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The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories Review


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On 10/26/2018 at 10:49 PM by Nick DiMola

Don't be missing out on this fascinating game.
RECOMMENDATION:

A must-play for mature audiences that can handle some touchy subject matter.

The Missing is one of those games that forces you to immediately reflect on the entire experience once the credits roll. As the game comes to a close you’re presented with some truths that reshape your understanding of everything you’ve seen. To properly discuss The Missing, delving into the details of the ending is necessary. It reframes the entire adventure and it’s why this game is worth playing.

Before we jump into the spoiler-laden discussion of the story, know that even when it comes to just the gameplay, The Missing is still a pretty fascinating game. It’s a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer and its main mechanic involves injuring yourself in myriad ways. You can lose limbs, which presents certain opportunities, or break your neck to walk on the ceiling, or even light yourself on fire to illuminate a path or burn an impediment.

Hurting yourself is how you solve puzzles, which is what will allow you to both make progress and collect donuts, The Missing’s one optional type of collectible. Searching high and low for hidden passageways and obscured locations will reveal plenty of them off the beaten path. Some of the best puzzles in the game are just to earn donuts.

As such, seeking out the donuts puts some more flesh on the bones of the game and they offer a few nice bonuses, which gives you incentive to keep sussing them out. Gather enough and you’ll unlock stuff like new outfits and concept art in the gallery, but more importantly you’ll receive extra cell phone text conversations with friends revealing more about JJ and her circle of friends and acquaintances. It helps you connect with her character and gives you some more context about who she is.

If all of that sounds interesting so far, I’ll stop here and say that I definitely recommend you pick up the game. If that’s not enough, did I mention that this is a White Owls game, home of cult developer Swery65? There’s enough above to clue you in on how weird this game is, but Swery’s involvement should give you a clear picture of just how weird it actually is. I love bizarre and cryptic games, especially ones with a distinctly Japanese flair, so The Missing is right up my alley.

Alright, if you’ve made it this far, then you know it’s time to jump into the story and inevitably spoil everything. If you’re going to play the game, go do so, come back, read the rest of the review, and please, let’s discuss in the comments.


At the start of The Missing, you’re lead to believe that JJ is on a camping trip with her best friend Emily, but it’s clear that there’s a bit more there. Based on an early conversation that opens up the game, you get the distinct impression that there’s some budding love there that they’re both exploring. It’s crazy to say that a lesbian relationship is some sort of impressive and progressive thing to be seen in media in 2018, but frankly, it’s not something you really see represented much. It’s not long before the beautiful night becomes something much more sinister. Emily disappears, and through the rain and the lightning, JJ sets off into the woods on Memoria Island after her.

But until the very end, JJ is never able to catch up with Emily. Every step you take, no matter how fast you run, she’s always out of reach. This, of course, is both symbolic and hints at the greater truths that are shrouded early in the experience.

Outside of Emily there are a couple other recurring characters. One is an odd man who has a buck’s head with a full set of antlers, who’s constantly spouting some weird pseudo-medical babble, as well as a monstrous looking woman wielding a giant red utility knife that’s always chasing either you or Emily.

As you collect more donuts, you’re made privy to conversations with people in JJ’s inner circle. This includes one of her teachers, who she seems to be the most open with (outside of Emily), especially as their text conversations progress. What we learn is that JJ is very unsure of herself. But she’s also studious and works hard in her design classes for her university, and even seems to tutor and teach other students. Despite her strong capability, it just doesn’t seem like any of what she’s doing is sitting right. JJ’s teacher encourages her to be herself and uses his own nerdy hobbies to demonstrate how he leans into what he loves and what makes him who he is.

You can also tell that JJ envies another friend who has no problem embracing her off-kilter rocker persona and attitude and tell everyone who doesn’t like it to screw off. Given how unsure JJ is of herself, it’s no surprise that she’s also quite guarded, even with her friends. Unsurprisingly, Emily is the one person that JJ confides in, because Emily loves her for who she is, no matter what.

