Review – Amnesia: Memories (Switch)
When it comes to the Nintendo Switch’s endless parade of re-releases from previous consoles and generations, players must use a discerning eye to figure out what’s going to be worth the price and time. You need to decide, “is this a game that I’ve played before and I want to have again on the Switch, such as with Akiba’s Trip or The Binding of Isaac”, or is this a title that is so difficult to find elsewhere that it makes sense to get it on the Switch, like Radiant Silvergun or Trials of Mana?
There’s a great overlap that occurs between rare games, fun games and games that you ultimately never finished elsewhere and now can play on your Switch to help justify the re-purchase (The Wonderful 101 was really cool but I just never had time on the WiiU). There’s a hundred and one reasons to keep throwing your money at Nintendo even if they don’t bring out something new! Yay!
So, with the re-release of Idea Factory and Otomate’s Amnesia: Memories, you really, really have to think carefully about what you’re doing. Japanese users have fewer options since this multipathed otome title (and its sequel) are not available on Steam, so you only have iOS, Android and GOG to pick from, or finding a working Vita and a surprisingly expensive physical copy. Even if you do have access to Steam, it’s still not the portable factor that comes from the Switch, nor the touchscreen interface that mimics what you were able to do on the Vita. Which brings us around to the more pressing question: how much do you want to play through a series of bad relationship stereotypes that ultimately bundle into a convoluted What-If with barely logical conclusions?
Amnesia: Memories puts you in the shoes of a nameless Heroine, who I decided to name Biggles for the duration of my plays. You begin in a limbo-esque land with no memories (like the title!) and no idea what’s going on, aside from an impish character named Orion speaking to you. Orion explains that they’ve collided with your consciousness on an astral plane, and, as a result, has knocked some of your memories free, and by some I mean almost all of them. In fact, Orion isn’t even sure what reality you’re from, because I guess he was traveling really fast?
The only way to get your memories back is to revisit each and every branching pathway, which, according to String Theory, should be a nearly infinite number, and, in reality, is four. The Heroine will go back to August first of each of these worlds, where the major difference is what boy is interested in you at that moment, and try to suss out what your true reality is. Along the way, you’ll make a series of casual decisions that’ll either prove a boy loves you or hates you, and that’s really about it. Oh, and there’s a fifth pathway that unlocks later, but you need to play for forty plus hours to figure that one out, so don’t worry too much.
If you’ve been in the otome playing field before, you get a general idea of what to expect from Amnesia: Memories. You’ve got four boys (Shin, Ikki, Toma and Kent) who all are connected to you and are dating you in each of the four pathways. Choosing how to respond to each of their queries either pulls them closer to you or pushes them away, allowing you to gradually drift towards good, bad or neutral endings.
Bad endings can vary from “we’re not dating anymore” to “imprisonment turned murder” and all things inbetween, whereas good endings are “I guess maybe we love each other.” I think it’s a stunning indictment of how messed up relationships are from a female perspective that getting murdered for not being compatable is on the table, but that’s for a much longer writeup that’ll get me doxxed by people who thought The Last of Us Part II was hot garbage.
If you’re here for some massive innovation in the field of these polarizing, sometimes bleak visual novels, you might be disappointed. While the concept of parallel realities and alternate worlds seems interesting, Amnesia: Memories all centers around the same locale, the same buildings, the same people, and mostly the same personalities with the only variant being who is immediately dating you in each given world.
Starting off in Heart means you’re tied to Shin, a beginning in the Clover World puts Kei on your arm, and so forth and so on. This means you get a chance to see, over the course of thirty days, how each boy reacts to you, displays their different problems, shortcomings and goals, and then decides to deal or not deal with them. Like I said, the possibility for a boy who professes undying love to you to also use violence and/or drugs to control your life based entirely on a series of minor decisions is its own brand of terrifying, but at least it’s interesting. Players who just want to see what happens can find a very comprehensive wiki on the routes, as these games, being over a decade old, are not well documented in the wide audience appeal BUT have very dedicated fans who maintain information regardless.
The art direction, both aurally and visually, is hit and miss for players coming in from modern visual novels. On the one hand, the soundscape is lovely, with a lot of ambient tunes that shift with each change in tone and story beat, and it definitely adds rather than detracts from the immersion of it all. Thanks to some really good lip syncing and animation choices, each of the NPCs do a decent job of conveying emotion and emphasis when hearing their beautifully voiced lines. I continue to be blown away by how Japanese voice actors and actresses have made a fantastic craft out of shape shifting into different people in ways that I just haven’t really heard in their English counterparts. You can love Giancarlo Esposito all you want, his voice for Faraday was too sharp and comic in comparison to Kazuhiko Inoue’s delivery. I digress.
