So since there was a serendipitous overlap of a) me being wretchedly sick and b) #DatingSiMonth, I finally got motivated to finish off a game that’s been sitting in my queue for some time–Idea Factory’s “Amnesia: Memories.”
In “Amnesia,” you play a protagonist who’s had the misfortune of colliding with a spirit named Orion, who is now stuck in you. Even worse, Orion has managed to displace most of your memories (memories have mass?) so all you have left is your name and knowledge of activities of daily living. Starting off in a limbo-like state, Orion tells you to choose one of four world (Heart, Spade, Club, or Diamond) states which in turn determines the storyline and romance you get.
Once you begin, Orion, in a nice display of paranoia, advises you against telling anyone you have amnesia unless you absolutely trust them, because it would otherwise only result in them either locking you away in a hospital where you’d slowly go insane from sharing your mind too long, or taking advantage of your lack of memories for their own personal gain. The only way you can get back to normal is by having experiences that remind you of things–the influx of memories will have the effect of pushing out Orion and achieving separation.
Because the main person you end up interacting with is your romance interest (sometimes he starts off as your boyfriend, sometimes not,) there are generally three parameters you can track to see how well you’re accomplishing your charade of a relationship: Affection, Trust, and Suspicion. Ultimate failure at any one of the three generally leads to a Bad End, of which there are several per route.
[SPOILERS FOR PLOT CONTENT BELOW]
Each of the four routes ends up representing a different genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Romantic Comedy, and Horror, with an additional route only revealed after finishing all the others. In general, the beginning of each one deals with the heroine trying to figure out the mechanics of her life–where she works and goes to school and what her relationships are. Interestingly enough, although the player is free to choose to play the suits in any order, I found that playing them in the order listed actually made the most sense in terms of how they introduced these things. For example: In each world the heroine works at the same Maid Cafe. In the Heart route, a significant amount of time is spent with one character introducing the concept to the heroine and training her beforehand in what she needs to do there. In the Spade route, they show her having some problems and getting help at the workplace. In the Club route, it just shows her mastering her work by getting the manual and reading it at home, and by the last two routes there’s hardly any mention of her learning anything about it–she seems as familiar with it as the player is, by that time. There are also specific character relationships and pathologies that are revealed in both the Heart and Spade worlds that play important roles in the Diamond world. The Club world is largely stand-alone.
The major character, and the one that’s around you almost all the time, is Orion. I found Orion hilarious, in large part to the voice work by Hiromi Igarashi. Although the dialogue is all in Japanese with English subtitles, Igarashi is so animated and Orion so histrionic that in a lot of instances you hardly need the translation to get his reaction. Although sometimes of very little help and periodically a source of really bad advice, Orion is completely devoted to helping the player get back her memories, and is a fierce advocate for her in situations where he perceives she’s being treated unfairly.
The rest of the characters are pretty much the same in each storyline, although they change in their relationships to the heroine. One might be a boyfriend in one world, then an advisor in the next. Or a brother-figure in one world, and a boyfriend in another. Or a creepy stalker in one world, and…a creepy stalker in a few of them, actually.
While I haven’t had too much experience with otome games and their various conventions, the boyfriends in this game appear to have a lot of common characteristics found in this genre. Most of them have a touch of the tsundere about them, except for the ones that go full-blown yandere, which justifies the heroine’s mistrust of them until late in the game. For those unprepared, I can imagine that this might completely turn them off on all of the guys as each one has moments where they are, at best, rude and hypercritical of the heroine, and at worst, kinda rapey. Of the five, Ikkyu (Spade) and Kent (Club) come off the best as at least they are shown to each have a rationale for their behavior by the end.
[SUPER SPOILERS FOR THE DIAMOND END. DON’T EVEN, IF YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY IT AND HAVEN’T FINISHED.]
So if I was going to rank the different stories, I would probably go Club, Spade, Heart, Joker, and Diamond. This is largely based on both the appeal of the romantic interest and the ability of the story to hold up under the amount of repetition required to get all the endings. I have a fair amount of gaming OCD where I need to get all the endings and in some instances, that was a pretty grueling process.
The Heart route probably had the most involved plotting, although it was hard for me to take it all in, given that it was the first one I played and I don’t think I had a clear idea on what the end goal was supposed to be. My approach to these games is that I would play through once completely blind, and then go back with a walkthrough to get the specific endings I missed. As a general rule, I almost always ended up with the Normal ending when I answered on my own–these tended to be a result of the heroine never evidencing a sufficient level of trust in their guy, causing a end where the couple separates, but has hope of reuniting in the future. To me, the amount of support you had to show for the Good End towards guys who were often treating you pretty bad was fairly extreme, but maybe that’s why some of us were not naturally created to be otome heroines.
Kent’s story was most appealing to me, in part because at his worst he just seemed kind of stiff and unemotional as opposed to the full-blown psychosis some of the others demonstrated, but also because his route was relatively free of the unifying sub-plot that confusingly peeks into every world but is only explained in the last, secret route.
My least favorite world was Diamond–I found this one absolutely frustrating on a number of different levels. In the first place, it was the last one (of the cardinal four) I played, so some of the parts that seemed like they were supposed to be big mysteries were pretty apparent from the beginning, if you were familiar with all the characters from the other routes. In the second place, to get all the different endings in most of the others, you generally had to save and start from different points in the story, making different decisions or saying different things to move the story into a different direction.
In Diamond, literally the only difference between some of the routes was a couple of different choices close to the beginning, and then the rest of the game was identical, except for the ending. This means you had to play through almost the same game like four different times to get all the endings. Maybe this wouldn’t have been so bad except that you actually spend most of this world confined and totally passive (so passive that at one point Orion starts playing another video game just to pass the time) and…
Dude is a complete psychopath! Almost from the beginning, it’s obvious that he’s lying to you, and it just progresses from there to basically putting you under house arrest, then drugging you, then locking you up in a dog cage.
For some reason, Orion constantly gives you the worst advice possible in this one, and you’re not even given any options that make sense half the time. When you have access to your phone you don’t have the option to call for help, and when you get out, you’re never able to try to head anywhere but right back to where Toma is likely to catch you again.
The real finisher is the endings. A bad ending is where Toma winds up keeping you in the cage as a sex slave for, I guess, the rest of your life, while you get brain damaged from having Orion in your head for too long. This is despite the fact that at least one of your friends knows he’s keeping you in his place! WTH, Shin?!
The Normal end is where Toma actually tries to rape you, but you manage to escape and run out into the street in your underwear. You get rescued, but Toma leaves town and you are sad for the rest of your life because you never see him again, and apparently Stockholm Syndrome is a thing.
So at this point, I figure the Good end must be totally different right? WRONG, back in the cage again. The only difference between the Good end and the Normal end is that this time, when Toma tries to rape you, he accidentally reads your diary where you wrote that you were in love with him, and suddenly everything is cool and you just start kissing? The epilogue is that you wander off with him promising that you’ll stay with him forever, and he notes that you have the worst taste in men, and at least one of those two things is perfectly true.
The absolute kicker, however, is that when you get to the secret/Joker end, there is actually one part where Ukyo (your other psychotic future-telling boyfriend) warns you against oversharing with Toma. If you ignore that and make friendly conversation with him…SURPRISE! Back in the cage for the rest of your life again! At this point, you’ve spent so much time in the cage, it’s like you lived it real time with the heroine.
Toma aside, however, I actually did like this game quite a bit. The art was beautiful and just listening to the Japanese voice work made me crack up, even not understanding most of it. I would play at least half of it again once the immediate knowledge of it dies off…just not the Diamond world.