Not being at all expert in Japanese gaming, I’m always very self-conscious of my extremely limited vocabulary for the matter. So you’ll forgive me when my best comparison for the sort of game we have here with Read Only Memories [official site] is the Phoenix Wright series. A dialogue-led adventure, with point-and-click elements. Conversations scroll and blippity-bloop across the bottom of the screen, occasionally punctuated by daft sound effects and shaking screens. There are probably terms for this.
Here we have a tale set in 2064, where most people have their very own personal robot, a Relationship Organizational Manager – a ROM. These AI-driven bots act as personal organisers, computers, and so on, but so far are limited to their programming. Until Turing, that is – the creation of one Hayden, an old friend of yours. Turing breaks into your apartment in the middle of the night, tidies up, and then tells you that Hayden has been kidnapped, and he needs your help. Why yours? “You aren’t quite my only hope,” he explains, “but certainly the most statistically supported. I have done the math.”
I found it interesting that ROM had let me play for long enough before I was asked to identify myself that I’d imagined the character I was playing as someone other than me. For reasons I can’t justify on reflection, I’d assumed the main character was a woman, so when asked by Turing for my name, it felt weird to put in my own. So I ended up being Angela. You can pick the gendered pronouns you prefer too, and even enter your own. And then it’s off to the important business of trying to rescue your friend from what may be anti-corporate terrorism or corporate conspiracy or something in between.
And so much conversation.
There are aspects of this style of game with which I struggle. The largest being the ellipsis. When your game insist on putting up every letter of every word in order one by one (albeit with the welcome option to make this very fast, here), and with hefty pauses in action between starting the sentence and making it possible to click past it, when the result is seeing “...” appear, twice in a row, I do get a little itchy.
But rather importantly, it’s good writing. It’s frequently funny, and even silly at times, your new buddy Turing offering nice quips and wry asides – even if his name is a little on the nose.
The super-retro design mostly works very nicely, the pixel animations charming, and mostly there to illustrate rather than tell the story themselves. However, despite this, during the pointing and clicking interactive objects sensibly highlight themselves with a mouse-over, and there are up to four ways to interact with anything. And wonderfully, bespoke lines are written for almost every choice! So, so rare in adventure gaming these days, where major new releases can’t be bothered to even have a ‘look at’, it’s a thing of splendid joy to be able to ridiculously talk to a plant, or try to pick up a landmark, and have the game respond appropriately and specifically.
It even goes so far as to write specific responses for clicking inventory items on clearly incorrect objects in the world. Using the carton of spoilt milk you’re carrying for some unknown reason on most things gets a unique critical response or gag. A medical device on the wall in a hospital proffers, “Are you threatened by the presence of something potentially more technologically advanced than Turing?” On the same room’s window and it’s, “The window is locked, and there must be a better use for it than just ruining the view.” Do it again and this time a man in the room objects to your attempted vandalism. Try it a second time on the computer monitoring your health and the game comments, “The nurses were wrong to let you keep it.” Obviously none are amazing zingers, but in context, in response to trying anything on anything, the game constantly delivers in a way you almost never see any more.
I am struggling with how slowly it moves. I’d love more puzzles, less chatter, but that’s just not the way the game leans. I’m also not very far in yet, so can’t comment on the larger story – beyond that I’m intrigued by the lack of a simple explanation for Hayden’s disappearance (I like to assume it’s pcworld.com’s Hayden Dingman), and the range of possibilities for who could be intervening in a potential technological singularity.
First impressions, despite the pace, are really rather good.