Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Point and click is perhaps the genre I remember most fondly growing up. Hours upon hours spent on games such as Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island as a rabid kleptomaniac trying to work out what random combination of items the developers had conjured up this time to get past my current predicament. So it was with a wry smile that I powered up Memoria, a game in the Dark Eye series from Daedalic Entertainment, and a direct sequel to The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav released in 2011. In Memoria, like its predecessor, you play as Geron, a bird catcher from Aventuria, in the kingdom of Andergast. Geron's fairy friend Nuri has been turned into a raven by a curse, and you are looking for a way to turn her back to her former self. Your search has led you into the forest to seek a mysterious mage called Fahi. Fahi offers to teach you a way to change Nuri back if you can solve the riddle he has been dreaming of. More specifically, he has been dreaming of a riddle encountered 450 years ago by a feisty princess known as Sadja. You then play out the role of Sadja and Geron, in vastly different times in Andergast, and you'll unravel more of the interlinking story, with plenty of twists and turns before it all comes together at the end.
So, a first notable difference to most point and click adventures is the notion of two protagonists. Now the first reaction - and certainly mine too when I saw a point and click game with multiple characters across differing timelines - was this would present plenty of cause and effect puzzles, similar to those found in the aforementioned Day of The Tentacle, but Memoria works slightly differently. A lot of Sadja's sections serve to flesh out a past that has already happened to her, educating both the player and Geron into this relevant past. This presents the player with plenty of diverse landscapes - and therefore puzzle opportunities - to explore, be it either in Sadja's adventurous past, or Geron's urgent and problematic present.
A danger of this dual focus on protagonists is that you can feel less immersed in a game that doesn't focus you through one viewpoint, or alternatively it can feel that not enough screen time is given to each on before you switch to the other, leaving the gameplay protracted and frustrating. The good news, is that Memoria manages to seamlessly weave the transfer from each character through its story, giving each new part purpose and drive, and also keeps you invested in both characters involved. The main reason for such character empathy - particularly with regard to Sadja - is that character dialogue is well written and believable, charming and unique. Geron, for example, is a kind innocent soul who puts Nuri and her recovery above all else, despite not being the sharpest tool in the box. Sadja on the other hand is a fiery creature who wants nothing more than to be remembered as a great heroine for generations - a seemingly arrogant wish when you first hear it, but as you warm to her, and learn more about her, you find yourself relating more to this wish and her character. Even some of the supporting cast have interesting character curves that impact the story before the end. Not very often do I find myself praising characterisation in a point and click game, mainly because text narration makes this very hard to achieve, but in Memoria, it really is a plus point, and something that will see you pursuing it through to the end.
Going hand in hand with the well-executed characters is the game's story, which for a point and click game, contains depth, intrigue and plot twists that will keep you guessing right until its conclusion. It’s a very involved story that not only weaves through two different characters and time periods, but also hints at the game's prequel (although you need no prior knowledge of that game to succeed in this) as well of lots of background lore and history which add to the complexity on offer and therefore the interest of the player. As such you have a game that not only sees you wanting to solve the next puzzle, but see how the next piece of the story - a puzzle in itself - fits together.
And so to the bread and butter of any point and click adventure game; the puzzles. Often their difficulty and execution can make or break this type of game. Memoria manages to hit as close to the middle ground as you would want - not too difficult, random or absurd to be off-putting, but not too simple or linear to lack a challenge or purpose. You'll find yourself solving certain puzzles straightaway, and agonising over others for just the right side of too long before realisation of the correct answer (or random item combinations) works and you progress, usually with a knowing nod that you could have got there sooner if you'd sat back and thought about it. Another nice touch in the game, is that there is a difficulty curve of sorts in terms of the puzzles on offer. Whilst simple solutions exist throughout the journey, towards the end there is one particular section which was for me the hardest puzzle section, making you really think logically and carefully. Not only did this provide a greater sense of achievement upon solving, but also gave a sense that I was learning and improving at solving puzzles - a sense of progression rarely seen in the genre.
