Wot I Think – Analogue: A Hate Story

By Alec Meer on February 29th, 2012 at 6:02 pm.

Analogue: A Hate Story, the latest game from Digital: A Love Story and Don’t Take It Personally, Babe creator Christine Love, came out a few weeks back. I’ve finally been able to sit down and explore this dark, sad detective story set on a ghost ship from the 25th century. Here’s what I discovered.

CHOOSE:

I like the art style/don’t care either way/won’t let my dislike of it stand in the way of finding out more about an interesting videogame.

I will not play a game that has that art style.

Okay! We can continue.

You could technically call Analogue: A Hate Story a visual novel, but that would be a little like saying a panther was ‘just a cat.’ Analogue doesn’t so much evolve the largely linear, information drip-feed structure of visual novels as mutate it wildly, chop it up into chunks then offer it up to you in a tin you can pluck the parts out of as you like. It’s a detective story first and foremost, with you as the detective. A sort of space-Poirot if you like, but one whose only forms of communication are picking a left or a right answer to someone else’s questions, rather than Belgian bon-mots and moustache-stroking.

In the far future, you’re contracted with finding out what fate befell the starship Mugunghwa before it reached its intended goal of establishing the first interstellar human colony. The only entity aboard the ship is an AI in the form of a young woman, who can’t see or hear you, but only recognise which of her offered dialogue options you select. The rest… well, the rest is mighty tricky to document without plunging heavily into spoiler territory, as the game is a densely interwoven mystery revealed by browsing through the diaries and letters of its long-dead inhabitants.

The tale primarily revolves around two families of Korean extract, each of which was at one point seen as noble bloodlines among the population of indeterminate but apparently vast size on board the colony ship. How does their history of arranged marriages, quests for heirs and inter-familial arguments tie into the fate of the Mugunghwa?

There is a set explanation and there are scripted events and discoveries, but both your route to the key answer and your choices in reaction to it ensure a game that does not roll down a traditionally linear path. You build a picture of what happened to, but most of all what motivated, the major players in this centuries-old dynastic saga. You will be presented with justifications for why some people did what they did, and then you will decide where the guilt for the slow-motion tragedy that led to the ship’s downfall really lies.

It’s not truly a science-fiction piece, however. The death of the Mugunghwa’s population is essentially a framing device for an acutely close-up look at a society that believed men are born to rule and women are born to obey. That is not a fictional society: Analogue’s gradually-revealed backstory is based upon Korea’s five centuries-long Joseon Dynasty, and particularly its shocking oppression of women. On the ship, before everyone died, its female populace were little more than slaves and breeders, with their only meaningful communication conducted via private letters.

It’s these that you gradually dig up and read broadly in an order of your choice, discovering the desperate lengths to which the two families went to in order to protect themselves and express themselves – and the lengths the men went to in order to protect their own standing in the ship/dynasty’s hierarchy. As well as that, you go far beyond the cold, simple family trees you’re presented with at the start of the game, the swamp of unfamiliar names gradually clearing to reveal familiar voices and the darker truths behind the apparent relationships they document.

Analogue starts out as a mystery in more ways that one. In the earlier moments of its 3-4 hour playtime, it’s barely clear what you’re trying to do, let alone who all these people you keep hearing about are. Moments of open exposition are few and far between, but between the diaries, comments upon them from the AI and then cross-referencing those with the comments of another AI that turns up later, understanding builds itself.

Regularly, the game will pull out and remind you of why you’re there – to find out what happened to a spaceship. A spaceship that, as you’ll discover, isn’t exactly in great shape after centuries of drifting through the skies, which makes your being on it not entirely wise. Thing is… you’re now there for another reason.

At one point, the girlish, lonely AI asks why you’re there – to find out the password that will get you the access you need to the ship’s logs, or to find out more about the thoughts and fate of one of the characters you’ve been reading about. An hour previously, I’d have said it was for the password, but that point I’d become so invested in all these unseen, long dead people, their centuries-old machinations and aspirations and whether the women ever saw a brighter day, that my answer had entirely changed.

This wasn’t a job anymore, or even a challenge to beat the game, get the information I needed and get an ending screen. It was personal. Personal even though I could only ever be an observer – it was dozens of decades too late to help, defeat or even meet any of these people. All I could do was pick left or right from options offered by a computer that looked like a manga character.

Opportunities to become more involved, emotionally if not practically, are offered, but that’s all I can safely say about that. At times, there is a slight lean towards mawkishness if you head down a particular path, but fortunately it never escapes the shadow of something very sinister. There is the possibility to finally bring some light onto this dark ghost ship, but what if doing so entails the exoneration of something awful?

Opportunities to act brutally also exist, though at the time of writing I’ve seen only two of the game’s five endings and so can’t entirely speak for what happens were I to don my Utter Bastard, Utilitarian or Icily Pragmatic hats. I’d find that difficult to do, because certain characters elicit enormous, enormous sympathy from me even despite occasionally irritating jabbering-style dialogue. Because I’m a big softie. Even when being so involves essentially waving away the most awful crimes.

