PS2 Review: Shadow of Memories
Part of the reason that I love older games is the fact that developers were still willing to be adventurous and try out new gameplay ideas. These days, a large proportion of the gaming industry is based around reskinning the same game every year, adding a few new weapons or levels, and selling it as a new game. This is because the publishers know that it will sell, so it offers guaranteed return on investment. Experimentation has largely fallen into the realm of indie games.
Back in 2001, this spirit of trial and error in game design was still very much alive, and the release of Shadow of Memories is pretty good evidence of this. Despite being billed as an adventure game, it doesn’t feature a health bar, you cannot attack and the game is based largely on the passage of time. This creates a very different take on the adventure game, but did it really work, or was it a case of experimentation gone wrong? Let’s find out.
The story of Shadow of Memories actually starts with the main character, Eike, being murdered. If that’s not a surprising opening, then I don’t know what is. From there, he makes a deal with a Homunculus (a human-like creature made through alchemy) who resurrects him and allows him to try and find out who killed him and why. It is this mystery that powers the storyline forward, despite the fact that you are often travelling backwards in time.
One of the best features of the plot of Shadow of Memories is how each event in the past relates to and affects things in the present in believable ways. Nothing ever feels too out of place or coming out of left field. Instead, it all seems to tie very well together.
The fact that the writers were able to handle the effects of altering the past without causing the game to feel completely out of whack is a testament to their writing skills by itself! As is the sheer amount of backstory and plot within each time period, and around each NPC that appears in the game.
Largely dealing with the theories and ideas of alchemy, as well as revenge and love, the plot moves at the perfect pace – you never feel like you’re hitting a dead end. The twists and turns are both memorable and expertly executed, leaving you both bewildered and satisfied, unlikely certain movies of recent years. Everything just seems to fit into place, even though you won’t see it coming.
The gameplay of Shadow of Memories, like the plot, is very different from other adventure games. You won’t be scaling mountains or fighting dinosaurs with two handguns in this game. Instead, you’ll be solving puzzles, working out how everything connects to one another, and trying to plan out how your actions in the past will affect the present.
This creates a very strange feeling the first time you play the game, as it goes against everything we’ve come to expect from modern-day adventure games, having far more in common with Point And Click games instead. On top of this, you need to keep a close eye on how long you take to solve puzzles and “quests” within each timeline. This is because time passes at the same speed no matter what timeline or date you are currently exploring. For example, if an hour passes in 1958, that same hour will also pass in 2001.
As this is a game about stopping yourself being murdered, that means that you need to solve the tasks within each chapter of the game before the date and time you are supposed to die. If you don’t manage to do this, then you’ll get a game over.
Therefore, a sense of haste and determination is built up through the desire to solve the mystery successfully, and simply not to run out of time and die.
Just as I mentioned earlier, in Shadow of Memories you cannot attack either. Instead, you have to rely entirely on your whits and intellect to progress through the game. This adds a far more enjoyable aspect to the game than you’d expect, as the entire game is effectively one giant puzzle.
Considering the fact that Shadow of Memories was such an early game on the PS2, there’s quite a lot to say about the graphics of the game. It uses anime-style character designs, but many of them feel somewhat disproportionate (especially Eike himself). However, the animation of the character models is done very well for the time, feeling smooth and not jolting in the slightest. The framerate of the game never seems to suffer either, even when you get the various weather effects like snow filling the screen.
The user interface is very simple, as you have a date and time (along with how much time travel energy you have left) in the top right corner, and a compass in the top left. Other than this, there’s nothing else that appears on the screen during gameplay. This creates a nice and clean screen to play with. Even when you bring up the menu, it slides in from the left, only covering a small section of the screen.
Character designs are unique and interesting, rarely feeling like a copy-paste job. In fact, the Homuculus manages to look both creepy and friendly at the same time, which is a feat of character design for certain.
The environments, for the time, manage to make use of curves and arches, to remove the blocky feeling you typically get from older PS2 games as well. Even the subtitles don’t distract from the game. Everything about the graphics works really well, especially for a game that was released 17 years ago!
And That’s All Folks
All in all, Shadow of Memories remains an absolutely brilliant game and a wonderful example of game design experimentation done correctly. The storyline is highly involving, keeping you guessing all of the time, whilst the gameplay works wonders by being both relaxing and frantic at the same time.
If you’re looking for something completely different to play, then you definitely need to give Shadow of Memories a try! And if you have, let me know in the comments below.