For those of you who haven’t played Analogue: A Hate Story, the game that takes place just before Hate Plus, here’s a brief summary (although I suggest you go play it for yourself instead!). You were an investigator tasked with finding out what happened to the Mugunghwa, a derelict space station that went out of contact years ago. With the help of one, or both, of the station’s AIs, you were able to decrypt text logs from the various residents of the ship in the few years just before everyone died. These logs told the story of a society that had regressed to a point where men were fully in charge and women were expected to stay quiet, get married off, and have children as soon as possible. By reading through all the logs, you eventually learned what caused the deaths of everyone onboard. You end the game by downloading these logs, and one of those AI programs, and heading back to Earth to make your report.
Hate Plus picks up very soon after the events of Analogue. You are still on your ship and heading back to Earth with your AI companion in tow. She discovers new logs in the information you recovered from the Mugunghwa, this time from the period right before the ship’s society had gone through that regression into the dark ages. You are able to pick out these logs six at a time (defined by the ship’s power supply) over the course of three days, the time you have before you reach Earth. By going through these new logs, you are able to piece together how such an event happened and who was responsible for it. Like the last game, you also get to read several personal logs about relationships, double-crosses, and political intrigue that dominated this particular span of years.
It’s a rather unique narrative style, even for a visual novel. There’s a certain pleasure derived from piecing together a bunch of events and names and figuring out how everyone’s actions, or inaction, led to such a radical shift in society. I particularly enjoyed the more personal journal entries, which were less crucial to the overall narrative but did a better job selling the society onboard the station at that time and also featured the game’s most touching and painful moments. Christine Love, the game’s creator, also makes sure to touch on topics you don’t commonly see in games such as a boy dating a cross-dressing boy or a woman who is violated sexually and how she rationalizes it away as her fault and not his. These are the types of stories I want to see more of in my games, as they aren’t just the same old “you are the hero, kill all the bad guys” tale we’re used to. Deep, personal stories are something I feel games are lacking; if you agree with this sentiment, Hate Plus is probably right up your alley.
The only issue I had with the story was the complexity of the events This story, and Analogue, is set in a Korean society. As a result, the names can be a bit hard to follow. Combine this fact with some particular logs that are politically focused and hard to understand until everything starts to come together and it can be a bit frustrating to keep track of everything until you find the groove. Thankfully, there is a nice feature where clicking on someone’s name will give you a bit of information about them you’ve already learned to help you relate and remember who he or she is. Something like a timeline would have nice to help keep things straight, but it all starts to make better sense at around the halfway point, depending on the order you choose your logs in. Of course, this issue only applies if you’re like me and can’t keep names and events straight easily.
Before I wrap this review up, I wanted to mention a few of the small things that really amused or impressed me with Hate Plus. First, I appreciated the balance of sex present in the story. It never goes as far as becoming erotica, but it isn’t afraid to shy away from the topic either. If you blush easily, some of the logs may make you a little hot under the collar. I was also surprised to learn that the game actually prevents you from moving on from day to day for twelve real-world hours, in order to mimic the time passing in-game. While this can be easily subverted through the system clock on your PC, I can’t help but admire the way Love stuck to her guns on this concept. I personally waited the twelve hours each time, even when I wanted to see what happened next, as it felt true to the events of the story. It’s a minor thing, but I really liked it. Finally, there is a particular achievement that made me laugh. At one point in the story, my AI companion asked me to bake a cake so we could eat it together. The game actually presented me with a recipe and asked me to make the cake. If I tried to skip through the dialogue option saying I had completed the cake before enough time had passed, I was actually berated by the AI. I still didn’t bake the cake in the end, waiting the time instead, but I found the whole thing quite humorous. Getting back to the achievement, there is actually one where you have to take a picture of your cake, along with the screen with your AI partner eating hers, and e-mail it to Love in order to unlock the achievement. In this day and age where every game seems to have stupid easy achievements to please fans, it’s nice to see one as crazy as this.
I’m quickly finding myself more appealed by the idea of visual novels, mostly thanks to all the excellent works of Christine Love. It satisfies my taste for a deep story but doesn’t pad out the story with gameplay that I don’t really want anyway. Games like these make me think of adventure games and how I like playing through adventure games for the story but I don’t like doing the puzzles. Usually, I use a FAQ for the puzzles and just enjoy the story. Hate Plus, and other visual novels, feel like adventure games where the puzzles just aren’t there, which is great for my tastes. What appeals to me most, however, is just the subject matter. Few other kinds of games are so touching and personal, focusing on the characters instead of the overarching conflict. Hate Plus may not be quite as shocking and intriguing as Analogue: A Hate Story was, but it still managed to make me smile, squirm in discomfort, and yell angrily at my computer. How many games can do that in just a few short hours?