‘Memoria’: Stories and Truth

This post contains spoilers for Memoria.

Fascinating titles are a rarity in the arts. They are difficult to come up with that aren’t merely descriptive or a ploy of marketing the book like so many are, but have actual thematic meaning connected to the work. With video games, it’s even rarer, where the rule of cool reigns and little effort or thought is expended on what is viewed as the utilitarian expedience of recognition. I don’t have to explain the phenomena of the ever present colon placed between the franchise name and whatever subtitle the marketing department has decided to attach, nor the prevalence of the “re” words — redemption, revelations, retribution, reckoning, and, of course, reboot.

It’s an understandable joy when I come across a title that causes me to look it up. Memoria could have been just a made up fantasy word, but given that the game centers around storytelling and memory, it’s easy to see how memoria could be used as a title. In fact, memoria is the Latin word for memory, but like most Latin words, it requires more than a simple one word translation.

In classical rhetoric, memoria is one of the five canons. In the ancient times of Greece, stories were not written down, but passed on through an oral tradition. Later they would be written down by followers and students. Come Roman times, despite a greater body of written word, oration was still expected. One was expected to stand up without notes and deliver a speech. Memory was a big part of being able to function in public discourse and understanding the structures that facilitate memorization. However, the idea of memoria extends beyond that. In the heat of debate, the orator would have to answer challenges from his audience. These were conversations, dialogues, and debates, not mere monologues. The speaker was not allowed to say whatever they wished without challenge or impediment. They needed to be versed in a wide variety of subjects and be able to improvise upon that knowledge.

Ignoring for the moment the obvious parallels between this and video games in general, this concept encapsulates this title in particular. Throughout the game, you jump back and forth between playing two different characters, Geron, a bird catcher and hero of the fairies in the present, and Sadja, a spitfire of a princess who lives some 500 years before Geron’s time. You are playing Geron in the game, and whenever you jump back in time to play as Sadja, it is because you are being told her story. The first leg of that story is explained by a traveling merchant who wants your aid in solving a riddle. Later on, Geron blacks out as the memories of the next parts of Sadja’s journey are thrust upon him. Then, he reads another section from the journal of a monk, before one final blackout completes Sadja’s story as far as anyone knows it.

You discover near the end of the game that the merchant was working at the behest of a magical entity, who wished to know what happened to his beloved Princess Sadja. In the mythology of the game, there is a garden created by the servant of the God of Fate, Satinav. This is the only place in the world that Satinav cannot see and therefore whatever happens there is not transcribed in the book of fate and therefore did not happen. Unless, that is, someone calls out to Satinav and tells them what took place in the cavern where the garden is located. Then, Satinav will write it down in the book of fate. However, should he find out you lied to him, you will be erased from history. Sadja disappeared into the garden and never returned.

All over the world, in every culture, stories have power over people. They entrance their audience and are capable of almost anything. Memoria is a game about telling stories and seeking the truth in them. Throughout the game, Geron and Sadja both meet people that they have to tease the truth out of, basing that truth on these people’s words. There are many minor instances of learning the truth from interrogating bar patrons to finding out who went to attack a merchant’s camp to discovering the secrets of the myth behind the garden’s power. All are minor steps in unraveling the game’s main mystery, the grand story of Sadja and her journey for glory.

The story comes to us out of the memories of several people, and we then have to piece the truth together. The truth solves puzzles, unlocks doors, and opens the mind. But most importantly, through the ear of Satinav, it has the power to change fate itself.

Calling out to Satinav requires the player to weave together the events of what happened in the garden without contradiction or to prove a contradiction in another’s version of events. Twice in the game, the player is not presenting the events that happened in the cave, but proving the contradiction in the story of another. Others try to override reality with their truth (told through their stories), and the player has to reset the world to the way it is supposed to be. The player must stand up to challenge it.

Somewhere at the crossroads of memory and storytelling lies truth, and truth can reshape reality. Nearly every major character tries to reshape reality to their own ends. They lie to those that cannot prove otherwise. We see this happen within the fiction most prominently when the prince orders a naive girl to lie to Satinav about how he tortured Sadja for information so that he could magically gain it through no effort of his own. But the lies are also directed at the player. We believe the story and thus reality to be one way, but in fact behind the facade, the world is very different.

Sadja is not a princess. She is only a commoner. She has lied to everyone that she meets throughout the game. They have no reason to doubt her word and neither do we. Our perception of reality is changed by her lie and so are the characters’ perceptions of her so changed. When we finally figure out the truth, not only does it affect the plot, but it changes our perception of all of the preceding events. The very nature of the story is irrevocably altered thanks to the truth. Everything Sadja has done has a new meaning behind it. How we understand her actions and her as a character changes as well.

The story is not just the events as they transpired, but the truth contained within them. The game goes to great lengths to explain how all of the flashbacks are events that took place. A staff that wants the truth and therefore must speak what it saw, a spirit unable to lie, and a monk in fear of speaking falsely. But these are only the words of people recording events. The truth of Sadja escaped them, and because of it, the mystery of 500 years was born.

Geron goes through this adventure for the sake of his fairy friend Nuri. She was changed into a raven at the end of their last adventure, and he seeks the magic to transform her back. He needs to do so quickly too because the longer that she stays in that form, the more she forgets who she was. However, in the end, Geron is too late. No matter what he does, she will not remember him or anything else. Nuri has become a blank slate. In the end, all that Geron can do is tell her the story of their friendship. And Nuri, the ever trusting audience, listens and believes.