While Analogue is a tighter affair in both tale and design than last year’s Don’t Take It Personally, Babe (and mercifully free from the awkward didacticism that lay at the game’s conclusion), the moments when you yourself are brought more directly into the tale are perhaps less powerful than the silent discovery aspect, but they’re probably necessary to ensure this is more than a game of reading. The art, even aside from arguments about its divisive style, arguably harms it a little too, as the bright, colourful inhumanity with which the visual characters are depicted doesn’t necessary gel with the scenes of silent suffering conveyed by the diaries.

Fortunately, the escalations of and experiments with the visual novel form (and indeed Digital’s design) make up for this, transforming Analogue into a many-layered onion of a narrative. It is inevitably headed in one overall (yet splintered) direction, whose full story only becomes clear as a result of your own deduction and reasoning, and of multiple playthroughs. Oh, and you even get some well-observed (in its deliberate slowness and frustration) pseudo-Linux terminal action to try and stave off a mid-game disaster.

Analogue is the missing link between visual novels and adventure games, with a touch of RPG-style NPC relationship-juggling thrown in, and while I suspect it’s more a glorious aberration than a watershed moment for a genre many gamers have quite understandably struggled to understand the appeal of, it’s certainly a great leap forwards for Christine Love. Yes, I do personally question the wisdom of using that visual style, on both a commercial level and in terms of atmosphere, but, putting that aside, Analogue is a sit-up-and-take-notice achievement in storytelling, in interface, in research, in mechanics and in moral ambiguity.

It got into my head, and I suspect it’s going to stay there for a while. I don’t ask much more from a game.

Analogue: A Hate Story is out now.

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117 Comments »

  1. Craig Stern says:

    This sounds interesting; I suspect I’d probably enjoy this. It does strike me as slightly odd, however, that the designer chose a binary decision format for a game called “analogue” (particularly given that it follows up on a game called “digital”).

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      FhnuZoag says:

      That suggests an interesting mechanic actually: choose on a slider how you feel about a certain thing, and the game compares it to a number of hidden thresholds and decides which next point to send you to.

    • Ba5 says:

      I’d really enjoy this as well, but for $15? No. Plus, despite the amazing stories she writes, I really, really, really, really dislike the art style. And her games are usually finished in an hour and a half. For $5, I’d buy it, for $15, no.

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      Lambchops says:

      Funnily enough when I first saw the screens I assumed because of the name of the game that it had sliders as FhnuZoag. I agree that it could be an interesting mechanic.

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  2. delialli says:

    No need to be patronising. I mean, someone who’s displayed enough faith to honestly reach the “bad” ending of your little game doesn’t need to be directed to the wikipedia page for “prejudice”. I was only drinking devil’s advocaat and it still felt like a tiny tiny slap in the face.

    • Vinraith says:

      Wait, the “bad” path through that leads to the Wikipedia page on prejudice? Seriously? What on Earth does prejudice ever have to do with taste in art?

      Eh, no matter, but Alec just hijacked his own review thread. This should be fun to watch, I’ll get the popcorn.

      Edited per Lambchops’ post below.

    • kraii says:

      Oh come on, it was funny :)

    • Alec Meer says:

      Books by covers.

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      Lambchops says:

      @ Vinraith

      Think you’re confusing John and Alec there dear chap. Still at least you’ve got something tasty popcorn to console you after making such a foolish error!

    • delialli says:

      You would have to be quite bloody-minded to get there I suppose…but, you know, sometimes you CAN judge a book by it’s cover. Sometimes snap judgements are good…this is why Stewart Lee puts a negative pull quote from the daily mail on his posters. He doesn’t want to waste people’s time if they’re not going to enjoy themselves at his shows.

      Looks like an interesting game though!

    • PodX140 says:

      Twas highly entertaining indeed.

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      Klydefrog says:

      I agree, I felt quite stung. However I should clarify that in reality the art style doesn’t bother me in the slightest and I just wanted to see what would happen. I cleared the pages from my browsing history anyway, just in case anyone was watching.

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      DrScuttles says:

      If we take the blurb on the back to be a part of a given book’s cover… I judge them all the time.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Lambchops

      Oops, my bad, thanks for the catch! And yes, the popcorn is delicious, I’d share some but we haven’t worked out that whole Star Trek transporter thing yet.

    • Inigo says:

      There’s a difference between disliking an artstyle itself, and disliking a particular example of an artstyle because it is bland as all hell.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Also, do you know how hard it is to call the hospital with your tongue? That was a mean trick.

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      @delialli

      Actually, I tend to think Stewart Lee would do that because a bad review from the Daily Mail is like a seal of aproval for non-xenophobes.

    • delialli says:

      @ Droopy

      He has said the thing I said in interviews, but the thing you said is probably true also. Come to think of it, maybe the thing I said is a joke, and he really just means the thing you said :(

    • Edradour says:

      Indeed i think the author has a fair amount of prejudice against people who, under no circumstances, will play a game with this artstyle even if the only given option is to plunge your hands into a pot of boiling water.

      Bloody hypocrits

    • TCM says:

      “You are prejudiced against my belief that anyone who enjoys or produces [insert country here] style art is a [insert epithet here] who deserves to be ignored, because we all know that nothing good has ever come from [insert country here]“

    • Vinraith says:

      Now now, believing that a distaste for anime is the same thing as a distaste for Asian people doesn’t make someone prejudiced, it just makes them an idiot.

    • TCM says:

      It’s hyperbole mocking the fact that apparently you can be prejudiced against somebody with prejudice by pointing out their prejudice.

