Shadow of Destiny
AKA: Shadow of Memories (EU, JPN)
System: multiple :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 1
Genre: Adventure :: Released: 06 March 2001 (PS2), 27 September 2002 (Xbox; EU), 15 October 2002 (PC)
By Morphine Jim
Apparently, if you're in a cafe, trying to decide between tea and coffee, the one of you who chooses tea and the one of you who chooses coffee both exist. Welcome to the world of possible futures, where every single little decision ever made exists along with every single potential conclusion, the twisting paths of fate intertwining infinite times to the point where I really haven't got a clue what I'm saying. Time travel really lends itself well to pretentious bullshit, doesn't it?
This is a fact that Konami's Shadow of Memories knows only too well. Here is a video game filled to the brim with convolution, content to waffle on about its own intricate, paradox-riddled ideas, regardless whether anybody else understands a word it's saying. Okay, seriously, it's not that bad. I've seen far more pompous time travel plots, but this has everything from the typical "This might be my own great grandmother" to the classic "everything I do in the past affects the future, bow before my grasp of cause-and-effect." It might be up its own arse, but Shadow of Memories is actually a pretty clever little jaunt through a time traveling murder mystery that, while never truly fulfilling it's potential, entertains in it's own special little way.
The game starts when you die. Yep, the main character, Eike Kusch, is mercilessly stabbed in the back while he leaves a cafe in his quiet, Germanic little town. Everything starts to go blurry and then black. Eike Kusch is dead, just like that. Oooh, shocking. Only he's not quite dead. Not yet, anyway. Awakening in a strange room he hears the voice of a strange being, Homunculus, who offers him a chance to avoid his fate. Giving him a digipad, a device that allows Eike to travel to preset periods in history, the murdered man with unfeasibly long legs is transported back through time, half an hour before his tragic death to rewrite history.
It doesn't end there, however, as each time history changes, so too do the events of the future and Eike must root out the very cause of his death in order to prevent the relentless and inevitable murder that chases him. What follows is a story of possible fates that sees us travel not just minutes, but centuries back and forth through history, changing people's lives in a bid to get to the bottom of this time-hopping whodunit. It's all very impressively put together and contains some sweet, sweet twists and the never diminished shock value of seeing your main character snuff it in increasingly desperate ways each time you think you've cheated death.
Word to the wise before we go any further there is no fighting in this game. If you want action, you will not find it here. Funnily enough, it's not much of a puzzler in the typical sense, either. You see, Shadow of Memories is not something I would call a "video game" in the true sense. If it is, it's a walking-and-picking-up game and little else, save for the occasional brain teaser that you're allowed to solve on your own. I was expecting this to be an increasingly complex game that involved solving puzzles through time and using cause-and-effect to save your present self through the changes of the past. And it is, except for one major problem it's the game that's solving the puzzles and rewriting history, not you.
Your hand is held practically the whole way. You will complete this game after being told how to do everything, either by Homunculus (a demented weird fortune teller) or Eike drawing his own conclusions. You aren't allowed to solve your own problems. You get the chance once to solve a major puzzle on your own, but, even then, it's presented to you on a plate so bloody obviously that you'd have to be a blind, deaf, retarded duck to get stuck. This leads to the main plot, from A to B, being linear on overdrive. However, there is a certain small degree of freedom within its limitations, provided you keep an eye on your time of death. Although the digipad can't just be used willy-nilly, once you've unlocked a time period, you can go back to it even if it's not part of the main plot. This allows you to accomplish more than you would if you just played from A to B. In fact, on the first playthrough, you'll likely notice that you didn't actually see and do as much as you could've. Only at the end do you realize that things are not quite as straightforward as they seem, plus with four different endings and the creeping realization that you could do a few things differently, this is clearly a game designed for multiple replays with things for you to see and do differently a second time around.
But at its core, the main game is linear. Indeed, playing it straight will cause you to miss a huge chunk of the game, but, as I've said of Final Fantasy X, side quests alone do not a game make. As I said before, this is not a "game" in the truest sense. But then, one has to wonder if that's what the developers were going for in the first place. See, despite making you feel like you're stuck on a train without divergence most of the time, there's simply an atmosphere that forces you to want to keep on playing. It becomes a game inside your head as you try to figure out who Eike's killer could be. This creates the need to carry on playing in order to help get to the bottom of it all.
