pepsiman's Analogue: A Hate Story (PC) review

Analogue: A Vocal Story

I can't pretend to actually know Christine Love as a person. We've never had lunch together. I've never actually sat down and chatted with her. I don't know what makes her tick. Beyond the fact that I know that she is a person that exists and creates stories presented in the adventure game format, I frankly don't have much of a clue about who she actually is. This is to be expected; it's how things are in a typical author-reader relationship. She does the writing and I do the reading, but we never once actually meet during the entire process. And yet despite that mutual anonymity, as I typed and clicked to make my way through her latest tale, I couldn't help but feel that I still got a bit of insight into the humanity behind her work. It is completely presumptuous of me to assume so. I'm fully aware of that. But it is to her credit as an author that I cannot seem to completely separate the words from the person who wrote them. Every good writer, regardless of their field, understands that one of the keys to connecting with a reader is to have a unique, perceivable voice and exploit it. Love's newest work, Analogue: A Hate Story, is evidence enough of that. You may not relate to all that she has to say and there are even things you may find disagreeable, but the sheer strength with which her game is able to naturally evoke such contemplation is testament enough to the power that her voice, even on its own, has in creating a distinct, narrative-driven game such as Analogue.

Love's voice is everywhere in Analogue. It's in the curious setting, an abandoned Korean space ship dubbed the "Mugunghwa" left idling for hundreds of years in space prior to your arrival. It's in the three main characters who drive the crux of the narrative, the ship's two female AIs and, by extension, you, the player. It's in the details that drive all of those characters, whether it's the reserved *Hyun-ae's love of cosplay, the brash *Mute's knack for gossip, or even the binary nature that, by way of circumstances, you are forced to conduct the entirety of your relationship with the two AIs. It's in the details that Love has lingering in the background and the ones that she deliberately neglects. It's even in the gameplay mechanics you have at your disposal; superficially akin to any number of visual novels due to its inherent linearity and art style, but in reality more similar to the text adventure games of yore, all the way down to the game's need for you to actually type on the keyboard. The only place where her voice isn't in full force is in Analogue's art and music assets, which were created with outside assistance. But even then, her voice shines through; pleasant though the artwork and sounds may be, they always, as they should, play second fiddle to Love as the author of the game and its text. They merely make manifest details her writing already brings forth in the mind.

I hesitate to talk about Analogue in more concrete terms like other games outside of its genre not because I am unable to do so, but rather because, unlike many of those other games, Love's work, as always, lives and dies on the one strength it was always designed to exhibit and that is the raw text. Without those words directly telling you the game's story as it was intended to be conveyed, there's the risk that something gets lost in translation between the game and the review. My words can never be hers and Analogue, like Digital and Don't Take It Personally before it, is a game that's all about her language. She is completely in charge of how her work is literally read and executed, if not otherwise interpreted. As such, it is best discussed minimally before playing through it. Perhaps all that I can safely disclose is that there are reasons the game takes place on a ship, that the game expects you to bond with AIs instead of actual humans, and that it has Korean names specifically everywhere you look. They all serve to give the game its own identity, even if it has deep familial resemblances to her other works. I suppose I can tell you that, and, the fact that the game will, in no uncertain terms, make sure you understand the themes and underlying ideas driving both the story and limited gameplay. Love's voice is so strong at times that it can lack some subtlety. But Analogue may very well not be what it is without that element.

Analogue, as of this writing, is priced at $15. I can't tell you how much value that might actually represent to you. Many other adventure games, especially those of the countless visual novel variety to which Analogue may well end up being compared, often come out free in English, either because they're translations of other commercial works or, in the case of ones such as the recently-released Katawa Shoujo, are community efforts designed to be freeware from the start. That precedence alone may be enough to scare off a lot of people. Whether it should or not is ultimately not my prerogative to say, although I will point out that few conventional novels are released for as cheap as Analogue is, let alone ones that come with additional artistic assets and expect some level of direct, personal input into the proceedings, even if they are inherently very limited. Still, that argument doesn't take into consideration the notion that games like Analogue are something of an anomaly. They fit into a variety of tropes and genres in purely mechanical terms while still somehow coming across as a very different product compared to the norm. It becomes difficult to assign a value at that point, especially a numerical one, and it's only all the harder without actually playing the game and experiencing its story firsthand.