    • Vinraith says:

      Which might have some relevance if the word “prejudice” had any place in this conversation at all.

    • Thants says:

      People were hurt and offended by a link to the wikipedia page on prejudice, even though they were just playing along to see what happened? Instead of just having a little chuckle at Alec’s silly game?

      Good lord, when did we get so sensitive around here?

    • harrumph says:

      You know, if you looked “prejudice” up in the dictionary (or, say, read the first three sentences of that Wikipedia article), you might learn that the word is perfectly appropriate to this situation.

    • etho says:

      Prejudice. From the Latin ‘praejudicium’ meaning “prior judgement.” In other words, making a decision (I am going to scorn and ignore this game, regardless of whether or not it is good) based on judgements made without acquiring all, or any, relevant information (because it uses a particular art style).

      Makes sense to me. Dismissing something based on a pre-existing, tangentially related bias sounds like prejudice.

      Also, I’mma check this out, it sounds neat.

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      jrodman says:

      I wouldn’t have felt the need to comment on the game’s art style, despite it being a (quite legitimate) deal breaker for me. However, I definitely feel the need to comment on that patronising, obnoxious choose your own adventure tone. It’s legitimate for me have my own set of reasons for choosing to engage in entertainment mediums, and your saying otherwise only lowers the possible level of discussions.

      In short, RPS should not troll its users. It won’t improve the dialogue.

    • Megadyptes says:

      Yeah it was pretty dumb.

    • HammerBackspace says:

      Somebody linked me to a wiki article and fatally wounded my feelings. How dare you opinion at me, RPS. How dare.

    • Agrona says:

      I enjoyed the “Silence is Golden” ending, personally.

  3. nimzy says:

    I laughed for a solid minute after boiling my hands in a pot of tea.

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      felisc says:

      that was pretty entertaining indeed.

    • Berzee says:

      I laughed for several seconds after reading the last half of your comment.

    • notjasonlee says:

      i smiled throughout

    • dazman76 says:

      I smiled through gritted teeth as the skin slowly removed itself from my hands. Slowly. From my hands.

    • bill says:

      I didn’t understand why not liking anime art lead to burning hands in a pot. Is that supposed to teach a lesson?

  4. mechabuddha says:

    Excellent review. I’ve gotten through three of five endings, and while I found the game a little on the short side, it is quite enjoyable. I have no regrets sending money Love’s way.

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    Lambchops says:

    To be honest I’m more prejudiced against playing a game whose blurb describes a character as a “spunky AI sidekick” than the unappealing art style!

    Putting that silliness aside Digital was worth my time so I’ll but this on my ever burgeoning “to play” list.

  6. Vagrant says:

    I can’t remember all the issues I had with the game, but I think it mostly related to the shallow picture painted by the logs you read. I thought it was just not very interesting.

    The game is basically a text adventure told through game logs. Text adventures are fine, but I always hate storytelling through log files in games.

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    Wurzel says:

    I had a pretty good time with it, although I’m not sure $15 was worth it. Still, the production values were pretty good – art, music, interface and especially writing. I guess it’s just that we’re not used to paying a premium for good writing in this industry…

    • Craig Stern says:

      $15 is a premium now?

    • Alevice says:

      In the indie world, it’s even a theft

    • bwion says:

      In a world where you can throw random handfuls of change into the air and find you’ve accidentally bought 37 different indie bundles, yes. Yes it is.

      (No it isn’t.)

    • john_mclane says:

      I know it’s not ECONOMICALLY RATIONAL but I sort of view the $15 as going towards the other two games as well (Digital and DTIPBIJNYS or whatever – you know the ones). Digital in paticular I enjoyed immensely, and DTIP was pretty good too.

      So it’s sort of a reverse sunk costs thing, my sunk benefit means I’m prepared to pay more for this one than I otherwise would.

      Actually I suppose it’s not like that at all, it’s just a case of “people do nice things to you so you do nice things back”. I should really stop trying to analyse things all the time.

      I loved Digital though, I really did. One of my top 5 games from the past 5 years.

      **Edit** Grammar failure

    • cjlr says:

      Oh, it’s totally worth $15 USD. It’s totally not worth goddamn $15.44 CAN, which fastspring is trying to charge me right now for a second copy for a friend. The exchange rate’s 1:1.01 today! It should be $14.84. Grrr.

      I want my 60 cents back.

      Oh but anyway. The game’s totally interesting and worth playing through. $10 would seem to be a better price on the surface, but if, as mentioned, the $15 is seen as inclusive of the previous two titles, which were released for free, it is eminently reasonable.

  8. Buttless Boy says:

    Sounds pretty interesting, I just hope the characters aren’t as obnoxious as the ones in Digital. I really can’t understand why so many people like that game. I never finished it though, maybe you eventually get to murder the creepy stalker girl?

    • sinister agent says:

      They’re beloved because they’re well-drawn. Of course they’re obnoxious. They’re teenagers.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Well, and I realize this is a harshly unfair judgment, the very first character I encountered in the demo seemed to have exactly the same personality as the annoying girl in Digital. I’m not sure that argument applies to AI constructs as well as it does to teenagers.

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      Petethegoat says:

      It’s funny you say that, for a number of reasons.

  9. Inigo says:

    Those screenshots are not exactly enticing. The dialogue wheel semicircle makes Mass Effect look like Planescape: Torment.

