospheric adventure narrative game, the story is what holds Lost Words: Beyond the Page together just as much as the mechanics. The graphics are absolutely stunning, with vibrant colors and moody scenes that brilliantly reflect the shift in tone as Izzy’s story gets more and more serious.
The musical score was magnificent as well, perfectly underscoring both Izzy and Robyn’s journey every step of the way. David Housden did an incredible job with composing the music for Lost Words Beyond the Page, and while I might not have known about his work before- he has definitely gained a fan follower after this. David, I might have to use some of your work in my own personal D&D games to pull at the heartstrings of my players. I know your music certainly tugged at mine.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page isn’t just another narrative game – it’s an experience. It’s a combination of some of the best work I’ve seen in a long time from graphics, to music, to its story and memorable characters (Lump! </3), that’s so intricately woven together you’ll forget that any of those pieces could exist separately from one another. Each part is just so good and mixes together to create a perfect cocktail of hope, sadness, and reflection that you can’t swallow without a pint of ice cream to help drown your tears. Would I recommend that you give this game a try? I think by now, you should know the answer to that. Absolutely. One-hundred times over-yes. Look for Lost Words: Beyond the Page to release on PC (Steam), PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on April 6th, 2021.
A Steam key was provided for the purpose of this review.