But what should ultimately matter is that Love, once again, is among the rare minority of video game creators willing to discuss things like sexuality and the emotional limits of the human existence in unflinching, yet relatable terms, something that should be both applauded and cause for reflection. There are some very rare, somewhat mainstream examples, such as Persona 4, that do tread on similar narrative ground. But even games like that often require teams to make characters as good as a Kanji or a Naoto and in the end, they still can't come across feeling like the product of a single person's vision. That isn't an inherently bad thing, but just the reality that faces many other games that might attempt to discuss similar ideas. In contrast to that, modest outside help aside, Love and Love alone is responsible for how her own game has turned out. Whatever you like, whatever you dislike, and whatever moves you, if any of it does, the source of it is bound to lie on her. She is, once again, a mostly lone, albeit not completely isolated, trail blazer in this regard. And it all goes back to her voice. That singular voice, even when it masquerades as many, trumps everything and always keeps the whole show moving.

I came away from Analogue: A Hate Story mostly grateful. Here's a game that once again displays just how potent and effective a game can be when its creator is so singlemindedly devoted to getting its fundamental ideas right. However, whereas that tends to be true in games that are predominantly all action all the time, it's under thoroughly different circumstances that the principle remains true in Analogue. Indeed, in Analogue, this quality is almost entirely achieved through just the power of Christine Love's voice in the game's writing. Just as much, if not even more so than her previous works, this feels like a deeply personal game made from the only sort of worldview Love can only understand: her own. It is a deeply complex one, taking into consideration other viewpoints in ways that are apparent in much of the game, but in the end, Love wrote from the only standpoint she'll always know. And she wrote plentifully from that perspective. Analogue can be a touching game as a result, but it's also one where you can't help but see the author embedded within the words. Different reactions to different things from different people are bound to be par for the course to the extent that some might not even like what they read or play. Much like how Love can only write about what she knows, however, so too can I only do the same in this review. I, at least, am glad this game came along. Putting aside personal differences and trite issues (it's not like as though the work would be inherently better if I worked on it anyway), it is a successful demonstration of the power of pure authorship in a video game. There is no Analogue without Christine Love and it's that fact alone, even setting aside the quality of the storytelling, that justifies its existence.

Posted by Sinclose

I didn't even know Christine Love released another game!

Dunno how it managed to slip under my radar, but thanks for both the details and bringing it to light. The review was informative, but it seems to be the kind that encourages viewpoint comparison. Not that that's a bad thing by any stretch, just felt like pointing out that this -- for me, anyway -- is further incentive for giving the game a shot. Although the price tag seems a bit hefty, so remains to see if I'll do it anytime soon.

Posted by Pepsiman

@Sinclose: Indeed, if there's one constant between all of Love's games, it's that there's never going to be one clear majority opinion about her work and it's as true as ever with Analogue. I fully expect that some people will love it, some people will hate it, and some people won't know what to make of it, which is why I made clear even more than I do in other reviews that I can only talk from my perspective. There's not necessarily any particularly "universal" about any of her games, especially thematically, so I feel it's imperative to make sure that's really apparent whenever talking about any of them.

I do agree with you about the price tag, though. There's a decently lengthy demo of the game available on the official site that should help sway you one way or the other. I definitely understand why a lot of people might not be so keen on the price, especially considering that a lot of her other work came out completely for free. I was originally of that mindset myself, but realized while playing the game that, as a writer myself, I support the direction she's trying to go towards in making games. If she wanted some money thrown her way to keep that going, I could understand why, so that's why I went through with buying it in the end. Well, that, and I naturally liked where the story was going, too. There's definitely that factor.