  10. sinister agent says:

    My hands are in great pain. Please advise.

    • Alevice says:

      I suppose this means Shepard is the Nameless One before getting all those scars? And that probably the horrible act he comitted was maybe join the Reapers?

      EDIT: Argh, this was aimed at Inigo´s comment.

    • Inigo says:

      I think your mouse slipped a little, chief.

  11. Apples says:

    The title of this game is a really weird choice. I’d heard people talking about it and assumed it was some kind of slightly mean-spirited parody of Digital, rather than being an entirely different game (still based around digital records, so why analogue?) by the same creator. Confusing.

    I have to agree with Inigo, the displayed dialogue choices are just sad. “Pitiful” vs “They had it coming”? I guess she wanted to express more “That’s very sad” rather than the sneery condescending “pitiful”. Is it like ME where your dialogue choices are more expansive than the prompt, or does it just go onto the next line of NPC dialogue with you providing moronic monosyllabic comments on proceedings? And yeah, while I wouldn’t eschew a good game just because of art style, the one she continually and ill-advisedly chooses has no relation to the content of the game and distances you from what are meant to be emotional scenarios because it all looks cartoony and unreal. Why, why, why. Is Love just a bit of a japanophile or what?

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      Petethegoat says:

      If you’ll take a few minutes to try the demo, your questions will be answered.
      I’d say the handling of dialogue and interaction is one of it’s biggest strengths.

      Edit: Inigo, this applies to you too, actually.

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      ffordesoon says:

      @Apples:

      “And yeah, while I wouldn’t eschew a good game just because of art style, the one she continually and ill-advisedly chooses has no relation to the content of the game and distances you from what are meant to be emotional scenarios because it all looks cartoony and unreal.”

      Oh, you mean that art style that millions of people across the world enjoy and have absolutely no trouble relating to in any context whatsoever?

      Perhaps I’m being (more than) a little snide when I say that, but it’s true, and remains so under scrutiny. I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, Apples; I’m just incredibly frustrated, because I don’t understand why more Western games don’t use the anime/manga style (I mean, aside from the tiresome kneejerk negative reaction to it that otherwise sane people seem to possess, and the admittedly rather banal and hideous recreations of it that Westerners have tended to produce until fairly recently, like Septerra Core). It’s so, so, so much more interesting and attractive and inviting to the imagination than the hideous abominations foisted upon otherwise fine games by that banal bunch of Howe-humping dullards, Struzan-stroking neckbeards, and creepily intense gun-porn enthusiasts who – judging by their output, anyway – make up the artistic talent pool of nine-tenths of the AAA game industry.

      Look, I’m not saying there isn’t a whole lot of equally crappy and/or generic anime/manga art out there, nor am I denying that Japanophiles (like most of the fans of the things I love, unfortunately for me – Bioware, Joss Whedon, superhero comics…) are generally a pretty obnoxious lot – not to mention rather spectacularly misinformed about Japan itself. I’ll even freely admit that most anime has cheap slideshow animation, tedious writing, and painfully generic character design where the artists just draw the same three characters over and over and give them wacky, gravity-defying hairstyles so the audience can tell them apart. If you don’t like the style for any or all of those reasons, or, hell, if you just plain don’t care for it, fair enough. It just frustrates me, is all, because the style is just as versatile and potentially engaging as any other, and far, far, far more immediately appealing. To me, anyway.

    • Edradour says:

      Yeah well y’know that’s just like, your opinion, man

      So as it happens in the western world the majority dont like the Style which is why the majority of games for the western market dont feature it…funny how that works huh?
      And personally ive found anime fanboys to be the most obnoxious kind of fanboy mostly because theyre omnipresent. COD Fanboys may be even worse but aslong as i dont read related threads/sites i dont hear much from them.
      Now try finding a forum without anybody fancying a female anime character with just the minimum amount of clothing and a gigantic signature with the same character.

      I can tell you why i dont like the style: Because i want/need to identify with the character im playing and given my age and sexual orientation i absolutly can’t identify with a 15 yo boy who looks like a girl without breasts.
      Second the world has to be believeable. I struggle a great deal to find a world believeable where everybody looks like ( or is ) a teenager and they’re supposed to save the world or fight in a war or whatever.
      Now that might be acceptable with games where everything else is completely nuts aswell ( final fantasy ) but well in that case the entire world is unbelieveable to begin with.
      And thats why it has to be big burly men imo, i just cant play a game with a skinny boy as a main character ( regardless of the identification part ) who goes on to fight stuff with giant swords and rifles when my mind is constantly telling me that this wimp would’nt be able to even lift the damn thing/the rifles recoil would break his bloody shoulder.
      They dont have to be ridiculously buffed like in gears of war, but they have to look like they were actually physically able to do the things they do.

