Reminiscence in the Night is a wisp of an idea, a short visual novel that departs as soon as it arrives, but leaves behind a morose feeling: that we should hold onto the memories we have, as they might have value that only becomes clear later.
It starts with the one cliche to rule them all: amnesia. You wake up in your apartment with no memory of who or where you are. There are a few items scattered about – a guitar, a teddy bear, a pile of books – that give you clues, but you’re at a loss. Luckily, in the corner of the room is a laptop, where an old friend, now long-distance, is perpetually waiting on a voice call to help you regain your memories.
Her name is Sofia, and she points you to things in your apartment that might trigger something. You can duck out of the conversation to go find them, and you’re given subtle choices about how to interact with them. Once you’ve put some pieces back together, you enter a two-step process of looking in the mirror – taking you to a dream garden where you talk to a mysterious stranger who passes comment on what you did that day – and then go to sleep in your bed, starting the next day.
This cycle happens a few times, with some events stirred in that we won’t ruin. Eventually you understand who you are, what your relationship is to Sofia and the mysterious stranger, and Reminiscence in the Night’s focus on the past begins to pivot more to the future. Now that you understand the value of memory, will you do more to create and preserve your memories? To underline this theme, there is a delicate and well-handled conversation with your mother who has dementia.
Reminiscence in the Night doesn’t last more than twenty minutes. That might make you scoff, and it certainly raises questions about value for money. But it’s a single thought, presented elegantly, and we left reasonably satisfied. Our argument is that it sticks with you, and that’s where the value comes from: it’s not so throwaway that you soon forget about it.
The greater criticism is in the ‘game’ aspects of Reminiscence in the Night. Proportionally for its length, there are a significant number of choices that you can make. These lead to different conversation options, varying interactions in the two rooms of the house, and a few separate endings. But Reminiscence in the Night’s got an odd take on how these choices are presented. They’re often incidental choices that don’t matter: do you play a guitar or not? Do you fix a bear or not? But, like the old ‘butterfly beating its wings’ adage, it has huge consequences. You can get a bad ending simply because you killed some ants.
It might not seem like much, but it does weird things with the feelings of agency in Reminiscence in the Night. Choices simultaneously mean very little and a huge amount. How can you make a right choice when the options are so pedestrian? The right answer is to not overthink it and just pick. But in doing so, you detach yourself emotionally, and emotion is absolutely where Reminiscence in the Night works so well. We were in a weird anxious state where we wanted to make the right choices, but didn’t have a whole lot of information about getting there.
And by giving you two rooms, with roughly ten items in total to examine to trigger memories, you are often interacting with the same things multiple times. But Reminiscence in the Night can’t figure out a way to make this interesting or logical. Why am I touching this potted plant again? What it devolves into is, every day, you are doing a sweep of the same ten items to see what new happening occurs. There’s no logic to it, and certainly nothing enjoyable about it: it’s just a long winded process you go through every day, for the sake of progressing the story.
Reminiscence in the Night, then, is not at its best when it’s a game. The consequences of choices feel random, and the graphic adventure stuff – the exploration of the main character’s room – feels more like a chore to be done each morning.
Instead, Reminiscence in the Night is best when it tosses the gameplay aside and concentrates on what it wants to say. It’s a dream-like novella about memory and its ability to lift us out of the dead-ends we create for ourselves, and – appropriately – it manages to stay with you after its short fifteen minutes is over.
You can buy Reminiscence in the Night for £4.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S