The most telling text messages about JJ and her life come from both Emily and JJs mom. There are also some from her stuffed animal FK, who’s destroyed by lightning at the beginning of the game. These sporadic messages reveal that JJs mom is overbearing and overly concerned. Perhaps she sees the uncertainty in JJ or she knows that something is off, but she’s constantly injecting herself into JJ’s affairs. Whether it’s school, her private space, or anything else, she’s jumping into the situation to ensure that JJ is on the ball and things are being taken care of. You can feel the discomfort in the message exchanges between the two and often want to just tell her mom to back the hell off.

These conversations with her mother slowly start to unravel some of what’s really going on in The Missing. At first it’s really subtle. JJ’s father is dead and her mother points out that she’s the family heir. Which struck me as weird wording, because you’d think the word “heiress” would be used, but I wrote it off as a mistake in the translation/grammar and moved along. Then JJ’s mom snoops through her room at home and finds girls clothing that’s sized inappropriately for her. JJ immediately clarifies that it belongs to Emily, but her mother isn’t buying it. However, you go along with JJ’s explanation because JJ is quite clearly a girl and no part of your brain questions why her mother finding those clothes would cause her to raise an eyebrow.

Then it’s all laid bare. JJ’s mom takes the clothes to Emily’s parents since they supposedly belong to her. But they reject that the clothes belong to Emily because they’re too big and the style doesn’t match her clothes. Immediately after sharing this with JJ, her mother launches into a conversation about how JJ is confused and that an appointment is set up to help her work through this tough time. After stating in no uncertain terms that JJ has something wrong with her, she wraps the conversation by stating JJ’s name in full: Jackie Jameson Macfield. Then it hits you - JJ is transgender. Even though we see her as she sees herself, the rest of the world sees her as a male because that’s how she was biologically born.

Once you’ve gleaned this bit of information, you start to piece together exactly what’s going on at Memoria Island and it’s truly crushing. JJ is in some weird limbo state between life and death. She used a utility knife and cut herself in an attempt to end her life. The weird deer-headed fellow is a paramedic and you’re catching bits and pieces of what he’s saying as he tries to resuscitate you in the real world. The lady chasing you with the box cutter seems to be a manifestation of JJ’s mother. And Emily, who’s always out of reach, must be there with you because you can eventually hear her talk as well (and she sounds like she came straight out of the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks).

When it comes right down to it, The Missing is a game about self-mutilation and suicide. It’s about queer love and transgenderism. It’s about finding your true self and embracing that person. It’s a game about overcoming perception and overbearing family members. It’s a game about conquering your demons before they conquer you. It’s a game about second chances.

The message it delivers is for young people struggling with who they are. It’s for parents who don’t realize how they’re affecting their kids. It’s for LGBTQ kids who are struggling. Or straight, cis people who aren’t, but want to better understand the struggle of the LGBTQ community. It’s a deeply personal message that tries to make clear the pressure that family, friends, and society put on people in limiting who they’re allowed to feel ok being.

I’m honestly just amazed at how deftly White Owls and Swery have managed to deliver such complex and compelling subject matter. It’s so genuine and they touch on so many topics that are worthy of discussion. It’s so unique for any media right now to address these matters well, but the interactive nature of games was used perfectly to achieve a discussion on this topic.

I don’t know that I’ll ever play The Missing again, but like a great movie or book, just one time through was enough to ingrain it in my mind. The twist and the implications of that twist absolutely tug on your heartstrings. But things end on a hopeful note - JJ wakes up, saved by her stuffed animal FK who stopped her from bleeding out. Emily is by her side and they have a chance to find love together. JJ is now resolved to be who she really is. I can only hope that in real life, those like JJ also have a happy ending, as well as love and support from friends and family, and never succumb to the demons that haunt them. Maybe with something like The Missing out there now, people will play it and be the support a trans or LGBQ friend or family member needs so that they don’t need to tempt fate like JJ did to come to peace with themselves.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Matt Snee Staff Writer

10/27/2018 at 01:37 PM

Nice review. You’ve been busy lately!

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