It’s easy to give up hope. The stress caused by a day-to-day life can certainly wear you down. If you are lucky, you’re capable of clinging to the hope that your goals will be met, or at the very least of having people in your life to help pull you out of that funk and make you see the bigger picture. The Last Campfire is a new puzzle adventure game that explores this topic using a mystical game world as a backdrop.
An orange-robed creature rows down dank waterway, tailing a group of companions. Distracted by their surroundings, they drift too far from them and are separated, floating further and further down a dark path. A separate blue-robed creature named Ember awakens in a strange place, unclear of how they got there. Upon further exploration, they find statues that look like them. A spirit informs them that these are known as Forlorn, individuals that have lost hope and retreated into themselves. Ember takes it upon themself to help these lost souls regain their hope and continue their journey.
The Last Campfire explores topics such as depression, self-confidence, and regret. Its plot conveys a positive message regarding these things, namely that they are not permanent and that there is always hope. Combining these real issues with a fantasy-style plot works well. The use of constant narration helps a lot in telling the story. It’s not entirely clear by the game’s end what the realm is that Ember finds themself in, though there are a few clues along the way that give the ending a great deal of emotional impact.
Ember must move around environments, exploring each area to collect the items they may need. They also solve many puzzles along the way. Their satchel helps them to keep track of all the items needed to solve some of these puzzles. Ember’s main goal is to find Forlorn statues scattered across the game’s regions and reanimate them. Every region you visit consists of several screens containing puzzles and characters to meet.
The statues you encounter in the game are called Forlorn. Like Ember, they are on a trek through the strange lands before them, seeking to “move on” once they reach their journey’s end. However, for various reasons unique to each of them, they lost their confidence and hope in continuing on, and mentally withdrew to a point that they physically became statues. By touching these statues, you are transported to a separate area where you are required to solve a puzzle to reach a caged flame, which will restore the Forlorn to their normal state once freed. Once this is accomplished, the forlorn gather at the region’s campfire.
A certain amount of Forlorn needs to be found in order to move on to the next region. There are a few extra Forlorn to rescue in each region, so completionists should be on the lookout. It isn’t clear if finding all of the Forlorn in the game is necessary or has any effect, but it certainly goes a long way in extending the gameplay experience considering the length of the game (less than 10 hours even after finding all Forlorn). The depiction of them being statues is a powerful image of what depression or hopelessness may feel like, withdrawing into your mind and perseverating on negative thoughts. The experience of being able to free these individuals from the ruts they’ve found themselves in is gratifying.
Each region you explore in The Last Campfire has a central campfire area where rescued Forlorn gather. As you rescue more of them, the campfire grows. It turns blue once enough have been completed to open the door to the next region. In addition, a spirit dwells at each campfire. They offer hints to the locations of Forlorn in the region and open the door to the next region when you are able. At this point, you can also see how many Forlorn there are in total in that region, as well as how many extra Forlorn there are to find and how many you’ve found so far. Campfires are solemn areas where Forlorn warm themselves up before embarking further on their journey.
Within many of the environments you explore in The Last Campfire, you will find puzzles of many types. There are also puzzles that must be completed to bring back Forlorn. These range from sliding blocks, hitting switches, and pipe puzzles; all of which should be quite familiar to any puzzle fan. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult, but they do pose a certain level of difficulty. Some may yearn for something a bit more trying, but the relatively low difficulty does allow the game’s somber tone to shine, which could have been affected negatively if players were spending much of the game raging over puzzles.
The LanthornAn, element added after a certain point in the story, is a tool Ember can use to manipulate marked objects. The method in which they are moved is similar to mechanics used in Breath of the Wild in that a beam is cast from Ember that allows remote movement of things like pipes and blocks. This is necessary in order to solve various puzzles.
You will come across many kinds of items that can either be used directly to solve puzzles (e.g. levers) or given to other characters. These items are kept in Ember’s satchel, and can be accessed via a simple button press. Most items are collected as part of the main story, but several items are harder to find. The game’s collectibles come in the form of diary entries you find in chests, known as Forgotten Things. These tell the story of The Traveler, a being like Ember who journeyed through the same regions. Every area within the regions has a display at the top-left corner letting you know how many chests can be found in the area. Finding these is the game’s biggest challenge, but it’s not too hard if you are confident about finding each before moving forward in the game.
The game’s atmosphere is a mix of shadowy mist and colorful flora. The environments are rendered in a 3D style with a decent amount of detail. Certain aspects give the game’s world a level of character, such as golems dotting the landscape. The character models are simple “bean people” reminiscent of games like Fall Guys, but with the added detail of different colored robes. This helps to differentiate between the Forlorn you rescue. Overall, the style fits The Last Campfire particularly well. Nothing is too bright or dark, echoing the game’s realistic views of being optimistic even when surrounded by uncertainty and doubt. Keeping the characters simple also has the effect of allowing you to better identify with their struggles.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
A huge asset to the game is its narration. Throughout the game, Ember’s thoughts and actions are narrated aloud, as is any dialogue. This gives valuable insight into the game’s story and generally makes the experience even better. The narrator also gives background narration in each Forlorn puzzle, commenting on the struggles they were going through that led them to lose hope and withdraw. Giving a voice to their struggles, something many depressed people in real life are unable to do, is a fantastic method of conveying the game’s themes and does a lot for fleshing-out the game world.
The music in the game is rather minimalistic. Sober pieces featuring piano and string instruments can be heard in several areas of the game. However, they are often short when they are played, and many areas feature no music at all. Instead, atmospheric sounds from the environment itself are oftentimes used. The calm tone of the game’s soundtrack pairs well with the themes and gameplay, as well as the environments. Unfortunately, what music is featured in the game is often drowned-out while using the Lanthorn. In countless cases, you will spend most of your time in an area using the tool to manipulate blocks or pipes until the solution is found. This leaves little time to enjoy the music, which is a shame.
Once the curtain closes on The Last Campfire‘s story, you can load your last save and go back for any extra Forlorn or journal entries you missed. Finding Forlorn you missed is as easy as checking the campfires in each region to see how many are left, and asking the spirit at each campfire for a clue to their locations. Finding journal entries isn’t nearly as easy, as that requires going to each individual area and seeing if there are chests yet to be found. Depending on where the chests are in the game, this could require a massive amount of backtracking and laborious work. This may not be appealing to many, especially when there’s no indication that finding all journal entries makes a difference in the game’s ending.
Though short, The Last Campfire is able to pack an admirable amount of atmosphere and emotion in its gameplay and plot. The puzzles are hard enough to keep you engaged, yet still have enough leniency in difficulty to keep distracting frustrations to a minimum so you can stay immersed in the game’s world. It could be argued that a bit more difficulty would have been just fine, and more hours could have been packed into the experience, but ultimately what’s offered is plenty enough to get the game’s message across and leave you satisfied. The Last Campfire is a poignant journey worth taking.
Final Rating: 8.5/10.