One of the things I like about Japanese visual novels as opposed to their Western interactive fiction counterparts is they seemingly habitually go completely off the rails at points. No matter how mundane the premise might be, it’s almost an expectation in the genre that the story take a lot of unexpected turns. At least in my experience, it’s the strongest quality of a visual novel, since the choices you make tend to be few, far between, and not immediately all that important. The other interesting thing about them is that while there is a true ending, it’s typically not possible to find it on your first playthrough. You have to explore multiple routes and sometimes have to piece together the right sequence to see the real ending. This can result in players having to put up with a great deal of overlap, particularly early in the game, as they make their way to each forked path.
You will need to play through Amnesia: Memories (Free) several times to see the true ending. The game goes a little easy on you, though, allowing you to essentially choose your main path from the start, and the overlap is greatly reduced by how different each of the paths is. Your first time through, it’s not quite clear what you’re actually picking at this junction, but that’s also the playthrough where you don’t really need to know, anyway. On subsequent playthroughs, you’ll be able to clearly select the path you want. From there, each of the main four paths has three different endings, one good, two bad, and one normal. Complete all of the main four paths, and you’ll unlock a fifth path that reveals all the secrets you’ve been seeking.
Amnesia: Memories is a visual novel in the otome genre. That is to say, the main character is a woman, and you’ll be courting one out of a selection of handsome men. The original version was a Japan-only release on the Sony PSP. This version is based on the remake which has already released in English on Steam and PlayStation Vita. The premise is clever enough. You play as a young woman who has a collision with a spirit named Orion who becomes trapped in your head. You’ve lost all of your memories as a result of a specific incident, and until you recollect them, neither you nor Orion will be able to move on. If you raise too much suspicion, you’ll be sent to the hospital, where the lack of stimulation will cause you to meet a bad end for sure. You’ll need to make careful decisions to recover your memories safely and court your chosen boyfriend successfully.
The set-up is definitely out there, but things get oddly normal in a hurry. Orion does a good job of acting as your character’s voice and providing exposition in equal measures, avoiding the odd quirk of visual novels where the character seems to be talking to themselves constantly. That’s essentially all he does, though. The rest of the game, for the most part, involves meeting with people, asking questions, and doing relatively ordinary things. The path you select at the start determines which boy you’ll be courting, but it also sets the tone of the characters and plot.
Although some things stay the same, there are enough differences in the way things unfold that it doesn’t ever feel like you’re repeating yourself as you play through each one. Some of the paths can get surprisingly surreal, particularly the unlockable path that reveals most of the secrets. Although it’s not always necessary in this kind of game, I’d strongly advise playing every path in Amnesia if you want to get the full effect of the story. How long that will take you depends heavily on your reading speed, but around three to five hours per path is probably a safe estimate.
I like the stylistic approach to the art in the game. Backgrounds are simple with limited use of color, but the way they’re designed really helps the character art pop. There’s a bit of a creepy vibe to the characters that goes well with the way the game plays with trust. Characters can look warm and friendly at one moment only to shift facial expressions and have you questioning their intentions the next. As usual for the genre, when big events occur, you’ll get a nice piece of art to accompany them. These are meant as collectible rewards, and they’re suitably polished works as a result. The game features full Japanese voice acting, with exceptional talents filling the roles. The soundtrack is fairly subdued but it’s decent enough to listen to as you read.
While I found certain characters to be immensely unlikable at first, over the course of the story most of them grow out of their worse behaviors in a believable way. That’s if you’re pursuing the good endings, of course. If you’re chasing down the bad ones, almost everyone is awful. But even when things are pretty bad, Orion is chipper and always around to keep the mood light. Well, he’s almost always around, anyway. Each path’s story is interesting to follow, and the overall story is pretty good, too, if a little weird in its resolution. It took a little while to get into it because of how stand-offish my first path’s boyfriend was, but after a short while, I found Amnesia hard to put down until I had run through each of the main paths at least once. I’m not sure if I’m going to fill out the extra endings and galleries, but if you’re inclined to get more out of the game, that’s certainly an option.
The bulk of the game is tied up in reading, though you are prompted for choices relatively frequently. Most of the time, it’s pretty clear what the impact of your choices will be in the general sense, but there are a few crucial choices where it’s hard to guess what the reaction will be. Luckily, you can save anytime you want in one of five different save slots, so if you want to scum for the best answers, that option is open to you. In addition, there are a few mini-games you’ll run into during the course of the game. For example, on the Clover path, your boyfriend will challenge you to answer some math questions. Nothing too tough, mind you, but it certainly changes up the pace of things a little.
Amnesia: Memories is available in two different forms. You can buy the whole game for a premium price of $22.99, or you can download a free version that lets you play the prologue, with each chapter weighing in at $2.99. Each of the five paths has three chapters, so if you’re looking to play the whole game, the premium version offers a massive discount. As I said earlier, I don’t think this is one of those visual novels you’ll only want to play parts of, either. The game does a good job of dropping in hints towards the greater mystery on each path, poking at your curiosity to continue and see how it all ends. If you enjoy digging into a nice, twisty story, and don’t mind that the overwhelming majority of your time with the game will be spent reading, I think you’ll have a good time cobbling your memories back together with Amnesia.