I’ll be honest. This review took me a while to write. Usually when that happens, it’s because I’m just not sure how to rate a game; one that’s sits somewhere between good and bad. However, Frank and Drake didn’t stump me for this reason. I knew after finishing my first playthrough that absolutely earned an Editor’s Choice. I just wasn’t sure where to begin explaining the experience of playing it. Strap in, folks. It’s about to get a little weird – in a good way.
Frank and Drake is a semi-visual novel that tells the story of two roommates, the titular Frank and Drake. Frank is a man struggling to remember, constantly chasing the visions of people that visit him in the mirror and plagued with memories that are sketched instead of solid. He’s told by his landlord that he’ll be getting a roommate, Drake, and that they shouldn’t bother one another, as Drake is only active during the night. In a strange turn of events, Frank receives a letter in the mail the day Drake is scheduled to arrive that contains a strange capsule, which begins to fill the apartment with a gas that leaves Frank hallucinating more than usual and drains Drake of his stamina.
Through sticky notes left on the fridge, the two men communicate without ever seeing each other, trying to piece together who is after them and how they’re connected, while also trying to understand their pasts.
You may have noticed that I called this a semi-visual novel. Usually, visual novels consist of a lot of dialogue and click and point gameplay with little interactive elements, like decisionmaking. To get really technical, Frank and Drake is actually an adventure game, which is just another way of saying visual novel with more puzzle-like interactive elements. You’ll play as Frank during the day and as Drake at night, making a series of decisions to help further the story. You’ll update your diary, notes, and to-do list daily for each character to help keep track of any information you find, any memories you uncover, and the sticky notes from the fridge.
Every decision you make affects the story for both characters, leading you to different people, places, and information. After each major decision, you’ll have the chance to view a story tree to track your path. Each time you read a sticky note, you’ll be able to view the state of Frank and Drake’s bond. I really enjoyed this particular feature; I didn’t feel the need to obsessively check my decisions at every turn because the tree wasn’t always available, and honestly, it was easy to keep track of on my own. While there’s a lot of decisions to make, there aren’t an overwhelming amount of options, and having only two or so options worked extremely well. It’s obvious there was a lot of care placed in each one so they each have plenty of details and puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, there are many. You’ll come across a number of them as you explore, from word searches to card games to mazes. Some of these are just for fun. You may get a neat achievement for them, or gain a new piece of information that may or may not be relevant for them. Others are necessary to move the plot along. There are a few difficult minigames; I had a lot of trouble with the security camera one in Frank’s sequence. However, they can all be solved by stepping back for a minute, taking a breather if you’re frustrated, and coming back to it with fresh eyes. Playthroughs tend to be pretty short – my first one took me about 3 hours – so there’s really no need to feel like you’re in a time crunch if you get stuck.
Drake’s sequences in particular have a lot of mazes and line drawing puzzles, while Frank’s tend to have more card games and placement games (like slide puzzles or turning locks just right.) As I played, I started to realize what a great narrative choice this was. Frank’s minigames all felt like they had to do with memory and finding the right pieces, while Drake’s were about finding the right path and overcoming barriers standing in the way. Each type of minigame matched with the character’s journey in the game to figure out their connection to each other. I think this is a great way to continue to put forth the theme of the game in a way that feels subtle.
The plot of Frank and Drake is what originally had me stuck while writing this review. The first time I played, I found myself confused constantly. Sometimes, things seemed to happen out of nowhere, and I’d be desperately searching for a connection. I’d see names from playing as Drake in Frank’s story and vice versa, and on my first playthrough, I wasn’t paying quite enough attention to the way people and places interlocked. This is mostly because Frank and Drake isn’t a straightforward experience. You aren’t reading just text on a screen.
It’s a game where the devil is very much in the details; in the flyers you find scattered around, in the graffiti and murals, in the posters on the walls, in the little objects you can interact with, in the bits and pieces in each man’s diary. Sure, there are moments where you’ll see a character’s thoughts on the screen, but that almost feels like filler to all of the little things, the connective tissue of the large overarching conspiracy. You just have to pay attention and let yourself make the connections.
Of course, this detail oriented story benefits from the amazing art of the game. Frank and Drake is done in a 2D rotoscope style, and it’s beautiful. I loved seeing Frank’s memory sequences because they were hand sketched, and that design choice so perfectly fit with Frank’s narrative of seeing the world through an unfinished lens because of his memory loss. I spent a lot of time just looking at things in the game, whether it was an advertisement, a mural, or even a bird’s nest in the window, because there is so much care in the details. And, of course, details are what the story revolves around.
Frank and Drake is something special. It’s a fascinating story full of mystery, conspiracy, and the supernatural that doesn’t rely just on dialogue to tell you what is happening. It instead utilizes objects, asking you to make connections which will ultimately influence your choices and the story as a whole. With a number of puzzles and minigames, plenty of things to see, and five potential endings, there are plenty of things to keep you busy for a while, even if playthroughs are typically short. Lose yourself in this story of star crossed strangers and maybe you can change their fate…it all depends on your choices.