      “I’ll even freely admit that most anime has cheap slideshow animation, tedious writing, and painfully generic character design where the artists just draw the same three characters over and over and give them wacky, gravity-defying hairstyles so the audience can tell them apart. If you don’t like the style for any or all of those reasons, or, hell, if you just plain don’t care for it, fair enough. It just frustrates me, is all, because the style is just as versatile and potentially engaging as any other, and far, far, far more immediately appealing. To me, anyway. ”

      So you admit that they have very little variance in their character design and than claim that the style is versatile?
      Im completly convinced that you could come up with very original and engaging variations of the style ( for example i enjoyed some of the old stuff like bebop, hellsing and the more mature ghibli, those actually manage to portray adults and havent triggered the same kind of rejection i feel towards the “new style” they still had annoying japanese stuff in them like that bloody kid in bebop or the stupid wench in hellsing ) but as it stands now thats not happening very soon and the art in this particular game isnt very original at all

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      ffordesoon says:

      @Edradour:

      Yes, they are omnipresent. That’s why it confuses me that more game companies don’t capitalize on that massive fanbase in any way. I know there’s a longing for a game with a top-class Western design sensibility (multiple solutions to problems, open design based in emergent play, dialogue that doesn’t sound stupidly declarative in English, narrative choice and consequence, etc.) and an anime aesthetic, because I’ve felt that longing for years, as have all of my friends.

      I didn’t say the art style [i]itself[/i] was generic; I said that the content of many anime shows is generic. That’s true of any art style, any writing style, any style of music, etc.

      I don’t feel like deconstructing the rest of your comment, because I don’t want to get into yet another tedious and pointless argument about this. Also, something about your post that I can’t quite put my finger on leads me to believe you’re at least partially trolling me, and I’d rather not hold the Idiot Ball for much longer than I already have, thanks. Let it suffice to say that your post is riddled with stereotypes, patently absurd assertions, and other fun junk like that. Even if you aren’t trolling at all, I can already tell it would be a waste of time to parley with you. The stubborn, opinionated jerk in me longs to engage with you, for sure, but I won’t give into the urge.

    • pipman3000 says:

      i dunno man anime fanboys aren’t quite so bad compared to the guys who keep whining about them

      i mean like i know it was cool to be all like “anime is for dorks goku is a faggot” when you were a teenager but at this point it’s kind of gone past that and became some kind of xenophobic culture war about promoting western styles in favor of every thing else.

      anti-anime is the new anti-rap

    • bill says:

      There isn’t really just ONE anime style, there are lots of different artists who have their different styles. Some characters look big and bulky, some look western or stylised, some don’t even look like 12 year olds.

      Unfortunately the dominant style is the big-eyed lolita style, and that’s even more true outside Japan. Because in the west to be an anime-fan seems to mean to like the big-eyed lolita style, so they don’t seem to export much of the other stuff.

      The other problem is that anime seems to eternally play to the teen-boy market. Much more even than western games/comic do. If they aren’t playing to the teen boys, they’re playing to the men who are still teen boys inside.

      But the sadest thing is the way the art style and requirements seem to limit the genre. They might have some more variation in setting, characters and content if they could escape the confines of the art style.

    • Apples says:

      If not liking anime puts me in with the same group as edradour, I recant…

      edit: overall my problem isn’t with ‘anime style’ but what passes as ‘anime’ in the majority of cases. Big eyes, girly boys, stupid hairstyles, everyone looks 12, ludicrously proportioned limbs, side-mouths… the works. There is absolutely the potential for variation in the art style but it is rarely actually used. It looks much better in this than in her last game, but it still just looks derivative and arbitrary. There’s no REASON to choose it. Say what you like about the art styles in most Western games but they generally do evoke an actual feel and are deliberately designed and chosen. This is not. It just feels like the personal choice of the creator that she sticks to no matter what would benefit the actual game. I have the same complaints about indie creators who use pixel art in some weird cargo cult way (if I use this, it will look old and therefore be a good game because old games are good!), not just anime.

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      ffordesoon says:

      @Apples:

      You know what? Fair enough.

      Having not played the game, I do agree that the art used here does look a tad generic, and although I would argue that’s entirely deliberate (and you can look at my response to Pafnucy’s comment on the next page to see why), I can understand your objection. Thanks for the thoughtful and measured response! :D

  12. Ravenholme says:

    “You could technically call Analogue: A Hate Story a visual novel, but that would be a little like saying a panther was ‘just a cat.’ Analogue doesn’t so much evolve the largely linear, information drip-feed structure of visual novels as mutate it wildly, chop it up into chunks then offer it up to you in a tin you can pluck the parts out of as you like”

    It was at this point I realised that you’ve not really played a whole heck of a lot of visual novels. Forgiven, in that it was a good and relatively unbiased review though (The above is the only REAL instance of bias)

    • pandora says:

      Recommendation time?

    • Malarious says:

      I don’t know, I think it’s pretty accurate — while I know there are a handful of visual novels that reject the linearity so typical of the medium, (Kagetsu Tohya comes to mind — god, what a mess — though I loved it) far and wide, visual novels are on-rails experiences with little player interaction. Analogue seems to derail that experience somewhat.

      Personally, I read visual novels for the stories that can’t be found anywhere else. If Fate/Stay Night were novelized (ideally, in English) I’d read it like I read Kara no Kyoukai.

      There are some VNs that do really excel at being visual novels — CLANNAD, for instance, is a story that simply couldn’t be told in a non-interactive format. Analogue is the same. Good VNs let you prod and poke at stories, look at them from different angles, learn more about the characters and settings each time — but it’s still a guided experience. It’s still information drip-fed at a steady pace, you’re just given the choice of how to pursue it.