Posted by Little_Socrates

Your review, along with the screenshot of Mute, is enough to sell me on the title. Thanks for bringing another Christine Love title to my attention! Digital was fantastic, and Don't Take It Personally was interesting.

Edited by ItBeStefYo

@Pepsiman: It just seems formulaic at this point. I played digital and this seems like the exact same as this.

Except this time its cheapened by an attractive anime character that you can even dress up later. Just seems fetish-y to me.

Posted by Pepsiman

@ItBeStefYo: You speak as though having a formula like Digital's is otherwise such a common thing. There are certainly gameplay mechanics and (very basic) story premises that remain consistent between Digital and Analogue, sure, and I think Love is pretty open about that given the similar titles between the two games, but I'd argue it's less a formula and more an authorial trait that's specific to Love's games so far. Every decent writer has their own signature, their own niche from which they're most comfortable writing; Love just happens to be known so far for tackling love and human relationships (often in a sexually ambiguous manner) and what that all means in a increasingly digital age. If it's a formula, I'd say its relative only to her own works; no other visual novel that gets attention in the English-speaking world, to my knowledge, is particularly known for tackling such things. I think it'd be very hard to compare the game in terms of themes and narrative to, say, Katawa Shojo or even something slightly more mainstream like 999 on the DS.

The art style is one of those "take it or leave it" things, I agree. You'll notice that I didn't really discuss such things in my review because I think it's ultimately tangential to what Analogue actually accomplishes. You're not the only one to argue whether or not going with that style is particularly necessary, and outside of arguing authorial intent, it's something I'm personally apathetic towards. And as for the dress-up "mechanic" (it's a completely optional thing that the game only ever mentions once), if it feels fetishistic, that's probably because Love wants you as a reader/player to think about that sort of stuff on a deeper level. Analogue is very much so a narrative about the psychological toll of social norms and expectations for each gender and I think one can argue that making the two leading character computer programs (which, let's say like many women throughout history, are "supposed" to be subservient to those who execute/"use" them) with that capability adds a layer to that theme. As I wrote in the review, most everything in the game is a direct expression of Love's will as an author and as such, she could have just as easily excluded that sort of feature if she wanted to do so; the fact that it's in there, I feel, means that it has a greater purpose than just let people "doll up" her character. Maybe there's a chance that I'm giving her too much credit as an author, but as somebody who's very clearly a feminist in the modern sense judging by contents of both her games and her blog, I doubt she would allow her characters to be "demeaned" in that way unless there was a greater message that she wanted to project. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we're just debating interpretations, since Love is the only one who could know exactly what it is she wanted to project through the contents of her game, so I won't deny that your viewpoints are equally as valid as any other.

I feel like I might be a little presumptuous in saying this, so I thoroughly apologize if I'm incorrect, but it sounds as though you haven't played the game before. I'd personally suggest you at least give the demo a chance since I think it's a decent showcase as to why, despite the similarities to Love's other works, Analogue still has its own distinct narrative that tackles and accomplishes different things than what those other games pursue. Obviously it's your prerogative, but I feel that there's always more to Love's games than they superficially let on and that it's especially true in Analogue's case.

Either way, while it's clear we disagree, I appreciate the civility on your end. What you say does have credence and I respect the way that you've presented everything on your end.

Posted by ItBeStefYo

@Pepsiman: I think if anything it undermines women when it comes to "love", in the game you only have two options, one agreeable, and one disagreeable. Basically choosing the agreeable option will cause the woman to love you. Of course the scope of the game had to be limited but I still feel that it is shallow, and could give the impression that all that women want to hear is, perhaps not the truth, complimentary to them and this will ultimately make her love you.

I did play the demo and I watched several lets play videos.

