Developers: Daedalic Entertainment
Publishers: Daedalic Entertainment
Double Fine came under a bit of fire recently for the way in which they've handled the game formerly know as the Double Fine Adventure -- Broken Age. After all, instead of creating a game to spec gifted the generous $2 million budget by an eager, anticipatory community on Kickstarter, it seems that Tim Schafer and co. were more happy creating half a game with double the budget. Adventure games don't need astronomical budgets to be gripping, magical affairs. Nor has the appetite for them dimmed over the course of the years as some might tell you, it's more that other trends have risen and fallen in fashion.
Daedalic Entertainment have been producing retina-pleasing adventure games for years. Perhaps best known for their Deponia series -- a setting that rather left me cold, I'll admit -- I fell in love with their delightful tale of a would-be magician and a dimension-hopping bunny in Night of the Rabbit earlier this year, a sumptuous point-and-click affair that evoked the narrative spirits of Mssrs. Carroll, Lewis, and Milne.
But whereas The Night of the Rabbit was like flicking through an interactive children's book come to live, Memoria attempts to engage in the epic. Picking up from where Chains of Satinav left off, Memoria finds the hero of the last game, the bird catcher Geron, seeking to find a way to reverse the curse that has trapped the spirit of his friend Nuri in the body of a raven. An encounter with a mysterious trader named Fahi leads to the possibility of salvation, but it comes at a price: Fahi demands the answer to a riddle involving a certain demon hunting princess, Sadja, who vanished 500 years ago in the midst of a war that shook the foundations of the world.
The narrative is set up smartly, we as players flit between controlling Geron on his quest for truth in the present, and Sadja several centuries before, and the latter is a far cry from any damsel stereotype that one might associate with "princesses" in games. Thanks, Peach.
I don't want to go into the plot too much, to do so would be ruin Memoria's main attraction, but it's clear that Daedalic have set their sights high with this game. It's not just more of the same for Satinav fans, it's designed to be an enormous, engaging epic in its own right that reaches far beyond that of its predecessor, which was a relatively predictable point-and-click affair. That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable, but it didn't exactly hold any surprises either.
Here, however, we have two intertwining narratives, two playable characters with different magical abilities, triggered (much in the same way as they were in Night of the Rabbit) by clicking on the relevant icon in the inventory. The first couple that are unlocked are relatively unassuming, but there's a nice nod to Rabbit when Geron is gifted the Hare's Eye, allowing him to identifying patches of lingering magic. Sadja's abilities often tie directly into the puzzle solving, meaning that not every screen yields up a case of inventory-swapping, item-combining trial and error. There's a fair amount of that traditional material, but it's nice to see a few puzzles take advantages of the protagonists' unique abilities.
Pleasantly, there are also a few concessions made for modern audiences too. The space bar allows players to glimpse all of the interactive objects in view, you can flit more quickly between stills with a double click of the mouse rather than waiting for the somewhat lethargic animations to play out, and there's a little hint system in place too, though (much like Rabbit) its usefulness is up for debate given the tendency for those little tips to regurgitate what you already know.
There's a forest section in there, though, that will almost certainly prove incredibly divisive. It harks back to labyrinthine forests such as those found during Guybrush Threepwood's quest for The Legendary Treasure of Melee Island,, only instead of purchasing a map, players have to work out the way through for themelves. Some will no doubt find this infuriating. others, like me, will almost certainly reach for a pen and paper (just like we used to as kids) and start mapping things out. I for one found it to be a rather welcome nod to the bastard hard games of yesteryear (see also my interview with John Robertson for more on this subject), but Daedalic seem to have realised that such a section might prove divisive and included an option to skip it.
This is an example of bad design. Encouraging people to miss out chunks of your game begs the question of why you included it in the first place. It shows a lack of conviction on the side of the developers, and also a certain degree of laziness. Why give someone the option to pull the plug, ruining their sense of immersion, rather than a little nudge here or a hint there.
That really annoyed me, but thankfully it was the only part of the demo that did. Memoria is an aesthetic delight, as most Daedelic titles are. But the murky watercolour backdrops situate us deeply in this fantasy world, with the medieval music in the background serving to instil a sense of importance and urgency into proceedings, rising and falling to suit whatever scene unfolds. We were only able to witness the German voiceovers with English subtitles, but in all honesty I may well keep it that way when the full game arrives.
A good first impression from Memoria, then; it looks like Daedalic are onto another winner.