    • infinite_walrus says:

      Yeah, I felt the same way about that particular excerpt of the Wot I Think. It is sort of true though; a majority of VNs are like that. However, there are plenty that don’t follow that pattern. I doubt this VN does anything that hasn’t been done before. (I’m not trying to knock it or anything.)

      That said, I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to VNs (or any story heavy game.) If I don’t get blown away like I did with Nine hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Ever 17, I’ll always be a bit disappointed. Those VNs really take the medium to another level. Especially 999, which makes subtle yet incredibly effective use of the Nintendo DS.

    • Malarious says:

      999 was simply brilliant, and the most intense Sudoku I’ve ever played. The PC is sort of lacking in the visual novel department in that regard — while the DS has gems like Phoenix Wright and 999, PC VNs are usually much, much, more archetypal, which is a pity.

    • Christine says:

      Really, the one non-linear visual novel you need to know about is Crimsoness, which is basically perfect.

    • Shazbut says:

      I mention this a lot, but you all have to play “YU-NO The Girl Who Chants Love At The Edge Of The World”. It’s one of the best ever, it’s been translated, and it’s also one of the most interactive.

      You can thank me when you finish it. I’ll be waiting

    • TCM says:

      I wouldn’t say VNs are inherently more or less linear than any western game — how many endings do you usually get out of modern RPGs, 3 or 4? Less if you’re unlucky.

      VNs tend to have around that number of ‘proper’ ends, in addition to bad ends as a result of poor decision making, not unlike the game overs you’d get in another genre, but with more narrative attached.

      For anyone looking to get their feet wet in that genre, the “Infinity” series (Ever 17 and Remember 11 are fully translated, though the translation on the former is a bit…off), and anything from Type-Moon (Fate/Stay Night, Tsukihime) are good places to start. If you prefer a more traditional gameplay structure in addition to all that reading, I’d say BlazBlue (fighting), 999 (Puzzle), or Phoenix Wright (adventure, old school) would be viable choices.

    • bill says:

      I don’t think you know what “bias” means.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Would love suggestions too. 999 was aces, and I’m enjoying Ever 17 but the latter is just six linear routes right?

  13. Berzee says:

    I am prejudiced against:
    1) Dark Sad Stories
    2) Futuristic Stories

  14. Kevin says:

    Don’t find the art style particularly objectionable (Sturgeon’s Law pretty much encapsulates my feelings towards anime, then again, it also applies to my feelings towards games, movies, and comics). Still, out of curiosity I clicked through the “put your hands in boiling water” options and had a good laugh. Bang on, Mr. Meer.

  15. celozzip says:

    yeah i like visual novels, got into them through phoenix wright. havent played any of her stuff though but i’ll check this out. she really needs to get them running on android though, lots of us use tablets/phones for visual novels.

  16. YourMessageHere says:

    I find it unbelievable that we have a medium that began in the anime tradition, uses anime visual tropes, overwhelmingly overlaps its demographics with anime fans and requires a significant leap of imagination to work at all, just as anime does, is being criticised for using anime art styles. I mean, I’m not a visual novel afficionado; are there actually any visual novels that aren’t anime styled? What would you prefer? Photos? Something even more stylised? A text adventure? What precisely is the problem?

    • Koozer says:

      A different style would be nice. Example A: Ace Attorney.

    • thelongshot says:

      There has always been a strong contingent against anything anime-styled. Maybe it is because it has become so prevelent. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I have more of a problem paying $15 for this.

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      There are indeed visual novels that aren’t anime style. Chunsoft’s 428 and Imabikisou for example (though Chunsoft uses the term “sound novel”).

    • equatorian says:

      Well, there’s the Pigeon Dating Sim (which was a parody of Japanese otome games—romance visual novels for girls, and mostly written like tween novels really—) if you’re interested in photos…

      And thumbs-up to the one who recced 428. Imabikisou’s story is kinda bleh, but 428 is very good. So is the rest of the ‘sound novel’ line.

      A : Ace Attorney is very much anime-styled, though, as much as it may look different from the typical 2010 anime feel. The designs tend to shout-out to the late 1990 or the early 2000s, IIRC.

    • bill says:

      The hyper clean lines and sweet innocent faces don’t really lend themselves to stories of great realism, depth, pain or emotional intelligence though, do they?
      Not that all anime is like that – but something like Berserk or something more dark and stylised seems like it’d suit the story better.
      I think the anime style limits the story options, personally. That’s why all anime are set in highschools ;-)

    • Gormongous says:

      I don’t know, you could say the same about the sparseness of the literary style Hemingway and Steinbeck are known for. Incredibly detailed media conveys only detail, some abstraction is necessary to access broader themes.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      @Bill:

      Grave Of The Fireflies says hello.

  17. Eclipse says:

    An aventure game style dialogue built-in inside a game review? Once again Rock, Paper, Shotgun goes full speed exploring new territories. This innovative site and the sheer genius of mr.Meer alone made my try this game.

    Ok not really, I played Digital before and I found it entertaining, I don’t love manga style but neither I hate it, so here we go. But that intro really made me smile, good work Alec

  18. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    Alec is my hero 4eva.

  19. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    so many games, so little time, not enough money. I head there’s a demo, will try to give it a spin soon enough.

    out of curiosity, alec, ever played cosmology of kyoto? you might want to if you enjoyed Analogue. probably hard to find now but it’s a good mix of adventure, visual novel and “edutainment” in Flash format that manages to be a dang cool game.