Posted by Pepsiman

@ItBeStefYo: I don't see how it's the game's problem if a player somehow manages to reach that conclusion about women and relationships. Can I hypothetically see somebody thinking that? Sure, but if they're going to come to that conclusion by just playing a visual novel, then they're already lacking so much in the way of common sense and fundamental human experiences that frankly I don't think their reactions are worth paying any mind to anyway. The fact that you and I aren't getting off on that potential damsel in distress vibe, I believe, might indicate that at least some segment of her audience has enough rationale to go through the game without getting lost in such delusions. I get that the angle that you're arguing is in terms of how the themes were implemented relative to the game's overall scope, but even then, I still don't quite see eye-to-eye with you. That's the sort of complaint that you can technically level at most any visual novel or linear adventure game; those sorts of games always have the potential to bring you to either unsatisfying or uncomfortable conclusions after stringing you through the narrative and making you feel invested in it as a player/reader.

One thing to keep in mind while talking about all of this is that the game doesn't inherently force you into an ending where you end up being that character's sympathetic lover; you can pretty easily push her off to the side and just get your job done or even go behind her back and work with the other character instead. The game's linear as an inherent result of the technology and genre it's working in, but you're not automatically pigeonholed into such a philosophical quandary if that's such a major worry, given the decent number of endings you can get and the ways that you achieve them.

But the crux of this discussion is about that one character in particular, right? Here's how I basically saw her plot arc: You get on that ship and you meet the character, ostensibly because you need her abilities as an AI to access the records that you need. You end up digging deeper than you perhaps need to and uncover a less than flattering past about her that she's initially coy about divulging and, indeed, you don't ever get the complete story about what happened if you only see her side of the story and access only the records that she lets you access. When things do become clear about the pretty messed up stuff she actually did, you're able to confront her on just about every major front, including, if I remember correctly, the portion where she was seemingly trying to charm you and dance around the issue of her past. Then you come to that climactic fork in the road where you either abandon her or accept what she did and keep her present in the story. If you go with the latter, to me, she's grateful less because she finally has a knight in shining armor (the era in Korean history that the game is based on likely had enough of those presumptuous types of men as it was) and more just because she's finally found somebody who's sympathetic and doesn't automatically condemn her.

But then it's that reaction and what you need to do to reach that point that's potentially so problematic from a feminist perspective, right? To that, I argue that the way the game handles her dialog and your selectable responses prevent things from actually going in that condescending direction. The way I saw it, her overall beat as a character isn't about redemption or "being rescued." She doesn't even have you forgive, condone, or otherwise overlook what she did; she just wants somebody else to listen to her story and be able to discuss her side of things in peace. Ideally, that means a neutral third-party like the player as the protagonist, especially since the only other character that's otherwise still around on the ship to talk to her was too invested in the very system that oppressed her to even take her side of the story seriously. When you talk to that other character, she often belittles that first AI or, at the very least, downplays her troubles. That's not necessarily without reason; she certainly didn't come out of the incident in question unscathed either. But she's still too much on the other side of the spectrum politically and philosophically to be able to join hands with that first AI and try to resolve things together. In that sense, I think that first AI who can "fall for you" is much less a submissive girl who will dote on you if you tell her everything she wants to hear and more just a tragic character who always has to live with the implications of her actions and just wants somebody else to talk to about what dealing with that is like. Even when you can end the game by having her come aboard your ship, it's not like she's doing it just to reward you as a player for successfully winning as a love interest, but rather because as a human being you give her the opportunity to move on and lead a life that isn't so dominated by her past finally.

I'm not saying that I don't get what you're saying and I'm trying to defend any potentially offensive undertones that the game might have. What I'm instead trying to argue is that if those undertones really are meant to be a part of the game, perhaps they're not there because Love as an author is inherently condoning them, but rather just trying to get her audience to think about their implications on a broader scale. It might be yet another visual novel that you can technically interpret as having a straightforward narrative where you win the girl of your dreams over by telling her sweet nothings over and over again, but it's so tinted by a darker overarching narrative about sexual dominance and gender inequality that I think saying that Analogue does the exact same thing despite all of that might be jumping to some conclusions when it may actually be providing some meta-commentary about visual novel games that resort to such tropes.

