Quick Thoughts On: Fragile Soft Machines

Fragile Soft Machines asks a lot from the player. It asks that they buy into the plight of a butterfly crippled by its broken wing, to guide it through the dangerous garden it’s fallen in and attempt to make it a better place. It asks for the player to fill in much of the plot themselves, through text boxes and choices for which the outcome is often difficult to discern. And it asks that they accept their fate with little in the way of closure.

Fragile Soft Machines is definitely trying to say something meaningful. Its musings at being at a disadvantage from the day you’re born, shoved off by those who could help you on the notion it’s “not their problem”, speaks to the difficulties women and minorities face in their own lives to simply be heard and considered. When your butterfly’s pleas for help are finally answered, they always come as the result of a test or a previous showing of your resolve, requiring you prove yourself to even be given the time of day by those in a much higher position of power. I’m not a woman or belonging to a minority, so I can’t and shouldn’t attempt to describe what it’s like being placed under a magnifying glass and asked to breakthrough a glass ceiling, but Fragile Soft Machines was a sobering reminder that just because I have the luxury of not needing to prove myself double because of who I am other people don’t, and extending them a hand to help when they’re in need of support is a bare minimum I could do.

But despite Fragile Soft Machine’s societal analogies and moments of genuine importance, it doesn’t seem prepared to be much in itself. Its interface is clunky and its reliance on player choice often crippling its ability to tell an affecting story of its own. The basic recap of decisions and responses you made shown at the end seem overly hinged onreplayability and the potential for different outcomes, undermining what you did with the possibility of what else you can do. Perhaps that’s the point, that it’s not where you end up but how you get there that matters, but it’s hard to believe that when so much of my experience seemed but a mentally constructed layer to a game without a clear voice of its own.

"Quick Thoughts" is a subset of my normal reviews for smaller games which might not fit into a full review but I still have something to say about.
Fragile Soft Machines was developed by Madame Berry and is available on PC, Mac, and Linux via itch.io for $2.99. It was reviewed using a press copy.

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