A good, memorable story is a priceless asset to a video game. After all, this is a medium that suffers from an overdose of predictable, uninspired templates of jargon which one could barely call a “story”. So when I experience a tale that will remain in my thoughts for some time, I would often lift that title over my shoulders and champion its glory to the best of my abilities.
While I would certainly consider the tale so expertly told in The Dark Eye: Memoria as one such story, I hesitate to recommend it to everyone due to the convoluted nature of the puzzles; the main focus of its game play.
The story picks up after the events of The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, where Nuri became a raven and the unsung hero, Geron, was left trying to figure out a way to change her back into a fairy before she loses all her memories of the person she once was.
To do so, he will have to solve a riddle from a traveler who wields the mysterious power to change the shape and form of an object or even a person. The solution to the puzzle was somehow connected to the tale of Sadja, a princess from a forgotten age, and it’s up to Geron to learn of her ultimate fate.
While Geron is the lead character in Memoria, the focus of the tale lies with Sadja, as many chapters has the player in direct control of the princess as her tale unfolds. Her story is equal parts inspiring and heart wrenching as she tries to claim for herself a dream that she held ever since she was a child.
Even though I had not played Chains of Satinav, I was able to follow most of everything that transpired during the story as the focus was on a brand new character. Sadja’s strong personality and impressive dedication to her goals quickly warmed me up to her and along with her demonic talking staff; the adventure to come was captivating from the very beginning to the end.
It’s one of the best stories I’ve had the privilege of experiencing in a video game, and that’s high praise indeed as I am one who has an insatiable lust for memorable tales.
Also, the colorful art style and atmospheric soundtrack fit the overall feel of the title well, as each piece of scenery felt like a moving piece of art more than a stationary backdrop.
While it certainly is beautiful to look at in screenshots, it’s unfortunate that the character animations would oftentimes stutter and lag significantly during certain sections, which definitely shouldn’t be happening on my PC which can run most triple ‘A’ titles smoothly with most of the settings turned up.
However, while I’ve nothing but praise for the story and its characters, the game play is another matter entirely.
The most polarizing thing about the adventure games genre are its puzzles. When implemented well, they’re fun little challenges to overcome before getting to the next bit of dialogue. In its worst, they are massive hurdles with convoluted solutions, the likes of which no sane mind could complete without some sort of help.
Many of the puzzles found in Memoria were of the latter camp and I found myself pounding away thirty minutes to a full hour looking desperately for a solution on my own before shamefully resorting to opening up a FAQ.
Puzzle difficulty is notoriously difficult to balance on a person by person basis, but too often I found myself saying after reading the solution, “I never would have got this”. It’s odd because I fancy puzzles and have been a fan of games like the Professor Layton series.
The biggest problem is that the developers of Memoria wanted the players to think outside the box without accurately presenting the tools available to the player for them to figure out a solution.
One particular puzzle had me find a Ruby of some sort, and the solution was to fill a box lid with an indentation with red wine and have a mage harden the wine by paying him some cucumbers.
First of all, I had no idea that mage had the power to harden liquids and secondly, cucumbers? Seriously?
There was also a maze with dozens of paths which had no real way of getting through outside of trial and error with little berries I could place as markers to show where I’ve been, but even after an hour of wandering about, I could not find the exit and ended up using the in-game “mercy” option which teleported me directly to the exit.
When I pressed the button, it’s as though the developers themselves said, “this is bullshit, we’re sorry.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the nonsensical puzzle solutions that the game presented me with and frankly, even the ones I solved on my own were barely rewarding as at that point I was frustrated and solved it via process of elimination more so than with clever thinking and logic.
The adventure genre has a knack for delivering a great story and also a tendency to bog down the players with nonsensical, overly difficult puzzles.
In that sense, Memoria delivers on both the best and worst the genre has to offer but in spite of itself, I was able to enjoy the epic tale of the unsung hero and a princess, forgotten by time.
There is little doubt in my mind that I would have enjoyed Memoria more if it were a visual novel without a single puzzle. I recommend those wanting to experience the superb story go in with the FAQ open and with the anticipation that their patience will be tested.
Fun Tidbit: While I was tempted to put voice acting as one of positives, I could not ignore a few standout characters with rather less than stellar voice work.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.