A lot of people are quick to cut down the content of a story or something else creative that they don't like because they see things that they think condone are bad and there are certainly times when that's true, but I think it's also often the case that such subject matter is included precisely because the author wants to make a contemplative point that makes people think about the bad merits of what's in there. There are people who condemn games like Grand Theft Auto because all they see is some footage of murder and mayhem being caused, but players like us are always able to quickly correct such views by saying that yes, there is a lot of violence and mayhem that you can cause, and the stories always make you do some very wrong things, but there are always gameplay systems in place that push back against your antics and try to ensure that you don't always get away with what you're actually trying to pull. I'm not saying that you're that sort of person who's condemning Analogue based off of just a few things that you happened to see; you've told me that you've looked into the game quite a bit and I believe you. But as I wrote in the review, I feel that if that sort of undertone is actually presently in the game, it's because Love deliberately inserted it and had a greater purpose for it as its author, something that extends to most everything else in it.

I'm not asking you to agree; I don't post these sorts of reviews and respond to comments like yours out of the hope I'll achieve a consensus of some sort. Not only would that compromise my own personal integrity as a writer with a voice, but it would also just make discussing things boring. Instead, I hope that in talking about all of this that you at least better understand where I come from philosophically in having this opinion. You're free to still believe that I'm wrong and disagree, but I hope I've made it apparent that my appreciation for the game and its plot comes from a deeper place than just "I wanted to hook up with the cute anime girl." If that was how I was approaching this genre of games, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be in the right state of mind to actually come across anything like Digital or Analogue, and for good reason.

Posted by ItBeStefYo

@Pepsiman: You made a lot of good points there and I think I could only argue back if I actually played the full game, but I know that I am not going to enjoy it. I completed Digital: A love story, and then it was a pretty unique game, and the reveal that the person you had actually been speaking to was not in fact a person but AI was pretty incredible.

It made you question certain things and it ended up being pretty sad when the ending came around. Sad, sure but the fact that it was just AI made it less impactful, the author has obviously produced this AI specifically but AI in the end is peripheral. It has no real emotions and only makes relationships to benefit itself.

The fact that in Analogue you are told the person you are talking with is AI feels, more honest at least, but there will always be a voice in the back of your head that this isn't a real person, they lack humanity and that makes for interesting commentary on the game, but not much else.

I feel the whole "meta" argument is kinda moot, I've always found meta commentary as a cheap tool to try and heighten something above its peers.

I can certainly understand your opinion though, I guess it's just personal preference in the end. And boy do you write a lot!

Edited by Pepsiman

@ItBeStefYo: That's all understandable. In terms of its overall impact, I do indeed think that Analogue as a game/story isn't as effective as Digital for a lot of little reasons and I am of the opinion that Love has yet to top that game in any of her subsequent works. If I sound so invested in Analogue despite that sentiment, it's more because I appreciate Love's take on visual novels and adventure games and hope that her work ultimately goes on to impact other games in a positive way rather than just me being a devout fanboy.

Honestly, I don't know if I even buy the whole meta-commentary argument myself. I was just positing it as another possible thing you can extrapolate from Love's characterizations; ultimately the only one who knows whether it's true or not is Love herself.

And yeah, I know I have a penchant for rambling. I only ever really do it these days when I really get invested in a debate, so really, consider it a bit of a success on your end that you've gotten me to talk so much. I'm perfectly happy to talk shop about my reviews with people who don't necessarily agree with the score or editorial content, but rarely is the conversation so productive and civil for so long, so I'm glad the situation presented itself today. I should actually be writing an essay that I actually need to turn in for finals rather than writing academically inconsequential ones on the Internet, but that's neither here nor there.

Posted by ItBeStefYo

@Pepsiman: Haha yeah, it was a nice little argument! Good luck with the finals and your editorial content is great for the record!

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