Memories! Like the corners of one’s mind, you might say. Fables and folklore so often turn to memories themselves as the subject of their stories, and videogames are certainly no strangers to the idea of a protagonist losing their memories as a plot device.
So it is in Bit Byterz’ Memoranda, a wholesome yet bemusing tale based on the short stories of celebrated Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. A more unique concept for an adventure game you could hardly hope to find, it’s true — yet strangely enough, what could be a barrier for entry for some actually became, for our recent playthrough, an accidental enhancing factor.
You see, we’ve never read any of Murakami-san’s work, being the sort of uncultured swill that we are — which meant any references and allusions to the short stories laced throughout Memoranda completely passed us by. In other words, the journey became even more bizarre, but no less haunting and warm despite it.
In short, Memoranda is the tale of a woman who’s lost her memories. More specifically, she can rarely remember her own name. As you travel through a quaint little town of oddballs trying to find it, you discover that the strangeness of your situation is just the beginning of the peculiarities in play throughout this wistful title.
Again, reading and understanding the literature that partially inspired Memoranda would go a long way to explaining the incidental puzzles and plot twists you discover during the course of the game. A singing opera cat-man here, a skulking back alley fixer there, and let’s not even get started on the kid on the pier lamenting a friend who’s drowned at sea….
Having no basis of knowledge on the stories that shaped these in-game experiences adds to the surrealism of the game, and yet players who enter the narrative the same way we did should expect an extra layer of beautifully drawn confusion accordingly.
Similarly, and it’s a sensitive subject to broach, but the English language used in Memoranda is well voice-acted, with wonderful levels of emotion throughout… but seems to have been translated somewhat off-the-cuff. As such, the things people say, the way they’re said and the phrasing used feels off-kilter.
Yet this all adds to the surrealism of the experience, from a certain point of view. Just as Eddie Izzard once summarised Monty Python’s comedy as working because straightforward topics are tackled with stupidity and nonsensical subjects are treated as highbrow, so too does Memoranda‘s peculiar world work because everything is weird, everyone talks about it in a weird way and nobody seems to regard any of it as out of the ordinary whatsoever.
A man obsessed with cooking spaghetti in his underwear? Certainly. A secret clinic for changing species? Just another day in our lovely coastal village. A machine that captures soundwaves as physical objects? Barely worth a remark. A combination of inventory objects isn’t correct? No worries! “Some people get lucky and make it”, after all!
It’s hard to find an experience that’s truly surprising these days, and Memoranda delivers in that regard. While it might not so much breeze past Ron Gilbert’s adventure game manifesto as tear it up and dance in the resultant confetti, Memoranda revels in leaving questions unanswered, plot threads frayed and dangling, and the final mystery behind our heroine’s missing name tingling with what-ifs.
In not making an enormous amount of sense, in plot nor puzzles, Memoranda ends up making a contingent sort of sense as a method to its own madness — an amble through a strange landscape that’s beautifully realised, lovingly presented, and so jolly odd you’ll never quite forget it.