The character design, on the other hand, is a little too far on the other side of the uncanny valley for my liking. Primate had some clear notes for this one: all the boys need to have intense eyes, skinny frames, slightly unruly hair and comfort with embodying a single color scheme. Even the most non-threatening (initially) of the boys are too prominent with their angles and their cheekbones, which stops me from diving into the fantasy fully. When you compare it to the well-rounded cast of Code: Realize, there’s almost something sick about how everyone comes across in Amnesia: Memories. If that’s your thing, more power to you, but I found it to be wildly off putting.
Beyond the visual display, though, are the characters themselves, and I feel like it harkens back to my earlier issue with the good and bad ending extremities. Each of the four boys seems to embody a trope about men, specifically Japanese men, and it makes me unbelievably horrified to think someone would look and say “this is exactly what I would want in a dude.” You can tick down the boxes if you’d like: we got a guy who is very sarcastic and condescending, often telling you what an idiot you are (but only because he really loves and wants to protect you).
We’ve got a guy who is too pretty and has girls literally throwing themselves at him, resulting in him downplaying your relationship in public (but in private he’s super sweet and sensitive and loves that you see beyond his looks). You’ve got an emotionally dead, hyper intelligent guy who speaks to you like you’re his waiter instead of his girlfriend (he doesn’t understand emotions and isn’t he so grateful that you’re patient and kind with him). And we have a guy who seems to be sweet and caring but turns out to have incredible jealousy issues, which, spoiler, manifest in some of the worst endings.
I get that we all have different levels of escapism, but why the hell would you want to play a visual novel where a majority of the time invested is, at best, setting you on course for a guy who kinda sorta likes you? Let’s be clear, I did get to the fifth root and I think the storyline there is deeply tragic and lovely, in a very existentially dreadful way. But the guy who sets you on the fifth true course (The Joker World), isn’t even mentioned until you complete at least one of the primary routes first, and, on top of that, cannot be accessed until you finish a certain number of runs beforehand.
The lore of the fifth root essentially erases anything set in the first four, which is arguably a majority of the game play. Imagine that you’re reading a book that, four fifth of the way through, announces that everything prior was a dream or hallucination, it’s tangentially connected to the remainder of the book, and you just need to take it in stride that all those previous pages could NOT be skipped over, but it also makes zero difference in the end.
As a creative writing project, Amnesia: Memories touches on some interesting moments in storytelling and also the unfolding of the project overall. It helps to set up further games in the series (which I’ll be reviewing soon) but also encapsulates plenty within this singular build, so ending it after this one title is more than good. There were things that I did enjoy, primarily the interactions between the different boys, the flashback moments, some of the “A Ha” sections in the Joker route and Orion, even if he can be a bit tinny. Maybe it would land better if I was interested in a guy who was going to screw with my head and heart beforehand, and I’m not judging you if that’s your cup of tea. Plus, I have to admit that the cosmic tie in is undeniably romantic, and there is some real (if misguided) moments of love throughout.
There are great otome titles out there where you’re treated like a princess from start to finish. Birushana may have been a bit hardcore at times (with some violent roots of their own), but the heroine stood on her own two feet and had so much more to her than just a Mary Sue with celestial leanings. Cupid Parasite had so much heart and humor I could forgive the way a goddess was occasionally mistreated by her bevy of boys. I think Amnesia: Memories is just a tad cold, a bit too mean, and left me feeling restless and unresolved. It hits the notes, but it hits them in the wrong key. A classic, certainly, and I’m glad Switch owners have the option to play it. I just don’t know if it’s one I’d pick up if given the choice.
Lovely backgrounds and wonderful bumpers, but the NPCs themselves are simply not my type of imaginary anime boy.
Very par for the course for visual novels, but the addition of air hockey and rock-paper-scissors mini games are fun for downtime and silly asides.
Excellent voice acting that really helps convey how brutally obsessed and dangerous your sweetheart is at any give time.
As much as I liked the reading, the unhinged emotions of most pathways, even good endings, left me very uneasy and hardly romanced.
Final Verdict: 5.0
Amnesia: Memories is available now on PS Vita, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Amnesia: Memories was provided by the publisher.