Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
A little over a year has passed since the release of Remember Me, and probably the only reason most gamers have it suddenly pop into their heads again is because of the recent announcement of Life is Strange, the French development team DONTNOD Entertainment’s second game. Is it fair that this 2013 title has been mostly relegated to being a footnote in that historic year for its pre-release controversy (and even worse, subjected to never-ending horrible puns of being “forgotten)?
I only got to play it this 2014 when it was part of the Instant Game Collection of PlayStation Plus back in February this year, removed from all the hype and disappointment that came with it when it first hit the shelves. I had been told by a friend who had played the game to expect a visually stunning piece of work with an undercooked combat system and a unique but underutilized mechanic.
By all counts, he was right. What he didn’t tell me was that the game also had a stellar soundtrack, a promising premise, and a deeply personal story that could have been truly affecting if it didn’t force itself into certain tropes to justify weak gameplay elements.
[There will be major spoilers for Remember Me.]
Nilin, the protagonist of the story, is part of the Errorist underground rebellion, raging against the nigh-dictatorial rule of the private organization Memorize over Neo-Paris. With a breakthrough in technology by the company’s founder, Memorize made it possible to give people the choice to share and remove memories via Sensen brain implant, creating a fauxtopia that Memorize has full control over. This has also led to the unintended consequence of creating a sub-class of outcasts called Leapers, addicted to experiencing other people’s positive memories that warped their brains and mutated their bodies into frenzied beings willing to kill to get another high off a hot fling or an adrenaline-pumping base jump from 10,000 miles up in the sky.
The plot actually starts with Nilin having most of her memory wiped in the Bastille Forest, Neo-Paris’s prison complex where inmates are kept docile by having all of their memories removed. She escapes with only the slightest fragments of her life still intact thanks to the mysterious Errorist leader Edge, relying on her instincts paired with her extreme physical capabilities to survive her one chance at freedom.
Everything about this set up sounds absolutely exciting, so I can definitely see now how let down people were when Remember Me unravels in its gameplay and narrative not too long afterwards.
Much has already been said about the failings of the Combo Lab system and the unimaginative platforming, so I’ll not bother beating a dead horse in the mouth.
What really irks me is that the story hinges on Nilin’s righteous crusade to rid the world of Memorize’s stranglehold on what creates identity in humanity, and it only questions the very hypocrisy of the Errorists’ actions of remixing memories just once. Furthermore, it is easily dismissed with the “righteous cause” excuse Edge feeds to Nilin who swallows it begrudgingly and never brings it up again, even when she’s altering the memories of her own parents. There is no pause (aside from my own when handling the controller) in her decision to manipulate what they thought happened to achieve the goal.
I’ve actually no problem with the argument that “using the tool against those who use it to ultimately destroy it” is worth the moral judgement. It’s just that it’s so casually thrown aside with Nilin doubting herself for a short cutscene, then pushing forward without a hint of remorse in basically altering her mother’s life experiences.
In fact, I just wish that DONTNOD had focused more on the memory remixing aspect, as that proved to be the single most enthralling element in the entire game. The repercussions of Nilin’s own version of memetic manipulation could have been a more interesting angle than, say, the generic, mad scientist Leaper experimentation subplot that had almost nothing but repetitive battle after repetitive battle.
So much of the memory remixes explore the direct results of what happens when you change the tiniest things, and the game even highlights this with the secret achievements/trophies you can earn by stumbling upon the different outcomes of your remixes. I was actually moved by one such secret scene, which was made all the more glaring as the fallout for messing with people’s heads isn’t given much thought. Instead, we have Edge forcing you to fight him in a long series of dull combat sequences right after he tells you he’s willing to be destroyed just so we can have a “final boss”.
DONTNOD Entertainment says that, “choice and consequence play a key role in how the narrative unfolds,” in Life is Strange thanks to its lead characters’ ability to rewind time. With the developers’ choice to restart with a new IP and due to the tepid response to their first game, it seems that Remember Me‘s mistakes will stand uncorrected with no sequel in sight. Let’s just hope it serves as a stark reminder to DONTNOD of its lapses, lest it relive its own existential crisis that threatened to wipe out more than just memories.