Developer: Future Tech
Publisher: PQube(PS4), Future Tech(PC)
Platform: PS4, PC(Steam)
Price: $59,99 USD(PS4), $39,99 USD(Steam)
Release Date: February 1st, 2019(PS4) / February 28th, 2018(Steam) / April 27th, 2017(Original Japanese release)
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I’ve been reviewing Visual Novel games for quite a while now. When I first got into this medium the current landscape was utterly and completely unimaginable. Visual Novels were an extremely niche thing and, outside a few notable exceptions, the only way to experience these games was to either learn Japanese or rely on fanpatches whose quality ranged anywhere from “it’s okay” to “it’s translated so badly that it’s basically a different game”.
Thanks to companies such as PQube, today we can actually enjoy these games directly on our store fronts, consoles included! Best yet, we can support these small companies directly now, which is crucial for small developers. The fact that relatively unknown titles are regularly brought to the West, even if in small numbers, is in itself a great victory for the medium.
I first learned of Song of Memories upon PQube’s announcement and was immediately interested in a handful of its features. Throughout this review I will attempt to explain in-depth why this title is of particular interest.
Visual Novels are, by their very own definition, story-centric games. Not that you won’t find find Visual Novels with exceptionally good gameplay but, in the end, the sales point and whatever lasting impression it leaves is entirely up to the characters and plot. This, I feel, is the weakest part of Song of Memories.
The general gist of Song of Memories is basically: you’re a Japanese high-school student, you have a bunch of heroines to choose from and, towards the end of the game, some really bad things happen and it’s basically the apocalypse. Now, this might seem like I’m playing a round of “describe a game’s plot poorly and others try to guess what game it is” but it’s not too far from the truth. Usually in those cases the character interactions and personalities would be the silver lining but, regrettably, I can’t go there this once.
The characters in this games are merely cookie-cutter, copy and paste anime archetypes. You have a shy girl with huge breasts, a genki little sister, a calm and composed class beauty, a girl-next-door personality childhood friend, a tsundere and a glasses-wearing Christmas cake. Despite its best intention at being a modern game, whoever wrote the scenario had their roots and references firmly cemented in the 90s and early 00s romantic comedy anime and manga.
Before we can talk about what Song of Memories does right, there is one more downside I can not forego mentioning. The combat rhythm mini-game is atrociously awful.
Usually I would refrain from using such strong words but it’s the truth here. Throughout the game you will enter combat against monstrous creatures at several points and, in order to defeat them, you summon a cast of magical technological girls from a phone-like device to fight for you. These battles involve choosing a move and playing a rhythm game in order to continuously attack and deal damage. The problem here is that the mini-game itself is so brain-dead that it’s not fun or engaging at all.
Button prompts will appear on screen and you must press them at the right time to compute a success. If you fail, the girl on the background will grow upset. That’s all there is to it. The button prompts are completely random, not in-sync with the songs at all. The decision to add this feature to the game must have been something like “well it’s be cool to have combat in some way and idols are popular so let’s do that“. Thankfully, it’s self aware enough to have an option to skip combat entirely, something I found myself doing after the first playthrough.
Perhaps the best feature in Song of Memories is the progression chart. If you’ve played any complex choice-branching game, chances are you’ve already used a guide similar to this feature, but to have it completely functional in-game is, to say the least, a very exciting prospect.
You can access the chart anytime during the game. You can see which paths you’ve taken, which events you’ve seen, which you’ve missed, which choices you’ve made and, most importantly, you can rewind the game and jump to any choice or point you’ve previously been. It’s basically all the relevant information you need in order to view 100% of the game without needing a guide.
The artstyle of choice in Song of Memories is nothing special, it looks indistinguishable from most Visual Novels that came out in this decade. However, the dynamic movement deserves a special mention.
Moving character portraits are nothing new, Japanese studios have been doing it for all genres of games for well over a decade already. This technology has spilled into all sorts of non-game applications by the means of Live2D and Virtual YouTubers. What’s special about Song of Memories is that 2D animations are employed in practically every scene in the game, including and specially in event CGs.
The animations are not simply idle movement. During actual speech and dialogue, character’s facial language will reflect how they feel and what they think. In this scene below, Yuno’s facing direction changes, her pupils dilate to show surprise, she averts her eyes to show embarrassment and also closes them to enter deep thought. This level of body-language micromanagement is not easy to pull off, someone had to manually go through every motion of every scene in the entire game paying attention to this.
And it’s not just in-between scripted lines, either. Character will often react mid-sentence, behaving to dialogue before it has finished playing. You don’t get this much attention to detail often, let alone from Visual Novels. I’ll admit, sometimes the constantly moving portraits do act a bit uncanny but, for the most part, this is leagues above and beyond static portraits.
Forgettable, uninspired, repetitive. The fact that nobody has bothered uploading the soundtrack to Youtube should tell you everything you need to know about the music in this game. Profoundly disappointing, considering it has idols in it and the word “Song” in the title..
The voice acting was pretty good though, with a very distinct cast of actresses.
- Hondo Kaede (Recently played Sakura in surprise hit Zombieland Saga);
- Fuchigami Mai (Nagisa from Assassination Classroom, Iona in Arpeggio of Blue Sea, Miho in Girls & Panzer);
- Senbongi Sayaka (Chitose in Girlish Number, AnchoR in Clockwork Planet);
- Sakakibara Yui (Ayase in Chaos;Head);
- Ayane Sakura (Yotsuba in Quintessential Quintuplets, Nao in Charlotte, Marii in Joshiraku, Shimakaze in Kantai Collection);
- Horie Yui (Nepgear in Neptunia series, Wiz in KonoSuba, Eu in Kore wa Zombie desu ka?, Miss Monochrome, Hanekawa Tsubasa in Bakemonogatari);
From a technical standpoint, Song of Memories is an excellent game. The engine is great, there’s tons of attention to detail, it runs and plays smoothly and sets itself apart from other games in the same genre. Although I’ve criticized the story and narrative, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. If I didn’t like high-school romcoms I would probably not be a huge weeaboo that regularly reviews Visual Novels. That said, I cannot help but be a little disappointed to see such an uninspired narrative attached to an otherwise ambitious technical project.
For now, I’ll keep an eye out for these developers. I might not have thoroughly enjoyed Song of Memories but I have little doubt that their next games will be better. It’s just a matter of whether they will be localized or not. It has Mixed reviews on Steam but it’s mostly related to technical issues on the PC port. PS4 version is recommended, it has not been censored except for character ages being omitted and “school” being changed to “academy”.