Hello! This is a joint review with both Murphy and Reecey (there was much formulation of bullet point lists), and to that end, each person's views have been handily shaded in different colours, thus making this not only a collaborative review, but a collaborative review in glorious technicolour.
Murphy is in blue.
Reecey is in red.
Glad we got that covered.
Shadow of Memories.
Picture: It's an icy August evening. Two people have a social event to attend the next day, and for this reason, instead of sleeping, they have elected to play through an entire Playstation 2 game in a single evening. Wisdom.
The game in question is Shadow of Memories, a 2001 point and click adventure game by Konami. Set in the German town of Lebensbaum, the game's opening moments see its protagonist, Eike, murdered in the street, before a mysterious creature called Homunculus sends him back in time to prevent his own death. As the tenacious murderer keeps making attempts on his life, Eike is forced to travel through time more and more to save his own life, and in so doing becomes entangled in the family lives of a 16th century alchemist, Wolfgang Wagner, and a modern day museum curator, Eckart Brum.
I say 'point and click adventure', but the game, with its Silent Hill esque loading screens (and its horror game music that comes cutting in when you're just running around town) seems to believe that it's a survival horror game. There isn't any actual peril in the game, either, since you can only die at specific points in the plot.
While it's possible to achieve a game over - for example, via the classic 'your a past version of yourself' common to time travel fiction (insert childish 'touching yourself' joke here) - potential game overs are pretty clearly signposted usually. Being unable to touch a past version of yourself is actually a plot point, as well.
As another note on this game's delusions of horror, the manual talks about how Eike has 'a touch of darkness' in him. This is clearly incorrect: Eike is a Beautiful Cinnamon Roll, too pure, too good for this world, or at least he is by the events of the game. In this dynamic, Homunculus is the Problematic Favourite, and is my favourite Problematic Favourite.
The game gives the impression early on that it's going to be a complicated, stressful affair, something akin to Final Fantasy XIII-3 meets Deadly Premonition meets The Last Express, but it's actually a fairly relaxed, cheery, straightforward game. With the exception of the puzzles in the final chapter, which are rendered difficult mostly by the total lack of direction (or even hinting that they exist) that you receive with them, all of the puzzles are quite simple and straightforward - they still involve some challenge (this isn't Dreamfall Chapters, after all), but they're nowhere near as finicky and difficult as most point and click adventures. That's a bit of a shame, really, and it feels like the puzzles could have been fleshed out a little, and more done with them.
The most awkward part of the game is navigating the town. You learn where things are as you go along, but as it's a Beautiful Historic German Town, it's awkward and sometimes quite difficult to navigate, just like real Historic German Towns. The game uses the town's age to its advantage, having landmarks common to several (or every) era and keeping more or less the same map for every time period.
Every time period has a distinct feel to it, and for several of them, the game utilises colour to make the differences more striking, having some eras rendered in greys and others in sepia. It's clever and atmospheric, and it serves the plot in a number of ways, including concealing certain things that would otherwise give some of the game's plot twists away.
|Eike, what is wrong with your hair.|
The use of colour also helps to hide (or at least sometimes alleviate) how terrible the graphics are. They're 2001 Playstation 2 graphics, so they were never going to be brilliant, but they measure up fairly poorly even next to some of the games' peers, like Final Fantasy X and Silent Hill 2. Everyone looks kind of like wax dolls, and everything moves somewhat awkwardly. You stop noticing after a while, because the graphics, while bad, aren't distractingly so.
Eike keeps shaking his hair out of his eyes, and it looks very silly, but it's consistent and after a while you come to accept it as normal behaviour for him.
The voice acting also isn't brilliant, although it's mostly serviceable. Eike stands out as particularly poorly voice acted, although once you get used to it it just kind of adds to his gormless charm.
(Additionally, guys. Guys. Wagner is pronounced Vagner. With a 'v'. Get it right.)
It's a short game - we completed it in the aforementioned evening, and that was after playing some Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer's Call, and including re-doing Chapter 8 on account of getting a game over - but actually a fairly deep one. The plot is engaging, interesting, complex enough to keep your interest but not so complicated that you ever have trouble following it, and has several fun plot twists. It has eight separate endings hinging on a few distinct choices at various points in the game, so there's plenty of replay value, too - and, delightfully, each ending ties into getting a complete picture of the plot. While the game makes sense with just one of the endings, the more you have the more you understand what was going on.
Because of the time loop element to the plot, all of them could simultaneously be canonical, as well.
All of which is nice, given that some games (which will remain unnamed) think that 'multiple endings' means 'your choice of three different colours of light show in the final cutscene'.
The hidden ending has a certain level of ambiguity about it, but it isn't too difficult to draw a satisfying conclusion from it. The plot gets a bit awkward and incest-y in a few endings, too, although it's always unintentional on the part of the characters, as a result of time loop shenanigans.
Overall, it's a very clever, neat little game, and one of the Playstation 2's rather forgotten gems. It's a shame that Konami is so incredibly, absurdly awful as a company, because it would be lovely to see this remade, or even given a sequel. As it is, we can joyfully await the inevitable Shadow of Memories pachinko game. The game's producer, who also made the Suikoden games, later went on to create a spiritual successor in the form of Time Hollow, a rental copy of which has just been dispatched to me as I write this.
The game is available pretty cheaply on Amazon, so just - just play it, guys. It's really good.