Gamestyle Archive intro: it’s funny what games you remember over the years not for their quality but some unusual characteristic. Shadow of Memories is such a game. Hugely flawed it offered something very different and has since faded into obscurity. We now revive the review from March 2001 and Mike Bather/
Preventative measures are fairly common in real life, revolving around such issues as Health and Safety at work, looking before you cross the road and not accepting a cigarette from a ‘friend’ when in your teens. But what if you are stabbed in the back, die and are offered a chance to try and prevent your own death?
This is the issue dealt with in Shadow of Memories and our hero Eike Kusch has just had a particularly bad day. The game starts off with the David Hasselhoff legged and brain dead Eike leaving a coffee shop, resulting with him being stabbed and left to die in one of the back alleys of a German town called Lebensbaum. Meeting Homunculus as he passes to the other side, Eike is left confused having been given the opportunity to prevent his own death. Anyone not accepting an offer like this would be labelled a fool in heaven or hell, so he accepts, receiving a time travel device called a Digipad to aid his mission, awakening in the coffee shop 30 minutes before his fatal attack.
Immediately, it must be made clear that this isn’t really a game as such, more of a sequence of events triggered by communicating with the residents of the town, similar to Shenmue on the Dreamcast. The aim of the game is, you guessed it, to prevent Eike’s death by various foul means using the Digipad or various items at the appropriate moments and to find out just who is behind it all. In other words this is vague incarnation of the interactive movie, not the most favourite of genre and certainly not the most successful in years gone by. But where Shadow of Memories succeeds above the past attempts is the fact that it actually does it quite well, with an engaging storyline, a fresh plot and some very novel twists incorporating the previously little-used time travel subject and a bit of a ‘thriller’ storyline. To say that this game didn’t thrill us would be an understatement, but it does have a strange allurement that keeps you hooked, albeit giving you the ability to get an early night or a few hours sleep. Yes, it can be so boring at times that falling asleep whilst playing will probably be a common occurrence.
The game itself is split into chapters, just like a novel, with eight chapters between the prologue and epilogue. It plays using a 3D engine having you walk around speaking to the right people whilst unknowingly solving the chapter, swiftly moving on to the next. The town itself is very detailed and the graphics do the game justice with some excellent detail on the (unfortunately) plastic-looking NPC’s with plastic voice-overs, but throughout the game you only ever come across around eight or nine distinctive character models. This just isn’t enough for a town and in comparison to Shenmue you are left pretty disappointed with the overall feeling of emptiness within the game. The rest of the characters are just ancestors or inbreeds looking very similar throughout the games four times zones, the 1500’s, 1800’s, 1970’s and present day. Each of the time zones has its own colour that gives a bizarre picture book look to the whole game and it works really well, kindling the imagination like an old photograph found in your grandparents attic would.
The most bizarre thing about this ‘game’, beating the storyline even, is that it is very bad but very good at the same time and it has found its way into my PS2 disk tray an unnerving amount of times. The odds are that you will be getting probably the D or E ending first time around and by this point you will either be hating it and running back to Game to attack one of their employees in a fit of “I’ve been ripped off!” rage, or placing the disk back into the tray for more. It’s such a severe split between love and hate that you are really going to hate this, or lap up every moment whilst it lasts. And it doesn’t last long, to say the least. The first completion time was in under four hours and second clocked in around the three hour mark, so to get through all of the different endings would take about thirteen to twenty hours (maximum) unless you play the same game twice, which is possible. In a way this isn’t too bad as some video shops do offer a four-night rental, which is just enough time to get the game done and dusted.
The control set up and menu system are alarmingly simple as the dazzlingly thin instruction manual, made up mostly of pictures, testifies. Movement is taken care of using the left analog stick which sometimes feels a little unrefined at times, especially when you get caught in the furniture when indoors and stuck against the posts. If you line Eike up on the edge of a kerb, he can even walk about three inches above the floor, which is an even more amazing feat than the time travel element! Conversations with characters are initiated by pressing the X button and in the first chapter after doing this for 15 minutes or so you are suddenly faced with chapter two. Triangle brings up a map and the Square button brings up the minimalist item menu that appears on the left hand of the screen, giving you access to the Digipad’s functions and any other items that you may want to look at.
This brings on a vastly over simplified feel and makes you wonder whether or not this game was actually designed with experienced gamers in mind. Death is a mysterious thing here due to the frequency that it happens in the first half of the game, and you have absolutely no way to stop it. Story deaths are the ones that involve a mystery attacker dropping a plant pot on you or stabbing you in the back, but forget any kind of defence or evasive action as Eike’s actions are limited to use item (this doesn’t happen much) and talk (this happens too much). The main character meeting himself or running out of time prompts his real death and game over, but this isn’t much to worry about as Eike is given more than enough time and you only seem to get the chance to meet yourself once. This gives the game the game very little lastability, if any at all.
Musically the game is fine and the ambient sound effects are pretty good too, with some haunting tunes to accompany the main characters gentle stroll around the town. The voiceovers previously mentioned aren’t too great with some being really horrendous, especially the little girl and her mother who crop up in most time zones of the game. Eike’s voice is just plain bland, but it is by no means the worst.
Here at Gamestyle, we are beginning to wonder when a development company will eventually bother to pay out for some decent voice actors. To some this title up isn’t easy but the main feeling you are left with is disappointment as there are some truly excellent ideas in this title, it really could have been so much more and it unfortunately falls flat on its face. The control of the main character could be so much better and the lack of population cannot be forgiven as Shenmue proves, even if the character models are excellently detailed.
Gamestyle Score: 3/10