• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

A simple game about what it takes to have a friend.

Hello everyone! As of the time this review was written, I have not yet made a review video on my youtube channel. I will update once it is released, but in the meantime feel free to check out my playthrough in order to see some of the gameplay!

This game does have several twists and turns, so there may be a lot of information hidden behind spoiler tags. I will do my best to include as many details as possible outside of them, but please bear with me. I’d hate to ruin the fun for someone else!

✧─── ・ 。゚★: *.✦ .* :★. ───✧

If you don’t care about how I calculated my rating and want to get to the meat of the review, skip down until you see the next text divider!

Five categories were taken into consideration which were then averaged into the final score. I will give a brief explanation as to what the categories are before we get into the meat of the review. This should give you an idea as to what factored into the score, etc.

Concept
This category covers the overarching theme of the game. Here are some questions I ask myself when scoring this category: What is the game trying to accomplish? Does it effectively convey that? Is the theme relevant and/or relatable to the average player? Is this an original idea?

Art
This category covers the visuals. To get a high score, I do not consider the visuals to necessarily be professional. I am mostly looking for stylistic choices and if they contribute to the game in any meaningful way. Here are some questions I ask myself when scoring this category: Do the visuals match the game atmosphere? Does the art contribute anything meaningful to gameplay? Is there any sort of symbolism/meaning hidden within the art? Is the art visual pleasing (easy on the eyes, at minimum)?

Gameplay

This category relates to the technical aspects of the game. It is less how “fun” the game is and more of whether or not the game properly functions. Here are some questions I ask myself when scoring this category: Did I notice any bugs? Were there any typos? Are the gameplay mechanics easy to use? Is the difficulty consistent?

Characters
This category is all about character development and design. Characters, especially the main one, can make or break a game. Here are some questions I ask myself when scoring this category: Are the character’s personalities dull? Are the character designs original? Do the character designs contribute meaningfully to the plot? Can I see any sort of character development throughout the game? If I removed the characters from the context of the game, would they be interesting?

Story

This category revolves around the plot of the game as well as the progression within it. The concept category is more of “what is the game trying to achieve?” whereas this category revolves more around how well it is conveyed. Here are some questions I ask myself when scoring this category: Are there major plot holes? Is there any “filler” material within the game? Does the game have smooth plot progression? Does the game meaningfully convey the concept that it set out to portray? Is the storyline consistent, or does it hop around?

✧─── ・ 。゚★: *.✦ .* :★. ───✧

Rating: 4/10 (approximately 2*)
Game Length: ~3:30

Background:

Hailey is a young girl, presumably of middle/high school age. When her mother threatens to turn off the internet, she is forced to leave the house which leads her to meet a strange boy clad in red. Before she realizes it, it seems they are the only two people in existence. Upon returning home, she realizes that she has been whisked away to a strange world that could only exist within the imagination.

Concept: 4/10
Imaginary friends is a game about friendship, as one may have guessed based upon the title. More specifically than that, it is about making them. Hailey is a young girl who seemingly has no friends, and is constantly tormented by her social isolation. She truly believes that no one wants her around, and therefore she removes herself from all social interactions.

Throughout the game you are met with several environmental stimuli telling our main character that she deserves to be alone, she did this to herself, etc. This especially begins when you first see the posters in the grocery store change from displaying the word “sale” to “alone”.

Throughout your journey, you meet a younger boy named Oliver who tags along with you for a good portion of the game. You are consistently given dialogue prompts that allow you to either befriend him or push him away, both of which have an effect on the ending you receive.

**spoilers**
On my first playthrough of the game, I received the “new friends” ending. I did not make up with Oliver, however Hailey had a change of heart and decided to befriend Johanna (a girl in her class). Overall I thought the message was really nice. You can’t expect people to approach you first. Sometimes you have to do the dirty work and make the first move in order to form a relationship with someone else.


The game was also good in pointing out the fact that a friendship goes both ways. If one party is not putting in the effort, then things will completely collapse.

Though the concept was good, the execution was flawed in a few ways. I am the kind of player who loves to theorize as I am playing a game. I love to read between the lines, try to guess what is going to happen next, etc. There were so many moments where I had wild expectations as to where the game was going, but honestly I think it fell a bit short.

Most of the “meaning” of the game was touched upon purely in the last five minutes of gameplay through the use of a lengthy cutscene. If I’m being completely honest, I was caught off guard. Some of the plot felt like it came out of left field, and it left me feeling a little weird about the game. I understand how the game could have lead up to the big reveal, however I feel like it could have been more smoothly integrated.

