If you’re considering The Dark Eye: Memoria but haven’t played The Dark Eye: Curse of Satinav, then turn back, adventurer, as this is every inch a sequel. It starts almost directly after Curse of Satinav, with you once again playing Geron the bird catcher, who’s desperately trying to undo the consequences of the former game’s ending. For the sake of spoilerdom, we will limit the details, but suffice to say that Memoria is a continuation, and if you haven’t played the first then zero effort is made to bring you up to speed.
As with the first game, The Dark Eye: Memoria is a traditional point-and-click adventure. There’s no Lair of the Clockwork God-style subversion here, as this is a straight-up graphic adventure ported from a 2013 PC cult classic. There are changes in bringing it to console, as you move your character with the analogue stick; anything interactive is highlighted with a ghostly little circle, and you can cycle through those interactive elements with the RB button. You’ll gather items in your inventory as you play, and those items can be poked and prodded into other items in the inventory or environment. Solve puzzles and you’ll move onward towards your goal.
You start the game in Andergast, approaching a Tulamede wanderer who may have the power to undo that thing that happened at that time in that place. It wouldn’t be an adventure if there weren’t multiple hoops for you to jump through, and in this case you need to solve an ancient riddle that only one person has ever come close to solving. This is where The Dark Eye: Memoria begins to show more ambition than its predecessor, as you take control of another character from a bygone era. Periodically, you jump into the shoes of Sadja, a princess on the way to – perhaps – solving the riddle, as Geron sees these sections as ‘visions’ that might help him solve it too.
The dual narrative lets two very different settings creep in. Geron’s tale is set almost entirely in Andergast and the surrounding forest, and it’s a region that recalls the Dark Ages, with dirty peasants, slovenly pigs and bawdy barmaids. It’s low-fantasy stuff, which is a great contrast with the high-fantasy stuff featuring Sadja. In the past, magic was much more commonplace, so you’re in a world of talking-staves, dragons and floating elementals. It’s a cracking design decision, because the two character perspectives help to shift up the storytelling: these are effectively two different worlds, with two different sets of magical rules. Geron’s story is a mystery wrapped in a bigger enigma: who is turning villagers to stone, and is this related to the riddle he needs to solve? Sadja’s story is an odyssey, spanning multiple locations as she gets caught up in events that are much bigger than her.
The world and its two parallel stories are The Dark Eye: Memoria’s jewels in the crown. If there was a favourite, it would probably be Geron’s – perhaps surprisingly, as it’s the most conventional. He’s a plucky underdog, a hero whose heroism never gets recognised by anyone else, and the relationships he forms are more satisfying, particularly with his fairy partner Nuri and a magical adept named Bryda. Sadja’s story is occasionally bewildering, stirring in gods, other timelines and various factions from across The Dark Eye’s world (the game is set in an established RPG universe that has given us video games like Blackguards, and multiple table-top games). It’s ambitious and creates some of the game’s most memorable moments, but it’s also liable to feature abstract situations that become blooming hard to figure out.
As with The Dark Eye: Curse of Satinav, this is a beautiful game, possibly the most attractive point-and-click game that we’ve played. The environments in particular are lovingly authored, like Bob Ross took time out to do some Dungeons & Dragons illustrations. Characters and their animations are a little more haphazard, but the overall effect is to draw you further into the game. You want to progress, because the next sequence might blow you away just as much as the last. It’s a shame that the soundtrack can’t quite keep to that standard: it’s overbearing and busy, using environmental sounds that should relax, but end up making you stressed. At least the voice-acting is superb, as we’d otherwise have turned the audio off.
Where The Dark Eye: Memoria truly falls down, stopping it short of must-play status, is the controls. It’s clearly been ported at the same time, and by the same team, that took on Curse of Satinav, as familiar mistakes are made. Highlighting something is a constant headache, as you need to be near the thing, looking at it, and even then it’s a flip of a coin whether you’ll be able to interact with it. We’ve often circled our character in the hope that we find the right pixel to stand on. More so than in Curse of Satinav, the screens are busy and full of interactibles, as the puzzling and point-and-clicking is more ambitious. The additional busyness would have made sense on PC, as this is a sequel with a captive audience that could afford to go bigger and more complex; on console it makes a bad problem worse. A sequence involving an orrery with multiple planets, and another where you have to complete an action quickly, both show Memoria at its worst.
That over-reaching ambition stretches to the puzzles, too, which are certainly more hit than miss, but have the capability of punching you in the gut. There are amazing puzzles, like the first in the Sadja sequence, where you animate partially destroyed golems and get them to pass important items to you in a kind of human (golem?) chain. But equally there is a Lost Woods-style section where you have to navigate near-identical forest scenes without any clues. This sequence is huge, and it’s telling that the designers added the ability to skip it. But with these kind compromises, you feel like a dufus if you actually have to choose them.
Perhaps The Dark Eye: Memoria’s most consistent stumble in the puzzle department is a magical spell that you gain roughly halfway through, which allows you to instil ideas into an NPC’s head like a mini-Inception. You use it on a subject, and then connect three items in the environment to form a kind of ‘sentence’. You might select a magical machine, then three items that are ‘broken’, and a character will suddenly think that the magical artefact is broken too. In theory it’s a great take on a simple puzzle, but often intuiting whether you can use the spell, what item to use it on, and what sentence to form can be a bag of knots. It had us reaching for a walkthrough more than once.
Often, it all comes up aces and you get a sequence that works extremely well. There’s a ‘hunt the messenger’ section in an Andergastian forest that reminds a lot of The Secret of Monkey Island’s island map, and a mid-game riddle that does everything right. By the end of Memoria’s surprisingly long playtime (it rounds out at about fifteen hours), you will have your heart in your throat and look back on the experience with fondness.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned from coming to the end of this thirty-hour saga, it’s that The Dark Eye’s world can be as funny as Pratchett, while showcasing a Tolkien-like depth. We’re going to read up on the rest of the universe, as there’s clearly a lot of fantastic fiction here. Credit should also go to Daedalic Entertainment, who have found a more mature voice and sophisticated world to attach it to. We always found Deponia and their other titles a bit throwaway and second tier, but The Dark Eye series pushes them into the point-and-click premier.
Much like it’s prequel, The Dark Eye: Memoria on Xbox feels like you’re peering through a window into the richest of rich fantasy settings. It’s a parade of fabulous characters and scenarios, and the storytelling matches the pace. If Daedalic can untangle the control issues for future titles, and perhaps add an in-game help system (or file off the edges of their more abstract puzzles), then they’re on the way to creating a classic.