Visual novels are enjoying a small renaissance on the PlayStation Vita lately, making it seem like the beloved portable has finally settled into a worthwhile niche. Amnesia: Memories, one of the latest in this trend, is an otome game (“girl game”) that provides an interesting twist on the usual narrative of dating simulations.
The majority of dating sims offer you selection of potential characters to date, each with their own likes and dislikes. Making dialogue choices that correspond to a certain character’s passions eventually locks you into their route, where you then face the additional challenge of getting your relationship to work. It’s a tried-and-true formula that sometimes suffers as a result of its predictability; thankfully, Amnesia: Memories takes things in a different direction that adds a bit of freshness to the genre.
In the game’s narrative, a quirky spirit named Orion finds himself in the player’s consciousness, taking the place of her memories. After meeting the spirit and going through a series of preliminary dialogue choices with him, you’re actually allowed to choose which guy you’re going to start with. In fact, you’ll already be in an active relationship with him — but since you’ve lost your memories, you’ll need to work backward to discover who you are, who he is, and what brought you together. It’s a creative premise that changes depending on the bachelor you start with, and all of them lead to a different climax involving how the protagonist became an amnesiac to begin with.
The writing’s tone is the most consistent thing across all the routes, remaining breezy and pleasant throughout. Even with a large part of the story focusing on the rather depressing details surrounding the mystery of the lost memories, there’s a light sense of humor and affection between the characters that keeps things from getting too serious. Orion is an energetic and supportive companion, and it’s hard not to smile at a lot of the warm and tender dating scenes between the protagonist and her suitors.
While the writing hits a cheerful note, however, it doesn’t do much else. The greatest asset to a dating sim is invariably a diverse set of characters with good looks, interesting backstories, and fleshed-out personalities. Amnesia: Memories gets only one of those right, and you can probably guess which one it is. That’s not to say the characters don’t have anything interesting about them, but they lack the sort of depth that keeps your eyes glued to the words in a text-heavy genre like the visual novel.
The first problem with the story is that almost everything the characters say is in service of the plot. Unlike games like Steins;Gate, which really take the time to explore the characters’ lives and interests even when nothing is happening, there are only a handful of scenes here that elaborate on the cast’s passions. The dialogue is almost exclusively expository, rolling the heroine’s tale along to its conclusion without stopping to give her or anyone else time to tell us about themselves. Shin’s father, for example, was an alcoholic who killed someone while under the influence. That’s an enormous burden for him to carry, but there’s never a point where you really delve into the drama of what happened and how it’s affecting him.
Focusing on the mystery wouldn’t even be so bad if the narrative were interesting, but that’s really the second problem: it’s not really about the mystery, either. The plot is taken far too lightly to inspire much drama. Even though it changes depending on the bachelor you pick and the choices you make, the end result is almost always underwhelming and predictable. It doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, either; in most cases, it’s hard to tell exactly how your decisions are shaping the story and what your boyfriend thinks of you.
Getting Your Happy Ending
Take the bad endings, for example, in which people seem to go hilariously out-of-character to rush you to the game over screen. One conclusion reveals someone to be a raging serial killer who stabs the protagonist to death in a lustful rage. This character had just been introduced a few scenes earlier by a few throwaway lines of dialogue; there’s no context, no explanation, no reason to believe he would do such a thing in that particular route. If you continue to play and unlock the last bachelor, you can get some context for the weird things that have been happening in the other stories — but the game’s attempt to bring the plot together into a cohesive whole is completely ludicrous and falls flat on its face.
With all that said, some kudos are in order with regards to the game’s production values, which far exceed the expectations one might have for an otome game. There’s full Japanese voice acting on almost every line not spoken by the heroine, and all of it is well-done. The artwork is also a joy, from the unique and colorful character designs to the full-screen portraits that depict the “bigger” moments in each story. Even the backgrounds are worth a look, sporting an appealing minimalist style that’s unusual for the genre. As you might expect, all of this can be accessed and examined in further detail with the game’s gallery modes. There are even a couple of simple minigames you can play with the boys if you get tired of reading.
“Cute” just about sums up Amnesia: Memories. It’s got a light tone, lots of warm moments, and above-average production values. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys dating sims, and you’re in the mood for something airy, goofy, and kind of mindless, this might be just the ticket.
If not, this is a pretty tame and unsubstantial entry in the visual novel genre. It never explores its cast beyond their roles in the predictable story, and the choices you make feel arbitrary in what they actually accomplish. In the end, the game is sort of like the characters that inhabit it: pretty and dumb.
Review code for Amnesia: Memories provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here
The Bachelors of Amnesia: Memories