Memoria Review (PC)

Daedalic are getting to be really good at this adventure business. They’ve been churning them out for a while now but their recent output has been pretty damn good. Night of the Rabbit was a charming, funny masterpiece with only a rushed ending spoiling things, and The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav was an engaging fantasy with some slightly iffy English voice work (something that plagues Daedalic’s output really). Satinav saw a young mage called Geron save the kingdom of Andergast but at the cost of his fairy friend Nuri who got turned into a raven. Now Daedalic have decided to follow up Geron’s tale with Memoria, so let’s hope it continues their winning streak too.

Yes, that Golem is wearing Lion-O's gauntlet...
In Memoria we follow two characters: Geron in the present as he attempts to cure Nuri, solve an ancient riddle and stop a demon, and Princess Sadja in the distant past as she heads to war armed with a powerful artifact and an enchanted staff, in an attempt to make her fame. There are a number of cool twists at play here. As Geron’s story progresses he either experiences “dreams” of Sadja or reads journal entries, which we get to play as the princess. The other bitter twist is that we discover immediately that Sadja’s goal of being remembered forever will fail since no one in Geron’s time has heard of her, so the player has full knowledge that Sadja’s tale is going to end badly. This nicely mirrors Geron, who saved Andergast in the last game and now everyone thinks he’s an unimportant bird catcher with no magical ability.

The other interesting part of the story is how Sadja’s time is filled with dragons, demons, magic, golems, elementals, floating castles and giant spiders, whereas in Geron’s time those things have fallen into history, myth or fairytale. They appear but are far less common, and aside from a few apprentice mages in the local school any actual fantasy elements are feared and hunted by the local townsfolk. This contrast between the two ages is cleverly played up and actually becomes a major plot element, and is really cool. Unfortunately for poor Geron that does mean that Sadja’s time is by far the more interesting, although when the demon starts showing up in the otherwise boring Andergast it makes it all the more shocking. And entertaining.

In terms of storytelling Memoria is honestly Daedalic’s strongest title yet. While Night of the Rabbit is the superior adventure overall that does suffer from plot overload in the final act, whereas despite being a sequel Memoria tells a compelling tale with two concurrent plots that weave together excellently. There’s no exposition overload, you’re often left to make your own conclusions, and the twists come at just the right moments. It’s an expertly crafted tale, with a perfect beginning, middle, and end, it never feels drawn out, and is just very well written. All this is extraordinarily hard to do with a novel done by a single writer, let alone a game made by dozens of people. If you like playing games for the story you’ll be very happy with Memoria.
The Boy and his Bird.
Fortunately the puzzles don’t quite let the game down, although I may be being picky but a lot of them didn’t click for me. I do have to bow down and sarcastically praise Daedalic for finally incorporating at least an attempt at a hint system (in the logbook, which is also useful), even if it’s hidden on a tiny icon in the corner of the pull-up inventory. Fortunately the ‘highlight interactive items’ button is still present and correct, with none of this “magic coin” nonsense. Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair saying they didn’t click – the only ones I disliked were in the second half of the game and involved a lot of trial and error. One particularly hideous example is in a misty forest full of twisting paths, and it’s like Secret of Monkey Island’s tedious Melee Island Treasure section except without the map (so you’re totally lost and just searching desperately for anything to do). It’s so bad Daedalic actually give an option to skip it after wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, which begs the question – why the hell was it here in the first place?

Other trial-and-error bits aren’t so bad but still weren’t very interesting to me, like scouting a wood at night or raising and lowering floating towers. They’re not bad but I felt less like I was solving them and more like I was just playing about until I chose the right combination. That’s only about 10% of the puzzles in the game though and the only really bad one (the forest bit I mentioned above) can be skipped, so luckily the rest are all good fun and satisfying to solve. They’re also made infinitely more interesting by the spells Geron and Sadja have access to, such as Petrify/Depetrify, Build/Destroy, and the brilliant Send Vision (with a personal item from someone you can send a three-pronged vision to them). These are all used in interesting ways over the course of the game and are integrated into the puzzles really well.

Memoria’s look is nicely gritty and believable in the hand-painted Curse of Monkey Island style that Daedalic often do well at, although it must be said that a few places are rather lacking in imagination. Locations are believable which was obviously the intention, Andergast, Drakonia etc could all be real places, but even the most fantastic creations like the floating city are just begging for the designers to go crazy and it doesn’t happen. It’s nice to look at but for a fantasy game Memoria isn’t heavy on the fantasy. Many players might prefer that, whereas others may wonder ‘what’s the point of making it fantasy if it’s exactly like reality’. I’m of the latter camp, but I also love Game of Thrones for being realistic so go figure.
This can be a really beautiful game.
My last comment before I round up has to be about English voice acting, which can make or break Daedalic’s games. Fortunately Memoria is on the “good” side, if as usual not spectacular. The stand-out performances among the central cast go to Sadja, mage apprentice Bryda, ex-fairy Nuri and the mouthy magic staff that Sadja carries around. Geron sadly sounds permanently either sleepy or drunk, which is part of the reason why Sadja’s side is so much more fun to play as. There’s the occasional outright terrible voice, like the barmaid or the merchant Fahi’s daughter, but fortunately they’ve only got a few lines each. Overall while not at Telltale's or LucasArts' standards, the English acting does happily enhance the experience, even when it accidentally slips into German. Yes, there are a few bugs.

Memoria is an excellent follow-up to Chains of Satinav, and you don’t need to have played that game to get what’s going on here. The majority of the puzzles are challenging and fun, magic is well implemented, and the story is the most perfectly told of any Daedalic adventure. You’ll keep playing to the end to find out how things go, and the fate of Sadja in particular was compelling enough to keep me hooked. There are a couple of off bits such as the terrible misty forest section that should’ve been cut, but otherwise Daedalic have another very good adventure out for 2013. They get any better and they’ll be threatening LucasArts and Sierra for the title of greatest adventure game developer ever.

Top Game Moment: The satisfying pay-off when Sadja escapes from Malakkar’s tomb by having a giant golem wrench the entire door off.

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