VN Game Den received a review copy of Out of Frame.
Out of Frame begins on a tiny game screen as the king implores the protagonist to find a way to save the world, which is suffering from a shrinking resolution and has already fallen from VGA to QVGA. At the protagonist’s request, the king uses his royal power to make the screen big enough for the hero to see what he’s working with and solve puzzles, a conversation that sets the tone for this fourth-wall-breaking adventure.
The story in Out of Frame is told in NVL format, with dialogue lines displayed one after another on the screen. The lack of anything besides dialogue can make it tricky to tell who is speaking at times, but fortunately it’s usually easy enough to distinguish between characters based on their style of speech and the fact that there aren’t typically too many characters involved in a conversation at once.
You help the hero who has been called in to save the world as he begins to investigate the source of the trouble. I specifically say help, because the game makes it clear that the hero is being aided by an external force outside of their little world. Thanks to your help, the hero has special powers that wouldn’t be possible using resources within the world itself. It wasn’t long before I was called upon to manipulate a game element outside of the main screen to detect magnetism in a particular spot inside the screen, and that was just the beginning.
One of the main twists of this world is that the protagonist can only see what is immediately on the screen. If he can’t see it, it might as well not exist, according to the game’s rules. Therefore, while Out of Frame has some adventure game elements, this is dependent on your ability to change what the characters are aware of. For example, the game screen might only show the central area of a room, while expanding the game screen to the right will reveal a door. Later parts of the game add even more twists to what you are capable of doing to manipulate the game window.
The downside is that puzzle-solving often becomes tedious trial and error as you enter a room, try expanding the screen in one direction, leave the room, return to it to try expanding the screen in a different direction, and so on. There are also times when you need to be very precise with what is shown on the screen; if multiple things are visible and you need the protagonist to focus on one in particular, you need to figure out how to make that the current object of attention. This is exacerbated by the fact that you can often only expand the screen in one direction at a time, and you can’t change it back without leaving the room and returning. As a result, you’ll probably find yourself skipping through the same dialogue over and over as you attempt to trigger the next flag to solve a puzzle.
With that said, the puzzles are incredibly clever. The story is mainly built on tongue-in-cheek references to the bizarre nature of the world and the logic it follows, from your warrior ally who wields a rotary phone as her weapon to the characters’ quiet acceptance of puzzles that require you to move objects in the game world by manipulating them externally. It leads to some fairly amusing dialogue exchanges. Still, Out of Frame isn’t the visual novel you’ll turn to for a deeply story-driven experience or compelling plot, but for fourth-wall-breaking metagame puzzle-solving that really couldn’t be done in any other medium. Despite some of its more frustrating aspects, Out of Frame stands out for its unique puzzles and mind-bending world.
You can buy Out of Frame from Steam.