Inside Pulse 12

Review: Amnesia: Memories (PC)

Amnesia: Memories
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory
Genre: Visual Novel
Release Date: 08/25/2015

Visual novels have been gaining more momentum, with more of them making their way outside of Japan. Along with that, otomes, an underserved niche, have also gotten more in the way of releases, with Amnesia: Memories being among the latest (Norn9 and Code Realize are also due to come out this year).

On a small side note, it should probably go without saying that this game is in point of fact unrelated to Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs (which should be blindingly obvious just from screenshots), but I’d seen enough posts confusing them (either sarcastically or genuinely) that I thought I should state that anyway. But that aside, let’s delve into how the actual game is.

A silent amnesiac protagonist is a commonly used trope, and it’s one this game uses as well (though it does a somewhat different take on it). The protagonist (player named, no default name) has her memories forced out by a young boy named Orion. He claims to be a spirit and explains that he had been trying to cross from his world to her world and accidentally collided with her. As a result, he’s stuck in her mind while her memories are all gone. They set out to recover her memories, but he warns her to try not to let on that she has amnesia or someone unscrupulous may try to plant false memories that were never actually there. To that end, they gather information from their surroundings, messages on her phone, and from talking to people who may have known her before she lost her memories. Unlike most otomes in which you work towards a certain route through making the right choices, you choose which route to follow from the beginning by picking which parallel world (named after card suits) to land in. You start with four worlds to choose from, but you unlock a fifth from completing the other routes and reaching their good endings. While the love interests seem like they’ll be one dimensional tropes, they turn those tropes on their heads. In one case, that’s not a good thing and the turn his route took completely changed the way I viewed that character even when on another route. They do have their insensitive/jerky moments as well, though for the most part they at least react realistically to the situations at hand. There’s also a ton of bad endings you can stumble on, and some of them get creepy/disturbing (there’s also creepy/disturbing moments in the course of the story). But all of that is balanced out by the mushy and sweet romantic stuff that one would expect from an otome. A lot of the game is trying to solve the mystery of who you were before your amnesia and how you related to the people around you (especially your love interest), so the romantic parts initially take a backseat to that. As you recover more memories and rebuild the bond you had with your love interest, however, the romantic aspects emerge more to the forefront.

The protagonist is mostly completely silent, and Orion does the bulk of the talking (in the protagonist’s head – no one else can see or hear him). You have to interpret what her responses were based on his and the guys’ reactions (along with the dialogue choices you make, of course). Orion provides commentary and some theorizing about the situation and the people around you. I thought he’d be really annoying, but he actually grew on me. With the protagonist herself not speaking for herself for much of the game, he also provides insight into what she feels and thinks of the situation. He acts as a bridge of sorts to the player. At times it almost feels like the characters are monologuing at you (if you want to look at it a different way, it’s easier to self-insert). This was a bit of an odd adjustment coming off of games like Hakuoki and Sweet Fuse where the protagonist has a personality and her own dialogue, even if it’s unvoiced. She only speaks in some flashbacks and towards the end of the story as she regains more memories. I can see what they were going for, given she’s mostly a blank slate at the beginning of the game (who wouldn’t be after losing all their memories?) and thus she would stay mostly quiet to try to listen for information and make sure she doesn’t do anything out of character. But it was a bit hard to connect with the information you get about her character (namely with people being so surprised she’s being quiet), so any personality she did have outside of the dialogue choices you pick for her felt more like an informed personality than anything else. However, I got used to it after a bit, and it is refreshing when she does exhibit some actual personality, particularly the more assertive aspects thereof.

The translation is mostly solid. I did notice some odd line breaks in some lines where a sentence would be broken up into different lines unnecessarily (like this) whereas in others the dialogue box space is used more efficiently. There were also some sparse typos here and there (i.e. “You’re seem out of it”, “You didn’t bring everyone back here to just to dig up that incident, did you?”). None of this affects the readability of the text, but it is noticeable when it appears.

The overall presentation is easy on the eyes and ears. Character portraits and CGs are lush and colorful (complete with requisite pretty boys). The backgrounds in regular scenes are mostly monochromatic (white and another color on top of lineart) or a gradient of a few colors, whereas everything is fully colored and detailed in CGs. Character portraits blink and move lips and have different positions and expressions. The soundtrack consists mostly of mellow piano heavy music, and while it’s atmospheric it mostly fades in background after a while. Though the tracks that plays during more intense scenes still manage to pique my attention because it’s usually an indication something serious is about to happen. There’s full voice acting for every character (obviously except for the protagonist), even for minor characters who don’t even get a portrait. The voices suit the characters, and emotional inflections come through even if you don’t understand Japanese.