The ideas presented in SOM are also pretty good. Though full of time travel clichιs, its style is so well done you'll think that the guy who wrote it is much cleverer than he actually is. The puzzles are brilliant in conception and convolution. For instance, at one point your killer lunges at you from behind a tree. What do you do? Yeah I know what you're thinking. Don't go near the tree. However, it's far better to show off how smart you are by traveling backwards in time to prevent the tree from ever being planed in the first place. Each new scenario acts as a stage for yet another well plotted idea that makes you stroke your chin and think "how very inspired" and is full of many twists that literally caused me to sit forward and say, "Oh my God!" For some reason, the ideas and the "OMG!" moments justify this game. Say what you like about freeform and open-ended gameplay, but you just won't find these types of moments in any other game.
The inclusion of the time limit is one of the best ideas that this title has. From the first time you get to play Eike, a clock in the top right of the screen tells us it's two o' clock. It then counts down to your imminent death, creating both a sense of urgency and morbidity. The game is a laid back one, on the whole, but there's always this clock, just ticking away, counting down the final moments of your life. Though it counts down in real time, talking to people and performing actions result in instant depletion of the clock, though usually not by a huge deal. Doing things speedily is not helped by the fact that in order to use your digipad, you need Energy Units. These are little green things that appear in the streets of your town, and though it's not too hard to stay topped up, it's a pain having to wander about, trying to locate the little green bits when time is of the essence.
And that's really what Shadow of Memories is all about. It's vehicle for some awesome ideas and makes your brain work not for any puzzles, but for the story itself. To take control of Eike is fetch and carry, to do the rudimentary legwork for a plot that has somehow asked you to carry it. For many people, this is all what equates to a very bad game. But there's something justifying it. Somewhere.
Graphically, this is a smooth looking game. Although Eike's legs are disturbingly long and lanky, his animations are sweet to look at as he runs around a distinctly European-flavored town. Everything moves fluidly, faces look nice, even if the lip-synching is a little off and hair moves independently of the head. Though the same map is used for every era you visit, the coloration and style of your surroundings change to give each one a believably differing flavor. The huge cast of characters is made up of a small amount of regulars, in that their relatives are prevalent through time and all sound the same and look very similar. It's actually a nice touch. You can trace family histories by meeting these characters. Watch the humble tree planter's ancestor start a little coffee house which, by your time, is a flourishing, successful bar run by some other guy down the bloodline who looks and sounds the same, almost.
Aurally, this is a very good effort all around. For a game like this to have terrible voice acting would simply cancel out the whole point of the thing. So, it's with pleasure that I can report no terrible voice acting. The main character's voice, though desperately needing to learn how to inflect his lines properly, provides us with solid characterization of a clueless yet generally down-to-earth bloke. Homunculus is played very well, helped along by the quirky effect that accompanies its voice. The others are all generally competent with their words to create a listenable cast that won't grate on your ears, which is exactly what a game like this requires. Background sounds are not hugely prevalent, but, when needed, there's a believable atmosphere gained from some lovely sound effects, from bird song to light breezes. Music is used very sparingly, but, when it was there, it was very enjoyable. Again, the music has a European theme that seems to permeate the game, and it's all the better and quainter for it.
Mind blowing story.
Very different kind of game.
One of the most relaxing titles you'll ever play.
Plenty to replay through.
Holds your hand the whole way.
Seems to hold your hand the whole way just to show off how clever it is.
It's over too quickly.
And The Memory:
Shadow of Memories is unique. By unique, of course, I inevitably mean weird. At times it's confusing, embroiled in its own sense of genius without giving a damn whether you've kept up with it all. It's a shame that it never lives up to the time-hopping-puzzle-solving that it teases you with. It's merely a guided tour of some of the best ideas you'll ever find in a video game. But, damn it, those ideas are so simply lovely that I have to forgive it. Even without the different endings and the few select forks in the road that affect the outcome of the game, I would still want to play this one again, just to enjoy the experience that it pulls you through, holding your hand the whole way.
There is no fighting, the only violence ever seen in this game is the type that's visited on the main character over and over and over again. It never gets tired seeing your guy snuff it, it's always a surprise. I'm a big fan of mindless action, as both my readers know, yet I'm always up for something that's just peaceful. As a late night worker, I generally play games in the dead of the early morning and by that time, hardcore hack n' slash just doesn't fit the bill. This is your wind down bedtime story. To play Shadow of Memories is to curl up with a cup of cocoa and a virtual book. It's games like this that have been missing in my collection for a long time, and, yes, I could never class it as a fully fledged game, but it's without a doubt the best interactive movie that you'll ever "play".
One day I'll make a film of this game. Until that day I rate it: 77%
"Say... and this is just an example, you get brutally stabbed to death while walking down a street..." The Fortune Teller.