The game almost felt like two separate concepts mashed into one, and neither meshed very well. The inconsistency was a bit of a turn off in the long run, and left me feeling a bit unsatisfied when the credits rolled.

**spoiler**
Oliver was a consistent character in the game, and it was very easy to tell he was an imaginary friend. I had basically pinned down his entire character + relationship with Hailey only a few minutes until meeting the character. When I saw the statue of them together, I instantly realized he was an imaginary friend and they were in an imaginary world Hailey had once created for them to play inside. I tend to be very good at guessing plot twists, so this wasn’t the problem.

Once you get to the school, I also vaguely guessed the next progression of events. I assumed the reason he didn’t want us to go into the school was because we would find something incriminating that would in turn reveal he was not all he said he was. It’s a fairly obvious twist for these sorts of games, but I always enjoy them.

When entering the school, the first thing I saw was the note Hailey wrote to her older self mentioning Alex. Once again, I was able to guess the plot on my first try. Again, this isn’t a deal breaker for me. I’m pretty good at picking up on hidden clues, and sometimes games still surprise me despite that. The real issue began when I realized the change in concept/plot.

Suddenly we were focused on Alex. I knew she was the reason Hailey had forgotten about Oliver, and I assumed that finding out more of her would strengthen our understanding of Oliver as a character. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The concept entirely shifted to Alex, and it felt as if Oliver (who had been a huge plot point for the previous duration of the game) was an afterthought.

The final cutscene was even worse. Suddenly Alex… appears? And the game is about friends drifting apart and then having trouble moving on? Hailey did forget about Oliver, but she never forgot about Alex. In fact, it was the opposite. Hailey spent so much time lamenting the loss of her best friend that she never bothered to make new ones. Though these ideas are similar, the combining of the two was not very smooth. This change in pace was a mental whiplash for me, and I will probably try to play another ending in order to hopefully gain a better grasp at what the creator of the game was aiming to accomplish.


Overall the concepts were good, but the execution was clunky and convoluted. If the creator had stuck to one streamlined idea, things would have gone much better. The second storyline was introduced too late into the game to truly mesh with the rest of it. Although the two plots could have gone hand in hand, the lack of early game preparation really took away from the potential of a big reveal. The game ended with more confusion than understanding.

Art: 6/10
The art was pretty average, although I did enjoy the small details that were in some scenes. For example, when the grocery store posters changed from “sale” to “alone” when everyone disappeared. It was a subtle, but nice touch.

The level designs were rather basic, and a bit Mary Sue. Obviously making an indie game is a lot of work, and you can’t expect stunning graphic design and visuals in every scene. Many games on this platform are made with love by small teams, sometimes even a single person. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I would much rather the time be poured into gameplay than random visuals, although they are definitely a bonus.

One thing I did notice while playing was a parallel between a classic Japanese rpg— ib. I could tell that portions of the story were inspired by this game, but I saw a lot of the inspiration in the art as well. The childish drawings that you could walk through were very reminiscent of the final stage of Ib. (If you haven’t played the game, please do so. It’s one of my all time favorites as well as a must play for me.) Seeing what seemed to be inspiration from one of my all time favorite games was very heartwarming. Plus, walking through a child’s drawing seems pretty on par for a game about imaginary friends and childhood.


Gameplay:3/10
The main reason I am knocking gameplay down to a four is because of how confused I was left by game mechanics. This was not a one time situation, but more of a consistent issue. I will go over the problems I had one by one below.

Inventory Mechanics:
Imaginary friends provides an inventory system where you can collect and store everything you find throughout your journey. Most rpgs have this same system, and they are pretty consistent in how they function. When you have an item you want to use you would traditionally open your inventory and select it, then it would prompt an action or dialogue. In this game, that was not the case. The inventory system served almost no purpose, as there was not a single moment where I could utilize the items directly from that menu. I suppose it did let me see what I was currently holding, but for a game in which every item is story based it seemed a bit arbitrary.

At multiple stages in the game, I would pick up an item and instantly say to myself “I need to do __ using this.” I would go to the necessary area and try to select the item from my menu, but I would not have the ability to select the item I wanted. Because of this, I would assume the game was telling me I could not do what I had planned. For the next ten minutes I would wander around in pure confusion, interacting with every object in an attempt to find what I was supposed to do. I am not new to puzzle games, so I understand this is a normal part of figuring things out. The frustrating part however was the fact that my initial instinct was right. Every. Single. Time.

