Hate Plus (PC) review

How you choose your logs for reading

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?

Shouldn’t There Be Less Secrecy in Game Development?

The process of making games is an absurdly secretive one.  Strict publishers and well-trained public relations (PR) guard even the smallest bit of information with their lives, trickling it out to the public at a glacial pace.  The majority of people who work on games, rarely being trained to deal with media, are hidden behind closed doors while the groomed PR lackey is trotted out with cryptically bland responses.  Footage of a game doesn’t appear until a polished E3 demo or until the release of the game.  The gaming industry is one that seems to fear the general public and reacts to that fear by hiding everything away behind the curtain out of sight.  Transparency is something the gaming industry is sorely lacking.

Let’s take a minute to compare the gaming industry to the movie industry, an industry that is very transparent.  It’s rare for the public to not hear about a movie years before its actual release.  When a studio commits to a project and hires cast members, they don’t try to hide this information.  Instead, they use it as free publicity to get some early excitement building for their movie.  Games, on the other hand, aren’t announced until a decent amount of work has been made on the project.  It seems that publishers are afraid to announce games that may end up being canceled and do everything in their power to ensure a game will hit release before revealing it to the public.  Sequels to games, even successful ones, aren’t usually announced for years, unlike movie companies that will announce them as soon as a movie is deemed successful.  I can sympathize with game developers, as I know that game development is a process where a lot more can go wrong due to the variety of skills needed to put together a game.  Still, I think publishers need to be willing to admit when a mistake is made and a project is cancelled or put on hiatus.  If movie production companies aren’t afraid to do this, why are game developers and publishers so skittish?

On the topic of movies, I would also like to mention trailers.  While movie trailers have a tendency to either show too much of a film’s premise or show things that aren’t even in the actual movie, they often demonstrate what the movie will be about.  You will have the occasional trailer that shows the best parts of the movie just to entice theatergoers, but the majority of them are useful to your average consumer.  Game trailers, in comparison, are often a mess.  The vast majority of them are CG-based and show no actual gameplay.  Even the ones that do end up showing gameplay cut around so much that it isn’t even useful.  Nowadays, I rely on gameplay videos done after a game’s release, usually on Giant Bomb or Youtube, to make my purchasing decisions as those videos often show a large portion of the game actively being played.  I like a pretty trailer as much as the next guy, but I would really prefer my trailers showed me a bit of the game in action and how it plays.

It’s not hard to understand why publishers are so afraid to show a game when it isn’t absolutely perfect–or as perfect as games get nowadays.  Go to any online forum for a game after a bit of video leaks, like the recent Kingdom Hearts 3 footage, and you’ll see nothing but complaints on how poorly it’s running or how it doesn’t look as good as it should.  The gaming public is quick to judge, taking early footage to be representative of final products.  Herein lies the biggest hindrance to transparency in game development.  The blame can’t be entirely laid at the feet of game publishers; we hold some of it as well.  We need to be more understanding about the chaotic nature of game development.  Learning more about how games are made will benefit everyone in the long run.

To do this, both gamers and publishers need to work together.  The gaming public needs to be let in on the developmental process.  We need to learn how games come together over the course of years of production and how the final months are when all the pieces are put together to assemble the final product.  We have to realize that features being cut from a game is a common part of the process, often making a better final product.  An understanding needs to be reached about how early footage with unfinished graphics, poor frame rates, and crashes isn’t uncommon early in development and that those problems aren’t necessarily indicative of the final product.  Early gameplay videos shouldn’t be damning to a game; instead the gaming public should be made to realize that it’s an interesting chance to see how games change and evolve over the course of development.  Developers and publishers need to be more open and we gamers need to be more understanding of how games are formed to finally break down this wall between us.

It’s hard to imagine that this will ever become a reality.  Game companies are in the business of making money over everything else.  As nice as it would be for them to lift the veil on game development,  it does little to benefit them in the long run.  The potential pros don’t quite outweigh the cons, at least not in a financial projections manner.  Maybe this is a direction those publishers should start thinking about, though.  Through Twitter, gamers have recently been connecting with the creators of their favorite games, especially indie developers.  It’s clear that we enjoy speaking directly to the people who create our entertainment and learning about the process of how game creation works.  Why shouldn’t we finally get a peek behind the curtain?

