You may have come across the works of acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami. He’s not a name you might associate with video games, as his stories are often filled with surrealism, melancholic themes, and alienated individuals who are often the hero. I’ve read a ton of his stuff over the years so my interest was piqued when I heard that a developer has taken his short stories as inspiration for a new point and click story, Memoranda, if only as I was excited about how they were going to capture the writer’s strange and, at times, disturbing world in that of a game.
Memoranda instantly makes you feel like you’re in a familiar environment, but then very quickly things don’t quite appear as they first seem. An elephant is found sitting in an armchair by the fire smoking a pipe, a man longs to be a fish, and a bunch of frogs hold the secret to the universe. It’s a world where everything is in question, with nothing set in stone, and it’s the creativity of that world that I personally love. However, I’d fully understand if others might find it flippant and annoying.
The story involves you playing the lead role of Mizuki. She is a young woman living alone in her apartment, apart from a drunken sailor who keeps her awake all night, giving terrible insomnia. She starts to doubt which memories are hers and what is real, so decides to do something about it. Seeking a cure to her isolation and sleep problems she heads out into the quaint town around her in an attempt to solve the problems of numerous fellows, hoping that it will help her loneliness and memory. The game starts off slightly offbeat, allowing you to meet some strange characters, but soon the world dissolves into the unknown with strange anthropomorphic animals, talking objects, the morphing of time and the existence of ghosts.
I’ll be honest, by the time I’d reached the conclusion of Memoranda, I was completely lost about what had just happened, not knowing what was real and what wasn’t. However despite the confusion it still allows for tremendous enjoyment, and it’s never really a concern that confusion reigns. Again, others might find this a problem, particularly as it doesn’t conform to the usual linear path that gaming takes, but you can’t help but like the strange and idiosyncratic world of the characters and story. Think of it like this – a mix of the children’s TV show Balamory combined with The Twilight Zone. Weird.
Memoranda works like an old-fashioned point and click adventure game: each screen or area provides you with a number of things you can interact with or collect for your inventory. A handy press of the LB button will highlight all the things you can play with and from there it is very much a case of using specific items with other items in your inventory, and then utilising these items with further objects or characters. You know the drill. But be warned, for the first half an hour the puzzles and solutions are fairly normal and straightforward, but soon it becomes quite obtuse. I have to confess that during the latter stages of the game I had my head in an online guide in order to try and get me through… and even then I would have never guessed some of the required combinations in a million years.
The UI is extremely friendly for a point and clicker. There is a nice feature where you can just click on the map and the location, where you want to go to, and hey presto you’re there, making for a significant change from the endless backtracking you end up doing in games of this genre. At no point did I ever find myself overly frustrated with the controls and that’s pretty rare for a game of this type.
Visually Memoranda is a delight, with hand-drawn characters and locations that have a Parisian feel to them – full of outstanding shading and lighting in all areas. The characters themselves are intriguing and drawn with charm, as are the locations themselves. It’s a lovely world to spend some time in. The audio is very pleasant as well, giving out a nice relaxed and chilling vibe with a great soundtrack, well-accompanied by the diverse voice-over work which sells the mad script throughout.
Memoranda on Xbox One is a highly polished visual affair that just so happens to come complete with some brilliant audio as well. The twisty surreal story might put some off, as it does confuse, happily heading off in many different narrative directions. This is translated to the actual puzzles and how you use items, sometimes getting too obscure later on in the game, bringing about a little frustration. However, the interface is simple to use, and comes with some nice time-saving techniques, so if you want to go down the rabbit hole and head in to an awfully big adventure then Memoranda is the game for you.