    • malkav11 says:

      And apparently the one game Roger Ebert has ever appreciated.

  20. Yuri says:

    Just wanted to say that reading comments on RPS can be just as entertaining than reading the articles themselves.

    Carry on dear chaps. Both the articles and comments. <3

    Oh and, i want more games from this woman. Always refreshing.

  21. Ba5 says:

    I’d really enjoy this as well, but for $15? No. Plus, despite the amazing stories she writes, I really, really, really, really dislike the art style. And her games are usually finished in an hour and a half. For $5, I’d buy it, for $15, no.

  22. Jamesworkshop says:

    Interesting, but sounds over my head

  23. MistyMike says:

    This game has the most misleading title. Think of the people that buy it beacause it has the word ‘Anal’.

  24. hypercrisis says:

    I dislike this genre not for the art style, but rather the piss-poor writing.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      Then you should probably play Christine Love’s games, as they solve that issue. :)

    • TCM says:

      You could read one of the oodles of actually well written games of this type and not make snap judgements about an entire genre based on either one/two bad experiences and hearsay.

      But kneejerking denying potentially hundreds of interesting and unique experiences is easier.

    • paterah says:

      Well what was Alec saying about prejudice chaps? You see friend, there are actually many games in this genre that have great writing.

    • hypercrisis says:

      It is Love’s games in particular that have blown me away with banal and tedious writing. Perhaps my standards are abnormally high though since I read books outside of genre fiction.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      My favorite book is Moby-Dick, or possibly The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. I’m nowhere near as well-read as some of the regular RPS commenters.

      Your argument is invalid.

      Understand: you’re allowed to despise her writing. That’s no reason to sneer at the things other people enjoy. I thinkLord Of The Rings is a banal hunk of garbage, but I don’t go around telling the people who are into it to their face that their favorite book is actually terrible and I’m right because I’ve read The Great Gatsby. I do not need to win some sort of illusory contest with others in order to enjoy the things I enjoy. That’s the mark of the sort of pathetically insecure pedant who goes to the coffee shop to read Middlemarch just to show everyone there that he regularly reads the Great Works like Middlemarch and they don’t.

      Go back to annotating Anna Akhmatova poems and taking small sips from your brandy snifter, Snootington Snobsworth. Us filthy proles will get along fine without you.

    • TCM says:

      So you made the assumption that everyone on a gaming site only reads genre fiction, and any kind of writing you don’t enjoy is somehow inferior.

      I don’t need to give specific examples of what I’ve read to tell you you are wrong.

      But on the subject of “I didn’t like this person’s writing so the whole genre is this way”, that’s the worst sort of dismissive statement. I genuinely enjoy reading, and while I have read honestly atrociously bad visual novels, and I’ve also read honestly atrociously bad books, these did not forever convince me that everything in their respective genres was on a similar level of quality. I’ve also read visual novels and books that I didn’t personally enjoy, but I saw the quality in them — they just did not appeal to my taste. Similarly, I’ve read at least one really good book from a genre I ordinarily despise.

      Basically, my philosophy is to try anything anyone suggests to me. I understand that time is a luxury, but there are some experiences that honestly are not worth missing out on.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    The only thing I didn’t really like in Analogue was the reactor scene (or rather, the timing of it). The rest was great and definitely worth 15$.

  26. InsanityBringer says:

    Ok, I must admit I was slightly amused by the alternate path available by the art direction thing. I must admit I’m quite a fan of the style of this game, however. Having played all games with all sorts of art styles, I must admit there are some I don’t like, but this isn’t one of them.

    I was a little hesitant about it at first, mostly due to there not being too much information about how the thing works, but I guess it now occupies a slot on my “games I need to buy” bookmark list for the moment. The original plot idea seemed really interesting, but I’m not sure if a simple blurb about the plot was enough to really get me into buying this thing.

    EDIT: I guess I could have clicked that convenient “demo” link I completely overlooked instead. heh

  27. Secundus says:

    waa waaa dont make fun of teh anime art style

  28. DOLBYdigital says:

    Just wanted to comment that I really liked the ‘Choose Your Adventure’ style article. While the joke was good and made me chuckle, I would really like to see more articles done seriously like this. Basically the idea where you cover 1 topic from different points of view and allow the reader/viewer to choose which style of article to read based on a decision….

    Really good idea in my opinion, please try again for other topics/articles :)

  29. pafnucy says:

    spoilers from the demo ahoy

    It is not as much about liking or disliking the art style as it is about a jarring dissonance between the setting, presentation and narrative.

    What we have here is a gritty sci-fi story of Korean dynastic infighting presented as a cutesy japanese visual novel with typical anime tropes (moe, cosplay, tsundere, meganekko etc). To give you an example, it takes a considerable suspension of disbelief to roll with the fact that the AI of a derelict colony ship rattling with skeletons is romantically interested in you.

    The visual novel stylization is taken quite far not only with the art style and tropes but also semantic and syntactic measures supposed to make it look like a translation from Japanese. Speaking of writing, let me give you a sample. I quote directly:

    Oh, um, hello. Ahh… actually, I was just testing that indicator icon to see if it’d get your attention… I just thought it’d be a good way of letting you know when I have something to say. I mean, like, if it’s super important, I can always just interrupt you… but, um, I don’t want to distract you if I can help it! I mean, that would suck, right? Haha, uh, so I’ll try not to do that.”

