[19 September 2013]
Memoria is a balancing act. The duality in Memoria runs through its narrative, overall themes, and even its design. Memoria is Daedalic Entertainment’s follow up to The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav and the company’s second foray into The Dark Eye universe. The Dark Eye is Germany’s highly successful role-playing franchise, a franchise that rivals even Dungeons & Dragons. Memoria is a classic point-and-click adventure game that does little to expand on the genre from a game play standpoint. However, through its narrative, Memoria deconstructs many of the fantasy genre’s tropes and conventions.
In Memoria, you take on the roles of Geron, an adventurous bird-catcher, and Sadja, a forlorn warrior princess. From the start, Memoria sets up its dichotomous structure by introducing the player to Geron, and then quickly after, to Sadja through flashbacks. But the dualities do not end there. The contrast of past and present, high fantasy and low, and even male and female, all play into the game’s bifurcation.
Geron was first introduced in Chains of Satinav. He is the hero of Andergast. After the events of the last game, Geron seems to have settled. He even says, “I no longer care what people think of me. I rescued a fairy and freed a kingdom. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.” This is all of the exposition that the player gets concerning the events of Chains of Satinav. However, exposition isn’t necessary to understand or care about the plot of Memoria. The only problem that remains is that the fairy he rescued and eventually came to love has been mysteriously turned into a raven.
Geron must speak to Fahi, a traveling merchant, to return his beloved Nuri to fae form. Fahi presents Geron a riddle to solve, an action that sets both stories in motion. Sadja’s story begins as a narrative device delivered through flashbacks that take place 500 years before Geron’s time. Sadja and a group of heroes attempt to open the tomb of an ancient Mogul mage. Her character is revealed through her interaction with her fellow travelers. She is strong, obstinate, and tenacious in her resolve. Sadja serves a contrast to Geron’s more sarcastic and easygoing nature, and her characterization is cemented after completing her first challenge, escaping the tomb. After which, she laughs with a smug self-satisfaction at solving the puzzle.
Puzzles range from the mundane to the esoteric. In one of the more grounded puzzles, Sadja must fend for herself when her male companion refuses to share his food. Sadja must devise a plan to capture a rabbit and prepare to cook it. It’s refreshing to see a role reversal of the damsel in distress turned strong-willed female adventurer. While Sadja is attractive, she isn’t overtly sexualized. This is particularly noteworthy in a time when sexualization of female characters is still rampant in the gaming community. Interestingly on this note, Sadja has no love interest and no apparent concern for men or women for that matter. She is sharply focused on achieving her goal, while utilizing her own abilities. And while she is a warrior princess, she wins her battles through wit, not brute force.
Geron’s portions of the game take place in the village of Andergast, taking place everywhere from the marketplace to the Academy of Magic. This is a strong juxtaposition aesthetically between these spaces and the sweeping vistas Sadja views on her journey. Similar dichotomies emerge in the plot. For instance, in an early scene Geron must make a salve to repair Nuri’s broken wing. While the puzzle does little to propel the story forward, it adds character development to Geron and Nuri’s relationship. It is a touching scene—as he gently embraces the wounded bird—and this revelation of his nurturing character emerges in stark contrast to Sadja’s coolness. Memoria balances this duality well, and while noticeable, it never feels heavy-handed.
Memoria‘s deconstruction of fantasy tropes continues as it blends high, low, and adventure fantasy. While Memoria is set in the distinct world of Aventuria, typical of high fantasy, it approaches dialogue and tone with the casualness of sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Geron is typical of a sword-and-sorcery fantasy hero. He deals with minor destruction magic, but he isn’t concerned with a larger crisis. Instead, he focuses on his need to save Nuri. The village is also quaint, reminiscent of a medieval-style European village, complete with pigs and stocks.
Sadja’s experience contrasts with that of Geron’s due to its epic scope. While she is primarily concerned with her own personal glory, a legendary battle between good and evil is brewing, and Sadja wants to be on the front line. Sadja travels to exotic flying cities and hidden gardens. These fantasy locations are commonplace in Sadja’s world, whereas they appear as folklore in Geron’s time. Sadja deals with gods and elemental spirits as opposed to thieves and bar maids. These contrasting fantasy arcs complement each other without being confounding.
Where Memoria suffers from its extremes, though is in its acting, art design, and gameplay. It is plagued with the same localization problems as many of its Daedalic counterparts. While some voice acting is particularly good, most notably Sadja and the magic staff, some is equally bad. Most minor characters sound as if they are merely reading their lines from the script, but not necessarily understanding them. While English might not be the actors’ native language, the dissonance is disappointing. Also at odds with one another are the differing art styles. The backgrounds of Memoria are lush hand-painted landscapes. By contrast, the characters are represented by lifeless 2-D animated close-ups. Characters stare blankly and their lips move awkwardly out of sync. In terms of gameplay, most puzzles exist to drive the story forward, but they are less than intuitive. It takes some time to get into the frame of mind to understand how these magical items might work together. While some puzzles deliver an “aha” moment, most are just par for the course for adventure games.
Memoria appears to be an exercise in redeeming opposites. While some may seem contradictory, all points eventually converge in the end. Sadja and Geron’s stories intertwine as the past and present collide. The word building is incredibly deep. But, players can enjoy Memoria just as much on a surface level by following the relationships of its characters. While it is refreshing to see a multidimensional female protagonist, this alone can’t overshadow Memoria’s flaws. Memoria might not be for everyone, but for those willing to unravel its mystery, they will eventually receive a well-deserved payoff.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/memoria/