Being a pure visual novel, the controls mostly consist of just clicking to advance text or select choices. V will auto advance the text, C (or the scroll wheel) brings up text history, right clicking opens the menu, and space bar hides the dialogue box. S skips text, A toggles between skipping read text and all text. You can also use a controller and remap the keys as you wish, but I stuck with the default key mapping and mouse and keyboard. The only issue I had with any controls was with the air hockey mini game, as after dragging the paddle around the mouse ends up moving away from it, I’d have to reposition the cursor so it’s back over the paddle. At times the AI got a point on me while I was doing that. I just took to mostly keeping the paddle near my goal and only moving the paddle enough to block the puck. Given that the minigames are optional, it wasn’t a big hindrance.

There’s three meters: affection (how much you like your guy), trust (how strong your relationship is), and suspicion (how close they are to suspecting you have amnesia). A fourth one, doubt (how much you question what your love interest is telling you), shows up in one route and essentially replaces the suspicion meter since the latter maxes almost immediately in that route. These meters affect which ending you’ll get, with high affection and trust making it more likely you’ll get a good (or at least normal) ending, while high suspicion and doubt will lead you to a bad ending (note that that doesn’t apply in routes where suspicion maxes right away).

There’s a total of five routes and 26 endings. There’s a good chunk of content to replay through if you’re a completionist – and really, the visual novel experience is not complete without seeing every possible ending. You also have to reach the good ending on the first four routes before you can proceed to the last one. The final route sort of ties things together, so it’s worth going through the other routes to get it. In addition, given the guy in question pops up in all of them, if you’re like me you’ll probably want to know what his deal is. There’s a lot of dialogue choices throughout any given route, and it’s not always clear which is the best answer (or none of them seem to elicit a negative reaction but only one is actually the “right” one). For example, toward the end of Shin’s route, you get a choice of three places to go on a date. None of them seem objectionable, and each one has a nice sweet moment and reveals a different aspect of the protagonist and their relationship before her memory loss. However, only one of those dates is the “correct” one in terms of getting his good ending. You can always save before a choice, look at the parameters, and reload if nothing (or the wrong thing) goes up. Unlocking every ending, especially the good endings (which are required to unlock the last route) without a guide is tricky. There is a bit of leeway, as I didn’t quite max one meter and still got the good ending. However, I did manage to lock myself into the bad endings the first time I played through blind (I was basically the worst incognito amnesiac ever despite my best efforts). You can interact with some gallery images (the ones with a rose in the top right hand corner) and unlock more voice samples by ctrl+left clicking in certain areas. There’s also short stories and an extra scene for each guy.

Besides attempting to sweet talk pretty boys, you can also play two mini games with them: rock-paper-scissors and air hockey. The former works much like any game of rock-paper scissors does. However, there is one addition in that the winner has to hit the loser with a mallet (yes really), which the loser has to try to block. A successful hit nets the point, while a successful block keeps the other person from getting a point. This keeps going until time runs out. Air hockey also works much like its real life counterpart, and you keep playing until one side scores seven points. I didn’t notice a difference among the guys other than appearance and commentary. They’re kind of decent diversions, but not something you should be buying the game for in lieu of the actual meat of the game. You do unlock some achievements and an image in the gallery for beating all five guys, but there’s not much reason to bother with them otherwise. Thematically a card game probably would’ve been more apropos given the whole aspect of each guy corresponding to a card suit (or a specific card for the last guy). Both games do come up in at least one route, so at least there’s a bit of relevance established for their inclusion.

For the last route in particular, I really wanted to know what was up with the guy seeming to know something about what would happen in each route. Somewhat perversely, I also wanted to know what all the bad endings were – and really, with names like “You need to suffer this much, at least” and “Let’s kill each other in another world” how can I not be curious (I also got every ending in both Corpse Party games if you want an idea of how morbidly curious I can get)? Even with the route for which I have many words of contention (to say the least, though going into detail would involve spoilers; let’s just say things take a rather dark turn), I still wanted to keep playing just to see how the events therein could possibly be reconciled or explained. They weren’t ultimately, at least for me. That being said, I did enjoy playing through the other routes a lot more. While one other route is arguably as problematic as the one I’ve been railing against, that one at least gave you an explanation (even if not necessarily an excuse) for why he did the things he did and things happened the way they did. Though the basic premise of trying to piece together your memories and life remains the same, it plays out differently enough that it doesn’t feel repetitive to go through the process of recovering your memories and solving the mystery of what your life was like in that particular world for all five routes. Even the side characters were distinct enough to be interesting (Waka in particular is a very different person in each route). I felt the payoff in the final route was worth it, as it did address lingering questions I had even after finishing the first four routes.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Amnesia: Memories uses the amnesiac silent protagonist cliche in a way that doesn’t feel like a tired rehash of that trope. The presentation is polished visually and aurally, with the art in particular being rather easy on the eyes. There’s a ton of endings to unlock, so there’s a lot of replay value and content to go through, especially if you’re a completionist. The way the protagonist’s dialogue is handled might take a bit to adjust to and not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea. There are some somewhat problematic moments (one route in particular is full of them), but there are also some nice character and relationship development moments. Overall I enjoyed my time with the game and am glad it got an official release here.

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