Review – Amnesia: Later x Crowd (Switch)

Everyone I’ve ever met is in possession of a home video or clip they’ve shot that they swear up and down is amazing. It’s something that’s only further been pushed in the last decade and the advent of higher and higher quality smartphone cameras, but I was experiencing this back in the 80s and 90s with shaky grain footage of someone’s barbeque or trip to the Wisconsin Dells. In all cases, context and relationship is everything.

I see a video of my younger cousin getting absolutely destroyed by falling into his birthday cake? Yea, alright, that’s kind of funny. You show me a skit of two people near and dear to you doing a rap about vegetables? I mean, sure, maybe it’s clever, but I’m going to prefer the cake one because I know my cousin and he’s a dick sometimes. America’s Funniest Home Videos only works if it captures something unexpected and humorous that doesn’t need a backstory. I don’t know Joan and Rick, and I certainly don’t have investment in their degrees in Nutrition Science, so it doesn’t hit the same for me as for you.

Amnesia: Later x Crowd is, for lack of better phrasing, a fan disk: a semi-sequel to Amnesia: Memories that can function as a standalone about as well as watching the third episode in the eighth season of a television show without watching anything prior. With Later x Crowd, Otomate wanted to give fans a bit more of the universe that was carved out by Orion, Ukyo, the Heroine (again named Biggles in my world) and all the boys and girls who made up that memorable August. Already I’ve mentioned a character you wouldn’t know in any capacity if you didn’t play at least a sizable chunk of Memories, and you couldn’t know how important Ukyo was unless you made it to the Joker World. It is possible to play Later x Crowd without doing Memories, but, despite Orion trying to bring you up to speed with a quick synopsis, you miss out on so much of what happened behind the scenes and the main plot that totally ruins why Later x Crowd is a shockingly fun and interesting experience.

I know, Orion, I was there, GET ON WITH IT.

The name of the game alludes to the two different game modes that you’ll be entering into when choosing how to interact. If you chose Later, you have a snapshot of a moment that has many, many paths but is ultimately much shorter than any of the Worlds from Memories. Your relationships with Shin, Kent, Ikki and Toma are all established, as well as the girls that you connect with in the original game; Sawa, Mine and Rika.

While there are some emotional undertones that are hinted at, the main objective is really to live through a short stretch of time where everyone is preparing to have a summer festival together. Easily of the most overused tropes in Japanese media, the summer festival is the perfect backdrop for the Heroine to have a heart-to-heart with someone from the crew and find out more about what they want in this life and how they feel about Biggles.

And also why they both want to buy me dresses. I’m not complaining.

On the other side of things is Crowd, which is a set of vignettes with a centralized theme that helps to unveil the full What If aspect of Amnesia. You have your choice of Suspense, Working or Romance, with each having a backdrop of what kind of anime hell you’re about to embark into. Do you enjoy being menaced and feeling uneasy in the vein of Higurashi? Then choose which of the boys will be your terrified accomplice (or terrifying perpetrator) in the Suspense path. Want just to have a slice-of-life, no stakes sitcom?

Working will get you some cheap laughs and fun interactions! And do you just NEED to see one of those boys propose to Biggles and make her the happiest amnesiac that ever existed for only thirty one days? Romance is the key to projecting your happiness onto a bishonen that’ll never exist in the real world! Oh, and don’t worry: Crowd is where you can play mini games again! Time to kick ass in poker or blackjack to see additional dialogue with these waif-like men!

I won! Why do I feel like a loser, then?

If you enjoyed Amnesia: Memories for any reason, like literally any reason that made you remember the game fondly, you’ll probably want to pick up Later x Crowd. The art styling is almost completely the same, with a little bit of exception to some of the locales looking better shaded and the inclusion of a new character in the Suspense path who I feel looks less natural in the world than the others.

The voice acting and animation continues to be top notch, and the soundtrack shows a lot more dynamic moments than previously. Since you know for a fact that Working is supposed to be a comedy or Romance is just a blatant love story, the composers and directors could take tones and ambience and focus them in a particular direction. It works much better than Memories, where things were always a bit uncertain, since the atmosphere could change so quickly.

An easy way to avoid love confessions: always go hang out with the girls.

Additionally, this is a rather low stakes investment in comparison to the original game, at least in terms of time investment. Each of the pathways is significantly shorter than even a short run in the original worlds, clocking in between one or two hours at the most, and sometimes less if you don’t mind mashing through some of the nonsense exposition that Orion gives you every time you go down a new path (I get it but it doesn’t make it less tedious).

