Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What I Played: Analogue: A Hate Story

My first foray into visual novels (if the game can be counted as such) was last year, with Long Live the Queen. A year and change later, I just finished (mostly) my second: Analogue: A Hate Story.

Image courtesy Raide and Love Conquers All Games
The idea is that you are some kind of data hunter, tasked with fishing out some data from a long-abandoned  space colonizing vessel, the Mugunghwa (pronounced moo-goong-hwa; in English it's Rose of Sharon, the national flower of Korea [both Koreas; this is a symbol that dates back to the Shilla dynasty]).

Mugungwha at a grave site in Uijeongbu, South Korea
During the job you interact with two different AIs, who share different logs from the long-dead residents of the Mugunghwa. Those logs comprise the story of Analogue. There are also dating sim overtones, as your dialogue choices with the AIs determine if you leave the job with none, one, or both of them downloaded to your own computer. More importantly, your choices dictate which logs they decide to show you.

The science fiction background story is essentially "Joseon Korea in space," which is an interesting conceit that could have been better explored but wasn't.

I appreciated the wrinkle of having to do things in the terminal to move the story along, even solving the game's one and only puzzle. (It's a tricky puzzle; I had to find a guide to get the answer.)

Analogue is a lot more forgiving than Long Live the Queen. You can't really die—I guess maybe only if you don't solve the puzzle you can, but that's it. Your choices aren't so critical, either. This isn't to say that none of them matter. If you're too rude to Hyun-ae (the main AI), or too disinterested in her, she'll disconnect and you'll lose the game. If you neglect to talk to the AIs (by showing them certain logs), you won't unlock all of the content, and you certainly won't be able to finish the game. But Analogue has fewer choices than Long Live the Queen, and generally speaking they're a lot more forgiving.

As the story is presented achronologically, it's hard to tell what's happening at first. This is a point in the game's favor, as it makes repeated play-throughs more rewarding. I don't think I really understood things until I unlocked my third or fourth ending (out of seven total).

It's important to save! If only because it can be tedious to play through the entire story again if you just want to switch AIs or change options at a particular branch. There comes a point in the story, maybe like halfway or two-thirds in, where you're railroaded into finishing the game with whatever AI you're engaging with at the moment; if you want to get the other AI's ending(s) and you haven't saved in good time, you'll have to start from the beginning.

Overall it's cute. I don't think it's quite as holy shit!! as some of the breathless reviews on the website make it out to be, but I think it's a mildly interesting story presented in a really clever and creative way. I would have loved to see more backstory and less dating sim, but I admit I am way more interested in coherent and logical word building than the typical reader/gamer. On the other hand, I am a little bit of a Koreaboo (if you'll pardon the portmanteau) so a game that's "Joseon Korea in space!" is going to appeal to me no matter what. (For me, the best part were the Korean history resources Love lists in the end. Adding them to my endless TBR pile!)

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