After several minutes of aimless wandering, I’d meander back to my starting point and interact with the object normally and suddenly be promoted with new dialogue and/or an event. The first case of this happening

**spoiler**
Was when I was supposed to break the tv with the sledgehammer. Besides writing reviews/making review videos, I also post gameplay on YouTube. Several of my videos have cuts from where I was wandering around trying to figure out what to do. It was definitely annoying, but not entirely game breaking.


After the first time this happened, I should’ve learned my lesson. I knew the inventory was useless, but I still tried to use it every time. A good 20 minutes or more was probably lost to my endless wandering. This issue was partially user error, I’ll admit that. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I was confused the first time, however.

Cohesiveness:

The game flow was… confusing. Many parts of the gameplay felt completely meaningless and unnecessary. Sometimes I felt as if the tasks I were completing had absolutely no effect on the story. There is nothing wrong with a few filler pieces to help the story transition smoothly, but there was way too much fluff for me to completely excuse it.

I understand that many people have expectations as to what a game length should/should not be, and I think that can have a massive impact on the quality of a game. In this case, it sometimes felt as if the creator was stretching things out to give the illusion of a “full” game. If a game’s story and core gameplay can be effectively conveyed within one hours, make the game one hour. If it needs 3 hours, take three hours! There is no shame, especially in the world of indie. Out of the ~3.5 hours it took me to complete the game, I feel like only maybe ~1.5 was necessary. That’s obviously a rough estimate, but it still goes to show how much filler there was.

**spoilers**
The entire first stage of the game (directly after Hailey found out she was not actually in her house, when she was in a dollhouse or something) felt completely unnecessary. I kept waiting for some sort of tie in, but there never was one. I’m not sure what the significance of this area was, but I feel like if it had been cut from the game entirely nothing would change.

The second stage in the forest/drawing probably could have also been removed without issue also, but it at least had some tie in with the rest of the game. The static figure was an ode to Oliver’s future appearance and his role in the entire game, although everything else seemed a bit trivial.


The gameplay was also very inconsistent throughout the different stages of the game. Rather than each area flowing together to create a bigger picture, they each felt like a different game entirely. The intensity of puzzles and difficulty varied drastically between stages which led to a lot of fragmentation beyond the wildly differing aesthetics.

Overuse of "Game Over":
The game had a lot… and I mean a lot… of game overs. Many were for very inconsequential things, which felt a little frustrating at times. I have already talked about the game’s potential inspiration from ib, but I think it pulled a lot from the witch’s house as well. This is another classic and very well known horror rpg, so it’s not too unrealistic to assume the puzzles and game overs were loosely inspired by it. The Witch’s House is famous for the sheer amount of deaths it has, and that everything can/will kill you. Imaginary friends used this trope frequently, but it sometimes felt a bit awkward.

**spoiler**
The main example I can think of is in the red house during the second (child’s drawing) area. Inside, there was a bowl of candy on the table which I proceeded to take a piece out of. This led to a game over where Hailey’s mother presumably killed her? For taking a piece of candy? I understand the game is supposed to be horror, but that dialogue didn’t feel quite right. It seemed a little unattractive and like it didn’t really fit in atmospherically. There was no significance or reason for any of this happening, and it didn’t really make sense when it came to placement.


Relevance:
Another huge issue for me was the fact that not every puzzle had significance. I’ve already discussed the fact that the entire first gameplay stage seemed irrelevant to the plot, but this point goes beyond that. In the last area (the school), there were multiple puzzles that I never even finished. In fact, the game ended before I even had a chance to figure out how to solve them.

Puzzles are one of my favorite aspects of these types of games, and it sucked seeing so many puzzles and yet having the game closed on me before I’d completed. I will probably go back to a previous save and try to solve them, but that is just because I’m curious as to what they were even for. Off the top of my head, these were the things I didn’t complete in the last stage:

**spoilers**
The hangman riddle, the classroom where you set crayons on the desk, the safe with two locks


There could be more, those are just the ones I am aware of. I’m sure they are integral to a different ending in some way, but the ability to blissfully ignore a huge chunk of gameplay is unappealing to me. I like everything to have meaning, but that is just me. Some people might not mind nearly as much, and that’s totally okay.