While none of the different avenues of storytelling reach a kinetic level, the number of choices are lower and, honestly, have less gravity than in Memories. It’s almost like the choices exist so that the player feels present in the scenario instead of just a bystander, and I appreciate that. It could have been very easy to just have these moments happen to players, and Otomate allowed there to still be some autonomy.

“You can’t just reblog QAnon rhetoric and not expect to get called into the office.”

What may shock players, particularly ones who read my review of Amnesia: Memories, is that I enjoyed Later x Crowd. Like, significantly more, and I think it’s because I disliked so much of the relationship building in the core game. Without needing to see how neggy, off putting or outright awful the male leads are prior to them unfurling and being loving, I just get dropped into these established relationship dynamics with Biggles and everyone else involved. Far from being alien or awkward, it felt like a natural fit to just be in a group of friends and acquaintances who all held each other in different levels of regard.

If you don’t have to experience Kent flat out ignoring you and then being confused at your reaction, you can appreciate his dry deliveries when talking with everyone else. If you get to see Shin being a prickly dingus to his coworkers before he turns that charm cannon on you, it doesn’t feel personal. Letting you see that the flaws of the characters extend to more than just their connection with you makes it feel easier to like and even love them.

Remind me again why this man is the love of my life?

The writing is also much better due to the urgency of everything. Suspense pathways spend very little time with extra dialogue or descriptions if they aren’t specifically building tension and creating a low-level idea that something is off about Luka, the mysterious, over-complementary man who appears at the cafe.

Romance is riding a bucking bull of sappiness and fantasy that almost goes over-the-top, but manages to hold on and keep you on board with the ultimate dream of finally being enough for these idiotic caricatures. And Later is exactly where I wanted Memories to go and where I think a lot of targeted life sims for women should be able to go. You can be happy, have a great group of friends and live your life, successfully, without needing to hang everything on an impossibly beautiful boy finally deciding you’re worth his time.

I know, right? I mean…it does look fun…and the water looks awesome…

Additionally, there’s a level of humor that carries here that wasn’t as tightly scripted as in Memories. The Working pathways of Crowd obviously have plenty of quick jokes and physical comedy (that’s conveyed through text, but I digress), but there’s just better moments in seeing everyone banter and live their lives that are much funnier and more natural. Mine and Sawa, two female characters who got the short end in Memories, are allowed to be more present and exciting as they no longer exist just to either push you towards romance or drive you away. Rika is a genuine frenemy here and not just someone seconds away from murdering you for being in Ikki’s proximity.

Since the men are less concerned with trying to win you over, it lets the dynamics of Later play out in a way that made me miss my college friend groups. The way that characters can just do their own thing and care about you without needing to posture every choice for your benefit is not only refreshing, it’s also so much more endearing. Again, I’m coming at this from the perspective of a straight male who doesn’t want a Japanese guy to fall in love with me, so I might be in the minority.

And when I say “give me some space,” I mean this restraining order also comes with a taser.

As Amnesia: Later x Crowd doesn’t exist anywhere else but the Nintendo Switch currently (and Vita, but good luck getting that), this is a hard sell to make on anyone who isn’t already in Amnesia’s orbit. I can’t realistically suggest anyone get this game without first playing Amnesia: Memories, and yet I was finding myself so much happier to play through this story than the “real” game. It hits every note that I appreciate about visual novels – humor, heart, good plot pacing – without needing to intermix excessively broken people and/or attitudes. Later x Crowd was so much better that I looked into it and found the existence of a second fan disc called Amnesia: World and now I’m hoping Idea Factory brings that over as well.

“And so I said ‘How about we say each skin took a year to design?’ AND THEY LOVED IT!”

Yet finally having the platform, the selling power and the widespread appeal that Otomate and Idea Factory will entertain these additional titles for a global release is incredibly exciting. While things like Amnesia: Later x Crowd aren’t for everyone, it’s a really, really great treat for certain people, and I love that they can access this without needing to import and learn Japanese. I hope this sets a pace and a tone for even more Japan exclusives to finally cross the ocean as the Nintendo Switch juggernauts onward.

Graphics: 7.0

Very little different from the original game, so, if you like the previous art styling, you’ll still enjoy this one.

Gameplay: 6.0

More options and more game stylings to approach, there is fundamentally more to see, do and explore even in a more confined timeline and world.

Sound: 7.0

Music is a bit more on point, voice acting is the same, but a minor downgrade in overall appreciation due to the limited scope that all characters explore.

Fun Factor: 6.5

Significantly more enjoyable to digest in bite sized moments, better character pacing, and the mini games are worth more of my time than previously.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Amnesia: Later x Crowd is available now on Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Amnesia: Later x Crowd was provided by the publisher.