Analogue: A Hate Story is a Western-developed visual novel that’s available through Steam. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in to it, since it describes itself as ‘a mystery featuring transhumanism, traditional marriage, loneliness, and cosplay.’ What I got was an intriguing and immersive experience that kept me hooked from beginning to end.
!!This review contains spoilers!!
The narrative of Analogue is absolutely its strongest point. Most of the plot is revealed through log files which are gradually unlocked, and this is interspersed with conversations with either of the two AIs, as well as some ‘gameplay’ via the interface.
I have to admit that I was very confused by the characters and their family trees at first, and especially the way in which characters would often be referred to not by their name but by their family position. It can be frustrating, but I like that it didn’t pander to the player. Of course by unlocking all the log files you are eventually presented with the complete story, but it still takes your own brain power to piece all these disparate fragments together into a cohesive whole. I actually felt like an investigator sifting through the evidence and finding the connections.
While a majority of visual novels tend to be romance-based, and there is a sort of romance happening at the same time between the player and one of the AIs, this isn’t a romance game. In fact, out of the five endings I think only one of them is vaguely romantic. In a sense it’s mainly a political story, and that will immediately put some people off. But it covers a whole host of themes including ambition, love, marriage, gender roles, patriarchy, and what it means to be human and to love.
In the narrative we of course identify with the character of the Pale Bride through her diaries, whose way of thinking is far more akin to our own in the first world 21st century, but we also come to understand why others think and act the way they do within the constructs of their society. This is what great storytelling is all about – making you understand and even empathize with someone who thinks and acts completely differently to yourself. Something else I love in fiction is seeing a story from different angles and realizing how unreliable narrators can be, and Analogue definitely delivers on that front.
Now this is probably going to sound like a trite comparison, but I I’m going to go ahead and say that you might like Analogue if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones. Of course a short game is nothing like a sprawling epic work of thousands of pages, but they do have some similarities: noble houses vying for political domination, scandalous happenings behind closed doors, morally grey characters, events and characters that are seen differently depending on the perspective. And terribly confusing family trees. Analogue only requires 4 or 5 hours of your time though, which is around my ideal length for a game.
In this section I’ve knocked a point off for the questions I feel were left unanswered. I know we got the big reveal about Hyun-ae, which was quite obviously foreshadowed, but after that it ended very abruptly. I wanted to see more diary entries from Hyun-ae about what exactly was going through her mind when she decided to kill the entire ship. There was also that brief message from her father as she was uploading her consciousness, and then of course there’s all the shadowed history of the Mugunghwa in the years while she was in stasis. I know there’s a sequel, so I’ll have to play that and see if it helps fill in these gaps.
As I’ve already mentioned, there’s a huge host of characters writing or being written about in the log files, but there are only two characters that you interact with.
*Hyun-ae. To be honest I found Hyun-ae in her AI incarnation to be rather boring and cliche. Her story in the log files is riveting, and yet her AI comes off as such a bland cliche – perhaps we can blame a glitch in the memory transfer?
*Mute. I really enjoyed Mute’s character as there was so much to dislike about her, but it was done well. We see glimpses of compassion beneath sexism and homophobia she’s been taught as the norm, and her feelings for Sang-jung are very sweet and genuine. One thing I’m confused about though is her name. I was expecting some twist where Mute was another aspect of Hyun-ae’s personality, since Hyun-ae herself was an actual mute. But since this wasn’t the case, I’m curious as to why this name was chosen.
I love the design of this game! It’s laid out like a computer interface which makes for a truly immersive experience, and the gameplay elements consist of typing commands into the console. It’s an innovative way of involving the player more deeply in the game, and I imagine it would also be appealing to an audience who has no experience of visual novels. Things like the ‘failure’ of the text input at the beginning, and the losing power sequence further enhance the realism and add a sense of drama and agency that some people my find lacking when just clicking through lines of text.
As far as the art goes, the sprites for Hyun-ae and Mute are nice, and I enjoyed the outfit changes for Hyun-ae, but other than that everything is very minimal which may not appeal to people who enjoy the ‘visual’ aspect over the ‘novel’ in VNs. Personally I do wish the ending images had been bigger or a bit more impressive.
I enjoyed the soundtrack in the background of the game, however there was nothing that particularly stood out for me which is why I haven’t rated it higher. It would also be awesome to see Hyun-ae and Mute voiced as they don’t actually have too many lines.
A lot of thought clearly went into the story of this game, and it creates a fascinating and intriguing narrative that’s enhanced by unique and immersive presentation and gameplay. I’ll definitely be playing the sequel as soon as I can.