Back when I reviewed the anime version of Amnesia, I commented that it felt like watching someone play the game. Now, having played the game myself, I have to take that back at least in part: the game is far more interesting and engaging than the anime could ever hope to be. Primary among the reasons for this is the fact that our nameless heroine shows vestiges of a distinct personality, one that becomes clearer the further you get in the story. She’s not just a blank slate; she’s a person in her own right with quirks, opinions, and other personality elements that make her far more appealing than her dull anime counterpart. While there absolutely still are blank slate moments – the poor young woman has completely lost her memories, after all – she feels more like a fully realized character in the game, and that goes a long way to making this the better way to experience the story.
As you may recall from the anime adaptation, the basic plot is that our heroine has awoken on August first with no memories of her previous days. There’s a weird kid with horns whom only she can see hanging around, and after telling her that his name is Orion, he explains that it was through his error that she’s become an amnesiac. Orion tries to guide and help her through her life in the pursuit of her memories, and this involves both going to work at the maid café Maid no Hitsuji and interacting with one of the five young men who may have been her boyfriend. Each comes with his own perils, and bad ends happen when you fail to capture the guy and solve the mystery of what happened in the days leading up to August first. Conversely, the happy endings are when you get the guy and figure out what brought things to where they were at the start of the game.
Amnesia: Memories is interesting in that it doesn’t have much in the way of a common route; instead, it’s more like a prologue with Orion where you get to choose your character name before picking a route to embark upon. Four of the routes are available from the start, all coded with card suits: diamond (Toma), clover (Kent), heart (Shin), and spade (Ikki). The final route, Ukyo, unlocks after you achieve the good ending to the previous four, and his representative card is the joker. This makes a lot of sense once you start to figure out what’s going on with him, because he truly is the wildcard of the story and the character who least conforms to the tropes of the genre. You obviously need to play Ukyo’s route last, but there’s some wiggle room with the order of the others; I played in the order of Shin, Ikki, Kent, Toma. Of the four suit routes, Kent’s was my favorite, with Toma being my least favorite as it indulges in some highly questionable romance tropes – let’s just say that if you prefer your romances consensual on all fronts, Toma is likely to be an issue for you.
What’s interesting about the way the routes work in this game is that all of the characters (Orion excluded) are completely different in how they interact with the heroine and react to the actions of the plotline. A character who may be your ally in one world is your enemy in another, and while we can see hints of how the heroes will behave in others’ routes, their closeness to the heroine is the ultimate deciding factor in their personalities and actions. While there are some similarities in the places the story goes across worlds, each really is its own distinct story, with Ukyo’s finally giving us the answers as to why that is. It does feel much more like a case of each route taking place in a completely separate world from the others than in something like Steam Prison where the heroine’s choices relegate different potential love interests to different roles depending upon the route. As a storytelling choice, it works very well, and it really does give Amnesia: Memories an edge over other otome games, as each playthrough feels completely different, and not just because the romantic interests fit into separate personality types.
The art for the game is remarkably good-looking, and that really does hold up over both time and the various ports the game has gone through; previous to this release, it came out (in English) for the PS Vita and the PC, and it really does look just as good on the big screen as on the Switch’s smaller handheld version. While outfits can be fussy and bizarrely reliant on buckles (looking at you, Kent), there’s a stylish feel to them that works with the fantasy elements of the story, and if Ukyo looks like – as the anime dub put it – a sexy cab driver, well, his route is strong enough that that’s easily ignored. The music is also quite good in a quiet, largely understated way, and the various elements of the game – visuals, music, and voice acting – all work together nicely to create an immersive whole. As is typical of the genre, the gameplay consists of reading and making choices at various points in the story, with previous choices shown in a different color upon replaying. The balance of choices is good, not feeling overwhelming or too sparse.
Without saying too much about the actual story (because it really is a better game if you get to put everything together for yourself, anime notwithstanding), Amnesia: Memories is a very satisfying experience. The slow reveal of what the truth is behind the heroine’s past, equally hinted at across the four suit worlds and then finally brought into the light in Ukyo’s, is intriguing and well-balanced, and the visuals and sounds (both music and acting) are beautifully done. If you’ve already played this on the PS Vita or Steam, it doesn’t necessarily benefit from its move to the Switch, but with the release of the fandisc sequels Amnesia: Later x Crowds, it’s a good time to replay the original or to jump on the franchise for the first time.