I enjoyed playing the game a lot, but unfortunately enjoyment is not the only deciding factor in a game. Gameplay issues can add up fast, especially when there are so many. I was originally going to rate gameplay a 4/10, but after listing out and voicing my different issues I realized that I was still being a bit too gracious.

Characters: 4/10
Our protagonist is a young girl named Hailey which I’m sure everyone can relate to in some way. She doesn’t seem to have any friends, and instead spends her time locked inside her room on the computer. I can say with complete certainty that at her age I was behaving the same way.

As for Oliver, he’s a very mysterious character. Obviously this is in order to preserve the plot twist towards the end of the game, but even then I don’t think it was preserved that well. I instantly knew his role in the game from the moment we met him. I didn’t feel like there was much development in his character, and it felt rather bland. Every interaction regarding his past or memories was met with “I forgot”, which felt like more of a cop out than mysterious. By the end of the game, I felt like I knew nothing about him other than who he was.

**spoiler**
Even when it came to Oliver’s reasoning for bringing Hailey to the imaginary world, it seemed pretty vague. I understand that he was upset she forgot about him, as that’s completely natural. There didn’t seem to be any justification beyond that, however. Overall his motivations were a bit convoluted, and there wasn’t much exploration as to why he wanted to bring Hailey to this alternate world in the first place. I’m sure he wanted to rekindle their friendship, but that was hardly touched upon in the game. Every interaction felt extremely vague and surface level.

Alex was another example of a Mary Sue. Despite the entire last area being dedicated to her friendship with Hailey (I presume), I ended the game knowing basically nothing about her other than she became friends with Hailey and then had to move away.

Overall, there was little to no character development throughout the game. Every character felt very shallow and I never learned much about them. I think that this was the primary factor in why the game didn’t feel satisfying upon completion. One of the best ways to know if a character is of high quality is to imagine them stripped of their context (in this case, imaginary friends). If the character is still interesting, then it’s a good character! If instead they seem bland, or you don’t know much about them, they are probably not very well developed.

I think that better character design and more exploration into who they are/what they want would have done the game a lot of good. Most of the issues in the game stem from weak characters, causing the story to follow suit. I genuinely think if there were more character development, the story would have had a lot more potential when it came to twists and turns. Alas, things felt predictable and uninteresting at many points.

Story: 3/10
I know I have touched upon aspects of the story several times during the review already, so I will try not to repeat myself too much. To be blunt, the story was confusing and had a lot of inconsistencies both progression and concept wise. As I played each level, I felt as if there was so much I needed to learn to fully understand the story. Everything seemed so unique, but at the end of the day it was irrelevant.

I genuinely have no idea how anything within the first puzzle area related to the story. Don’t get me wrong, it was extremely fun to play and complete the puzzles. I just don’t understand how any of it fits into the bigger picture. Each stage almost felt as if it was a different game with a different plot, none of which meshed together. I kept waiting for a big reveal to tie everything together, but there never was one. So many things seemed like they’d be important to the plot just to never be brought up again, and honestly that was a huge problem for me.

As someone who came into this game with the hopes of a nice psychological horror story, I felt very let down. A lot of the “horror” seemed a bit out of place, and the plot was not linear whatsoever. I have so many mixed feelings about the game, and most of them are due to being pulled from plot line to plot line without ever making connections. Though I’m sure the creator of this game had reasoning behind their choices, it was not obvious as to what they were. This led me to believe that more than half of the gameplay was completely irrelevant.

The first two stages of gameplay could be entirely removed from the game, and I don’t think my understanding of the story would have changed whatsoever. It’s a little sad to think about things in that regard, but it’s entirely honest. I definitely enjoyed the game, but I’d be lying if I said the story made any sort of sense to me. Obviously I understand the basics, but a lot of questions are left unanswered.

✧─── ・ 。゚★: *.✦ .* :★. ───✧

Final thoughts:
Overall I enjoyed the game, however I don’t think that is grounds in itself to give a glowing review. There were definitely some issues that can’t be overlooked, and it’s my job to make that known.

I’d like to take this section to remind everyone that a 5 is considered an average score. If nothing is wrong with your game, but you don’t go above and beyond, a five is what you will receive. Even though the game came out with a rating of 4, I don’t want this to deter anyone from playing the game. Four means there were small issues here and there, but nothing too crazy or game breaking.

Even if my review score seems a bit low for the game, I still would recommend playing it. It’s a fun game, and I enjoyed the puzzles throughout. The main downfall was the fact that the story was a bit incoherent, not that it wasn’t enjoyable.