By Mento 0 Comments
May the Twenty-Fifth
The source: The Indie Royale Getaway Bundle
The pre-amble: Analogue: A Hate Story is a dramatic visual novel from Canadian developer and writer Christine Love. The player is an unnamed hacker who is tasked with recovering all the data files of a centuries-old Korean spacecraft for a historical society. To this end, they must interact with the two female AI personalities in the ship's system in order to unlock and download all the necessary files: The gossipy security program *Mute and the demure librarian program *Hyun-ae.
The playthrough: I really enjoyed Analogue. I don't play a lot of visual novels in general, but I recognize how atypical a set-up Love has created with A:HS's entirely data-log driven narrative. Though it initially seems as if you're simply going through a list of files in a systematic order of your own choosing, additional logs are unlocked in a deliberate non-chronological order so as to gradually fill the player in on who all these people were and develop the personalities of the two NPCs you spend the entire game interacting with before the big reveals start coming and the game builds towards its climax. It's a beautifully told tale of vengeance, affection, coercion, propriety and loneliness and one that respects the player's intelligence to pick up on subtext and hints along the way.
Unfortunately (for me writing this article, at least) it's also one of those video game stories where the core appeal is in its gradual unraveling of a mystery. I've played a few games with that type of narrative agency for this feature already and I never really resolved where best to draw the line between synopsizing just enough to help people understand the game and going too far and depriving any curious potential players of a first-hand clever twist or jaw-dropping reveal. As such, I'll just skirt around the main plot as best as I'm able: The ship is (or was) full of Korean citizens out to colonize distant planets who had, for whatever reason, digressed to a pre-industrial civilization after the ship ceased to move but still maintained all the necessary systems to feed and shelter an unknown population size. Much of the story feels bizarrely anachronistic as a result: Medieval Korean nobility talking about ships and computers and AI programs without knowing anything about how they worked or why they were built. The AIs, naturally, feature heavily in this history and will often share their opinions about the long-dead humans that wrote the logs. Though there's a core story thread concerning "the Pale Bride", there are also plenty of incidental biographies from less vital characters that help to establish the type of world these characters inhabited.
I suppose it goes without saying that the game also has alternate endings. What visual novel doesn't? I bring it up because it was an unfortunate downside to the game: there's a few decisions that go towards deciding the ending around the halfway point of the game, and I made the mistake of saving over the file after that decision had been made. If I wanted to see the other endings, therefore, I would have to restart and skip through a hell of a lot of text as a result. It's not such a huge problem, since you can fly right past a lot of the game's content if you aren't taking the time to read it, and I was content enough with the one ending I did get that I feel I can walk away from the game satisfied. I suppose this issue's largely endemic with visual novels. Or possibly even part of their appeal; I guess I don't play enough of them to say with any certainty. What I can say is that Analogue: A Hate Story ought to be played by everyone. It's not like we have an abundance of well-written video games, after all.
The verdict: Yes, I'm all done. It's enough to convince me to try Christine Love's other works. I'd also recommend her blog too; I particularly enjoyed her detailed feature on the Super Game Boy and how its special features failed to live up to their potential.