"If you can only remember one thing, remember this phrase."
남존여비 / Men are honored, women are abased
For most, the term "visual novel" conjures up images of the (mostly adult) dating simulators out of Japan, or their crude Shockwave Flash-based counterparts that littered the early '00 internet. But as the ultra-catchy theme song of this game series will attest, you won't find smutty CGs here.
Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel, Hate Plus, are the fruits of Canadian-born writer-turned-game-designer Christine Love, whose breakout hit Digital: A Love Story got her much-deserved attention. In the words of the author, the game(s) can be summarized as "a dark visual novel featuring transhumanism, traditional marriage, loneliness, and cosplay."
Digging into that a little more, the game is a little something like this: you, the player, are a space detective from Earth tasked with retrieving log files from the Mugunghwa, a colony spaceship that went dark some 600 years before the game begins, only to be discovered orbiting a distant star.
Aboard the ship, its inhabitants are long dead, save for two AI constructs: the intensely curious and modern-thinking archivist *Hyun-ae, and the chauvinistic security program *Mute. By interacting with one AI at a time and reading personal logs, you gain new insight into the fate of the Mugunghwa, the lives of its passengers, and how it all went wrong.
If life aboard a spaceship is not exotic enough, it's rendered even moreso by the Joseon-era Korea-inspired society that once dwelled on it, which serves as the catalyst for conflict throughout the story.
Gameplay, if it can be called that, is as simple as it gets: you're aboard the ship to read and retrieve logs. The AIs are unable to understand you, so they present you with a dialogue wheel consisting of 'yes' and 'no' so that you can answer their questions. The player may also show particular log files to an AI in order to prompt them for more information. No twitchy reflexes are necessary here, just a bit of time to read and have a bit of quiet reflection. It is a visual novel after all.
And there is quite a bit of reading here—according to the author, the first game clocks in at 59,000 words. Don't despair: the branching nature of the dialogue means you won't read it all in one playthrough. There are five potential endings, with some logs and conversations being inaccessible without making certain choices.
The writing is well done and manages to paint a complex and sympathetic picture of its characters, even if the society isn't all that pretty. These are not happy stories: a central theme is the horrid treatment of women that the Mugunghwa enables. It's a story about isolation, and hatred, and families less than filial.
But do take heart, because while sad, the story never quite reaches Game of Thrones level bleakness. Granted, it's possible to be a complete jerk to the AIs, something I never had the heart for. So it's quite possible the mood takes that sort of turn if you are.
There are also, in spite of everything, genuine bits of humor are sprinkled throughout. And while most, if not all, characters have some number of unenviable traits, they are not unsympathetic, either. Indeed, the game leaves it up to the player to place and absolve blame as they see it, and the choice isn't always clear-cut.
Analogue is easy to enjoy as a standalone game—it was initially written as one. But Hate Plus could be slightly more difficult to follow without having played the first game: it assumes that you have, and allows you to load your savegame from the first in order to determine how to begin the game. Where the plot of Analogue concerns itself with the tragedy leading to the deaths of the passengers aboard the Mugunghwa, Hate Plus concerns itself with the ship’s transformation into a Confucian dystopia.
The adventurous can play Analogue in Korean, and a translation for Hate Plus is in the works. Both games are available on Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam at $10USD each, or $20USD for the pair. Analogue can be found here, Hate Plus here.
This piece was originally posted at Waygeek, a geek community based in Gwangju, South Korea. You should check them out.