    It’s poor, and I have already had my morning coffee.

    I also find it a bit disingenuous on the part of usually vehemently anti-sexist Alec Meer to turn a blind eye on the portrayal of relationship building with sexualized (mini-skirt space academy schoolgirl outfit to begin with), naive, submissive and endearing characters with completely token personalities. Any genre-savvy internet veteran would have a morbid thought about now: “I wonder if they play dress-up for you”. And you can bet they do.

    The conflict between the form and content makes me unable to connect with the game at any artistic level and undermines the delivery of the story. If you take that away all you are left with is a bunch of indexed cue cards telling of some dynastic chronicles. For me, this “sit-up-and-take-notice achievement” is just a failed experiment barely constituting a game. Emotional investment (which moe themes/visual novels are tailored to invoke) should not be mistaken for a meaningful interaction with a game. A point-and-click exploration adventure styled like for example Gemini Rue would be in my opinion far more fitting here.

    Perhaps the demo is not enough to make judgements. Perhaps in the full game some unexpected turns completely avert the aforementioned tropes. But I cannot give it any more benefit of the doubt.

    As a side note, I find the recent japanophile sentiment on RPS puzzling. Is it promoting things just for the sake of being different? Drawing in new readers? Or perhaps pushing some kind of agenda? Should we expect an announcement of a line of RPS-themed dakimakura? Dibs on one with John Walker.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      I dunno, it seems rather appropriate to me, actually. I haven’t played the game, but I understand the narrative deals with symbolic and/or literal female slavery and/or oppression in whole or in part. What better way to reinforce that theme than for you the player to have a female character programmed to do your bidding? The anime style and knowing use of the tropes you mentioned further illuminates the implicit sexism at play, and I would assume you are supposed to feel a bit of a clash between the two main narrative arcs (your developing relationship with the AI and the diaries). I could be wrong, and you’ve obviously got a leg up on me as someone who’s played the demo, but I think it would be foolish to suppose that Love isn’t entirely aware of the tropes she’s using and their potential effect(s) on players.

      You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, and I suppose you could make the argument that Love is not successfully communicating the connection between the two elements of the game. Still, I believe my argument is worth some consideration. I intend to play the game, so I’ll be happy to recant if it turns out I’m wrong.

      Anyway…

    • JackShandy says:

      I also find it a bit disingenuous on the part of usually vehemently anti-sexist Alec Meer to turn a blind eye on the portrayal of relationship building with sexualized (mini-skirt space academy schoolgirl outfit to begin with), naive, submissive and endearing characters with completely token personalities. Any genre-savvy internet veteran would have a morbid thought about now: “I wonder if they play dress-up for you”. And you can bet they do.

      Naw, that’s a deliberate move. It’s no coincidence that it has a submissive anime schoolgirl character guide you through the datalogs of this society where women were forced to be submissive and married off at schoolgirl age.

      If the implied sexism turned you off the game, you might find it’s worth getting past the demo. It’s your fifteen bucks, though.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Having played it, yes, it’s done on purpose. Without giving spoilers, a hell of a lot the internet have slated the game on the basis of it being too feminist for their tastes…

    • pafnucy says:

      I initially assumed that choice was indeed deliberate. But soon thereafter (spoilers ahead) it turned out that the spunky ill-adjusted heroine from the pre-dynastic times, the Pale Bride, is none other than the simpering, wheedling AI character and thus the illusion was shattered. I could only assume that my initial impression was nothing but an unintentional coincidence. I had hoped that maybe the other AI/character would provide some counter-weight to it, but one of the first things you hear it say is “A man in the middle of space, all on his own. Sounds awfully romantic.” Sigh.

      If the full game takes it in a different way then the demo does a really poor job at conveying the ideas behind it.

  30. Ezhar says:

    You had me at “from Digital: A Love Story”. Downloading!

  31. Premium User Badge

    jrodman says:

    I was willing to get anything of Christine Love’s after DIgital: A Love Story.

    Then I got Don’t Take it Personally Babe, and I’m no longer willing to play anything of hers.

    That’s really the majority of my prejudice here.

  32. Walter Heisenberg says:

    Passive–aggressive behavior
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Passive-aggressive behavior is dealing with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations in an obstructionist or hostile manner that indicates aggression, or, in more general terms, expressing aggression in non-assertive (i.e. passive or indirect) ways. It can be seen in some cases as a personality trait or disorder marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed, resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations.

    Signs and symptoms
    Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one’s own insecurities.

  33. absolofdoom says:

    Well, I’m loving the game, personally. I’ve gotten the 5 endings, but only have 90% of the logs. I think I’m missing block 1 but I’m not sure if it exists. I shall go spelunking into the conversation trees once again tonight.

    Edit: Did it! Was really simple and I feel stupid now, but 100% always feels too good to care.

  34. not_vidya says:

    I call bullshit. Since when is laziness in art and design a good thing? How can anyone say a white background is even an art style? It looks unfinished no matter how you turn it, and by simply ignoring this, you admit that you are willing to support an incomplete product.

    Silence is golden – but my eyes still see.
    Talkin’ is cheap
    People follow like sheep.

    This song sums up the article in a strange fitting way. “Art style”. Yeah, right. My eyes still see.