It’s more than one year ago since Daedalic Entertainment’s The Dark Eye made a surprisingly successful splash into classic paper-and-pen roleplaying genre by NOT being an RPG but a very enjoyable point-and-click adventure. The sequel Memoria, written by another author, namely Kevin Menz who was also responsible for A New Beginning, tries a more epic approach. But does epic also mean better?
(Germany 2013, developer/publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, platform: PC)
Birdcatcher Geron has to solve the mystery of the long forgotten story of Princess warrior Sadja whose connection with a powerful magic staff is still felt in the present day of Aventuria if he wants to help turn his fairy friend Nuri back from her bird form into her former self.
The story is much more complicated than in the first game due to the two interconnected plotlines of Sadja and Geron. It is certainly an interesting concept and creates tension for most of the playtime. Jumping back and forth between the two characters obviously has its merits and is handled quite well with the player finding clues, discovering and revealing past mysteries which have a direct effect on the present and possible future. But it also becomes clear that the storytelling is too ambitious for its own good, highlighted by the fact that the individual chapters are too long, the time elapsing between one event in the past and one in the future drawn out. The same is also true for the conversations which are quite heavy on text and could have been shortened.
Character development also suffers in the process, as can be seen with Geron’s and Nuri’s relationship which was well built in the first game, but only becomes important in the final scenes during which it’s already too late to sympathize with their plight if one doesn’t know them already. Sadja’s tale is certainly an interesting and compelling one, especially with her love/hate relationship with the staff which delivers some funny lines. Drama and humor usually work well together, although the former isn’t always convincing, which can be explained by the epic proportions the story tries to convey. The whole idea of war and destruction was handled better in the first game, because subtle changes in the world around Geron made it more convincing. Here, there is way too much talk about fighting which is rarely shown.
What is also disappointing is how locations are re-used, but no memorable characters are newly introduced. There are some familiar faces in the present for Geron to talk to, but these rarely make for interesting conversation partners. It’s true that Memoria is more serious than comic adventures with their whacky characters, but its The Dark Eye predecessor still managed to include more memorable ones without compromising the building of a convincing fantasy world. How puzzles are implemented is also another problem for the continuity of storytelling.
Classic puzzle fare with a magic twist
Usually, a lot of object combinations and environmental interactions are what makes or breaks an adventure title by making it less accessible for newcomers and more pleasing for longtime genre fans. Memoria certainly has its fair share of conundrums to solve which are further complicated by the inclusion of spells. These are slowly introduced with each individual character and make for some satisfying puzzle chains. For example, Geron can mend or break things, while Sadja learns how to freeze objects or people, and light or darken her surroundings. This system usually works well and requires more than the typical find-object-apply-or-combine-object template, as it offers multiple ways to tackle problems.
In addition to the object-combination-and-spells-based puzzles, there are also a few dialogue puzzles which require a bit of subtle diplomacy with some people or more story-based thinking. Both can lead to some game-ending results, which almost shows a deviation from the linear narrative path. It’s only too bad that the player can feel a bit cheated by choosing a certain answer. Right at the beginning, it’s already possible to see the credits. The alternative endings are handled better, but they still feel as if the choices of the player throughout the game don’t really make much of a difference.
Puzzles breaking storytelling
If all these different types of puzzles seem like a great basis for an adventure game, then that’s partly true, but there’s still a story to be told and suspension to be kept while solving them. It’s here where the classic point-and-click trope struggles to keep up, because it takes too long to progress from one scene to the next. Most puzzles are implemented well in the environment but feel too forced on the player. For example, in the first chapter one has to open a seemingly unbreakable door Sadja is locked in. Only by using her new magic abilities and other objects can she make multiple golems outside tear it down. This is admittedly an interesting solution to a problem and certainly satisfies players who have missed challenges in contemporary point-and-clickers, but it’s also a bit too much.
Another example which showcases even worse incongruency with puzzles and storytelling can be found later when Sadja has to distract soldiers in the woods, making for some tedious going back and forth between locations and less than fun conversations with each participant. It’s not that the ideas behind these puzzles are too removed from reality, but with too much time spent on puzzle solving, suspense and interesting character development become lost in the transition.
Déjà vu presentation
The first Dark Eye game was very beautiful to look at and atmospheric to listen to. This was mainly due to some amazing artwork, a fantastic soundtrack and great voice acting. Memoria has all of these to a certain degree but lacks a bit of imagination. While each scene in its predecessor was a painting to behold, locations are either recycled again here or have fewer details to wow the player. Some vistas which show a wider scope are still breathtaking, but there’s a certain lack of personality this time around which makes the game look rather similar to other fantasy titles.
It’s too bad that the CGI cutscenes have replaced the wood cutting-like style, putting the visuals into another run-of-the-mill fantasy category. Although there are still some nice still-life sequences to be found, these could also be from any other title in the RPG realm.
The same holds true for the music which has some nice orchestral pieces but isn’t that memorable. Voice acting is well accomplished and I can say that I liked the English one a bit more than the original. As is so often the case with Daedalic adventures, the animations and facial expressions are rather static, which is detrimental in scenes in which the voice actors try to convey a sense of urgency the graphics can’t match, making the drama lose something in the process. It’s also disappointing that so few cutscenes are shown, making transitions of scenes rather abrupt at times.
More epic, but slightly inferior successor
Memoria is a good sequel to The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav by continuing the story and making it more epic while introducing more elaborate puzzles to please the hardcore crowd. Even though the ambition is reflected in the overall storytelling, the length of the game (10-15 hours) is mainly due to the plot and characters sharing a seat with the puzzles which is a bit too small for both. There’s good variety in the problems to solve and some interesting (meta)narrative elements in the portrayal of the characters, but the two plotlines don’t always gel together as symbiotic as the storyteller wants them to be and the puzzles can be overcomplicated.
It’s not a technical step forward either with the same problems in animations, but it’s much more of a step backwards artistically with many drawn settings and rendered CGI sequences having lost some of the beauty the original showed. In gameplay terms, one can see a kind of progression with a multiple-choice system which attempts to break free from the bounds of the linear genre, but it doesn’t have the same emotional impact or the finesse of a Telltale Games title.
Memoria is still a nice adventure title with sometimes funny lines in the script, touching moments in the story and an accomplished audio presentation, but sometimes a more simplistic approach to the plot can make a story more poignant than an epic one.
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