Monday, April 25, 2016

Breaking Down Amnesia: Memories - Part 1: Intro

My Hakuoki post series is still the most popular ones people stumble across, so I figured why not do another with Amnesia: Memories? This first post will have only minor spoilers, and look at what makes Amnesia different from others of its genre, but over the next month I'll go through each of the five paths and break down what I thought of them.

Amnesia: Memories is an otome visual novel, what is sometimes referred to as a dating sim, though that label is not quite true. It's really more of a choose-your-own-adventure book that happens to be a computer game with voiceover and visuals. Otome is geared at women, meaning that the protagonist is female and usually has male romance options (some indie otome will have female romance options as well). Visual novels in general do not have to have romantic elements.

For those already familiar with the otome sub-genre, Amnesia: Memories is a little different. Usually you start the game naming your protagonist, who probably has a default name in case you're lazy, and over the course of the opening hour or two you meet most if not all the potential love interests.

Through choices, that may or may not be obvious, the player ends up spending time with the different love interests, getting to know them, and is eventually locked into a "route" where their love interest is set.

Depending on the game it may branch when this happens, making for a different story on every route, or it may run through largely the same plot with variations depending on who the love interest is.

Choosing who to have a romance with is typically aided not just by the story, but by the voice actor casting and the character designs, so the player will have a fairly good idea of what a love interest is like and the kind of relationship her protagonist is likely to have.

Amnesia upends a lot this.

During the prologue the protagonist is informed by a fairy-like spirit that he accidentally collided with her, pushing her memories out of her mind and trapping himself in their place. Worse, her consciousness has been bumped between worlds and there are multiple realities the protagonist could have originally come from. Orion, the spirit, tells her to pick the one that draws her the most and she will go back to that one.

The worlds are identified by suits from a deck of cards; Heart, Spade, Clover, and Diamond (I guess Club wasn't fancy enough). That's all the player gets to make their decision. There's no looking at the men or getting to know them beforehand, and each world gives the player a different love interest.

It's kinda ballsy to lock in the player before they even meet them, but it makes sense in a storytelling fashion, since the protagonist has amnesia and doesn't remember her boyfriend or if she even had one.

From a player perspective it's a little more dicey since the love interests are usually a diverse group to increase the chances that there are one or more the player will like. It's entirely possible to end up playing a route that doesn't tickle a player's particular fancy.

Since I was anticipating the game before it came out, I already knew what the love interests looked like and a little bit about them (bios from the official web site, gameplay trailer), so I didn't choose my first world completely blind. The character designs incorporate the suit the love interest represents, so I made an educated guess on whose storyline I'd have the most fun playing.

From there, the player is tossed in a world the protagonist has no memory of, and has to recover her memories without letting on that she's actually an amnesiac, lest someone take advantage of her. Since it's magically-induced amnesia, getting professional help is not considered an option as she needs to see and do things important to her to trigger memories.

Amnesia makes an unusual narrative choice that I've never seen in an otome, or any visual novel really, in that there is no narration; only dialogue. Usually the protagonist also serves as narrator, telling the player what they observe, and making comments about their situation. It's a useful way to get information to the player and gives the audience some idea of the protagonist's personality.

Since Amnesia forgoes this, the game uses Orion in its stead to feed the player information about their surroundings. This turns out to be a fantastic choice for two reasons:

  1. It really makes the amnesiac protagonist a blank slate for self-insertion. Outside of rarely spoken dialogue and player choices, her conversations with other people are implied rather than spelled out. We see their response, but not what she said, leaving it up to the player to decide how she said anything.
  2. Since Orion is a separate character, the player is free to have a different assessment of the situation than he does and there are even dialogue choices to disagree. I really liked having opinions counter to what I was being told and still feel like everything I concluded was valid.

There haven't been many prominent otome games released in English (most are indie or mobile productions, or both), so I can't say if how common it is, but Amnesia at least feels more risky to me in that one of its routes is seriously messed up.

There is usually a sort of bad boy route that can be taken on later playthroughs with someone who may actually be the villain, or is of questionable morals. Amnesia may be the first to prominently feature a dysfunctional love interest among the default. This one route is potentially triggery and I'm surprised that Amnesia got away with a T rating from the ESRB because of it. (He doesn't just cross the line, he's speeding on a motorcycle when he does it.) I'll discuss his route in a later post, but would not give Amnesia to younger teens because the start of his route is nothing like where it ends up, and it's creep city.