But the puzzles are not all about the usual item and environment combinations. Memoria also adds a magical dimension that allows the protagonists to cast various spells they acquire throughout their journey. The spells, whilst not new to the genre, are varied enough to allow for different solutions to the various obstacles you will have to overcome. One such spell you acquire for Sadja is a spell that allows you to alter the mind-set of particular characters. If for example you cast it on a character, and then an object they are fond of, this may make the character happier. Other spells can be simpler - like Geron's Break / Repair spell - but in all cases, they are well implemented, and not over-used to the detriment of the flow of the game. They essentially act as additional multi-use items in your inventory rather than steal the show, and as such feel better implemented.
The point and click genre is a long-existing one, and with that comes some opportunities and some risks, all of which Memoria tries to address. The big opportunity is the nostalgia element I spoke so fondly of earlier. Those point and click veterans among us, will for example lap up an old school labyrinth forest section which rewards careful mapping either by utilising a crude Hansel and Gretel type system the game provides, or even reverting to the pen and paper method from yesteryear, like we've just wandered into an early Zork adventure.
"But what about the rest of us?" I hear you cry, the people who don't view plotting out rooms and corridors on graph paper the zenith of modern entertainment. And so, Memoria faces its biggest risk - that of potentially alienating a newer audience by sticking to its old school roots. It attempts to combat these issues through an optional hint system, which is a nice idea in principle - allow those that want the help to have it, but keep it optional for those that still want a challenge. But it seems that even this hint system doesn't seem to know which particular audience it is serving. Its hints will range from the vague, unhelpful and obvious, to literally spelling out the solution to you depending on the puzzle. And so in the game's attempt to cater for all, it serves no one. Gamers who will just want the answer to progress the story may be short-changed, and those more dedicated to the puzzle cause may just want a gentle hint, only to be greeted with the solution for the next section. It’s a shame, because even recent point and click games like Machinarium show these sorts of difficulties can be overcome, with tiered hint systems, something that could have served Memoria, and the diverse fanbase it is trying to appeal to well.
A major point in the game's favour is its visuals, for a point and click game, Memoria really is very, very pretty. Both the static landscapes and character models are rendered beautifully, and whereas in some games of the genre, the character models can stand out and jar from the visuals of the background, in Memoria they seamlessly blend in. This attention to detail adds to a game you'll already be immersed in thanks to the gripping story mentioned above. Couple all that with a fairly gripping soundtrack that can range from the faint and tranquil, to the upbeat and dramatic when required, and this game really comes together as a nice all round package.
Length-wise this game is pretty beefy for a point and click game. Depending on your skill (or use of the hint mechanic or not) you can expect this game and its eight chapters to last you between 10-12 hours. And as discussed previously, that not just 10+ hours of pointing and clicking but of a gripping, twisting story, intrigue and character development as well. The game is retailing for £16.99, which is a very reasonable price for such a story, and puzzles as good as this.
There was a time when games were different to today. I won't dare to use the word better as such a thing is awfully subjective, but games were different certainly. Mainly down to technical limitations, videogames were simpler in their execution and design and put more emphasis on perseverance or the character of a player, rather than the spectacle of the game itself. Simply put, you put yourself into the game and as such, you immersed, you empathised, you enjoyed. Advances in videogames today try to do this for us with varying success. For every step forward for immersion, there is a Metroid: Other M waiting in the wings. It's no small praise then, that Memoria manages to combine the nostalgic enjoyment found in being totally committed to a game, but combines it with up to date flourishes that means it can appeal to a fans of both the old and the new. But therein is its biggest problem. By trying to cater for all audiences, it loses its focus on what it was trying to be in the first place. Is it trying to be a true point and click adventure game that rewards the trial and error, outside-the-box thinking and the good old pen and paper? Or is it trying to be driven by its story that all must see, packing itself full of hints and get out clauses to ensure everyone sees it all? The answer is, it tries to be all these things, and whilst in theory this doesn't ruin the game, and neither does it stop it coming with a big Dealspwn recommendation. However it does stop it from being placed up there with the great point and click adventures of all time.
- Excellent story
- Great characterisation
- Engrossing puzzles with great magic element
- Gorgeous visuals
- Old-school sections may be too much for some
- Temperamental hint system
The Short Version: Memoria is a very good example of how to do point and click games in the 21st century, and builds on Daedalic's already significant experience in the genre. Its great story, characters, puzzles, and visuals create a very enjoyable experience. One that is only occasionally let down by a hint system that doesn't know how helpful to be. Despite this though it’s presents good value for money and is well worth a try.