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Wii) review

I didn’t really enjoy my time spent with Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, at least not in that usual sense.  As a game, it’s not great.  Boring and frustrating combat, ponderous fetch quests, and a difficulty curve that resembles a seismic scale during a violent earthquake made it a hard game to love.  Pair this gameplay with a story that weighed heavily on me with its dark scenes and crushing sense of hopelessness and you can maybe see why I had a hard time making my way through Fragile Dreams.  Even so, it’s an experience I’m glad I had at least once.

The world of Fragile Dreams is the best, yet most depressing, part of the game.  An unexplained event has left the world nearly devoid of human beings, replaced by ghosts of those who came before and feral animals.  Your character, Shin, starts the game having just lost the only person he knows and has to set out into the empty Japanese countryside to find more humans.  Instead of your usual post-apocalypse where everything is destroyed, all of the world’s people are just gone.  It’s eerie to just see how empty everywhere is without that obvious visual cue as to why.

If I had to describe the main theme of Fragile Dreams in one word, it would be loneliness.  It constantly hits you in the gut with Shin’s intense desires to have someone to share his thoughts and feelings with.  Side characters come and go and the designers manage to wring a surprising amount of feeling and emotion out of scenes with these characters you barely know.  Good, albeit a little cheesy, voice acting helps to sell the utter despair the characters, especially Shin, feel throughout the game.  I particularly liked the way that scenes such as these are laid out in a way that isn’t obviously trying to elicit a particular response from the player; instead, the game likes to step back and let you react in whatever way you want.  It’s a simple design choice but effective.  I’ve heard people say that The Walking Dead game was hard to play through all at once, since it was so depressing and devoid of hope; it pales in comparison to the way this game made me feel.

You can also find mementos around the world that are accompanied by voiced vignettes from people before the disappearance.  Usually, several mementos string together to tell a mini-story.  Some of the vignettes, especially those about people who seemed to know that the event was coming and had enough time to prepare for it, are actually more interesting than the main story and drip with the same despair found throughout the game.  Tonally, these scenes are all over the place.  Some are surprisingly upbeat and hopeful while others are several times darker than anything found in the main story itself.  I urge you to seek as many of these out as you can, if you play Fragile Dreams, as they keep things interesting during those slow story parts.

Everything unfolds at a ponderous rate in Fragile Dreams.  Several times, the game sends you on fetch quests back through areas you’ve already traversed.  A few segments feature hallways that literally take 5 minutes to traverse from one end to the other, with little to do other than walk forward, and ladders so long that you will spend a minute climbing them.  The whole game doesn’t seem to have much of a goal until about two-thirds of the way through when it picks up speed for the endgame.  As much as I wanted to hate this pacing, I felt it suited Fragile Dreams perfectly.  It’s clear that the developer wanted to make everything about the game bleak and depressing and I applaud them for sticking to it.  Unfortunately, it does make the game hard to get through and a bit tedious.

While the depressing story (surprisingly) drew me in, the gameplay in Fragile Dreams is what kept making me want to stop playing.  Combat is simple to the point of frustration, particularly with the late-game enemies.  You only have one button to attack with some simple timing-based combo potential.  There are no lock-on functions (making group fights a huge pain) or dodge moves.  Fights usually consist of you running up to an enemy for a quick combo before having to run around all willy-nilly to avoid the counterattack.  There is no strategy to fights and way more enemies than you want to deal with.

To make matters worse, your weapons break quite frequently.  Stronger weapons tend to stay together a bit longer but not nearly as long as you may like.  You also have a limited inventory, managed through a Tetris-style system like in Resident Evil 4,  which forces you to bring only a few weapons if you also want health items or to pick up the mementos scattered around.  Thankfully, there are quite a few save points that let you manage your inventory and drop off unused items.  The game is mostly easy due to the overabundance of health items and save points; however, a few of the late game sequences that have you fighting several enemies nonstop  in very narrow corridors that prevent you from running around them spike the difficulty through the roof.  These awful parts are infrequent but still infuriating enough that you may just end up putting the game down.

I don’t really know who I’d recommend Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon to.  Even though it was an experience I’m glad I have now had, one that I’d like to share with others, I feel slightly bad about suggesting others play it.  Not a single piece of the gameplay was enjoyable or exciting.  If it wasn’t for the intriguing setting and story, I would never have bothered to press through; even with those elements, I nearly put it down more than once.  The only thing I can say is that I’m glad I played it.  If you’re the kind of person who can suffer through some terrible, tedious gameplay for an interesting story–and can handle the soul-crushing theme of loneliness–it may be a game worth playing through.  Once.