You should really play this game.
It was one of those things that just stays with you, and you keep thinking about it the rest of the day after you’ve played it. It’s also not that long– I got 98% completion in, according to Steam, 2.8 hours. So it’s more than worth the investment.
There are two stories here. The frame story is that you are sent as part of your job to go through the records of a recently rediscovered lost ship/space colony that has been gone for hundreds of years. You head over and start sifting through the log files with the help of the ship’s AI. The second story is what actually happened on the ship. The setting is simultaneously a future dystopia and a past dystopia– the frame story takes place more than a thousand years in the future, while the secondary plot takes place six hundred years before that.
It’s hard to describe the game without getting into spoiler territory, but I’ll do my best: the gist of the secondary plot is that on this space colony, some unspecified disaster caused major social and educational regression and an extreme population reduction that ultimately resulted in the establishment of an extremely oppressive patriarchal society in which women rarely are allowed to leave the home and are often married off as young as 12 or 13. A young girl put in stasis before the disaster due to an illness wakes up hoping that a cure has been developed, only to find the world has gone to hell.
The game is simultaneously a reflection on the horrors of the past– a particularly disturbing post-game author’s note lets you know the circumstances are based very heavily on actual customs of Feudal Korea– as well as a warning about where we could head in the future. The girl wakes up and tries to tell her new “family” about her illness by emphasizing how thin and pale she is, but all the men hear is a woman’s whine and all the women hear is bragging about good looks, which would sound extreme if the exact same thing hadn’t happened to me in the past. It’s an examination of the ways women survive in such an oppressive society, and what happens to those who don’t fit the mold.
The final reveal of the girl’s storyline was something I saw coming by the time I got there but was hoping wouldn’t happen all the same.
The gameplay itself was clever, if simple. The navigation was freer than you usually get in a VN, as the interface is of a computer system you can explore more or less however you see fit– as the AI offers commentary– though the AI will dole out information based on how you interact with them so the story itself it ultimately nonlinear. In addition to reading snippets of the ship’s logs and chatting with the AI, there’s also a command input console where you can type in whatever you please to the ship’s computer. I thought the puzzles involving the commands were interesting enough to require some good thought while also logical enough to be solvable on your own.
The weakest part of the game to me was the ending of the frame story. The story itself is somber, serious, and tragic, but the AIs end up flighty, silly, and almost like caricatures. Like, after everything that’s gone on, Hyun-ae suddenly turns into terrible tsundere and decides she’s in love with you and wants to get married? What? The LAST thing she should be interested in after what she’s seen is some kind of weird relationship with a stranger. The tone shifts from torture and oppression to some kind of parody with no warning whatsoever, and it’s like she just forgets what you were looking at. It’s jarring, but also comes off as though the game doesn’t take its very, very serious subject matter seriously at all. “Oprression and mutilation destroy lives. CAN I BE UR WAIFU????” Just wat.
In the same vein, I thought calling the “best” ending a “harem” ending was ridiculously tacky. In a story where women are literally being forced into harems, just what the hell. Is it supposed to be a joke? Why is that something to joke about? Is it some weird attempt at meta-commentary on VNs? Wrong place, wrong time.
So yeah, the last five minutes or so of the game are… bad. They’re just bad, there’s no way around it. But overall? This is an engaging, emotional, tragic story with a message that hits close to home, and I really recommend it.
“In the same vein, I thought calling the “best” ending a “harem” ending was ridiculously tacky. In a story where women are literally being forced into harems, just what the hell. Is it supposed to be a joke?”
Oh yes, it is. It is both a parody of a common VN trope and a commentary on unrealistic expectations. The music and image of the ending should have made that clear but I agree it comes out of the left field (like the whole romance thing) and a bit OOC (*Mute understood the situation too easily, IMO)
The next game makes it a bit more clear with some player-bashing comment about wish-fulfillment and naming the ending clearly ‘Impossible Harem Ending’
I mean, I get that, but it’s just too at odds tonally with the actual story to be anything but kind of cringe-y. The whole tone of the frame story had that issue. Maybe it was supposed to be purposeful tone whiplash, but even so, it just didn’t work. The story was too serious to have joking around going on by the characters telling it.
It looks like one of those ideas that is great on paper but very hard to execute successfully.
I can understand the author’s intent to create a contrast: “Here is how women were treated in reality and are still treated by some people. Here is how they are represented in media aimed at men. Now every time you see a harem comedy you will be reminded of that story. Enjoy.”
But yeah, I can see how it could be distracting and immersion-breaking.
If it had dedicated itself to a black/white contrast, where the outside was harsh parody and the inside serious drama it *could* have worked, but it wasn’t over-the-top enough to feel entirely purposeful, and the end result was the weird feeling that the author didn’t get how serious her story was (especially considering it’s also partly historical fiction), but she obviously did… IDK, it just felt really bizarre.
As of today, Analogue: a hate story and its continuation, Hate Plus, are on sale on Steam. Everyone has lost their last excuse.
Regarding former DQ reviews, there’s also Recettear and Hatoful Boyfriend. And I’d like to recommend Planetarian as well.
Everyone has lost their last excuse.
I have a moral objection to videogames that try and make me think. :-P
I just played this myself, and agreed on all counts. The shallow anime personalities of the AIs were ridiculously cartoony and antithematic, and I was particularly bothered by how sexualized Hyun-ae’s designs were. All of her “cosplay” outfits are blatantly fetish gear rather than something anyone in that profession would actually wear. I actually liked the hanbok the best because it was the only one that didn’t vacuum-seal her breasts, but of course she hates that one, so I grudgingly went with the OSHA disaster scientist outfit instead.
One thing I do think worth noting is that the author is (as far as I can tell) a white Canadian woman, not Korean, so her choice to focus on the depravities of Korean history is a bit questionable. It’s not like European history doesn’t have plenty of similar horrorshows, after all. I never got the sense the story was being disrespectful or xenophobic, but obviously I can’t comment on that with certainty since I’m not Korean either.
It’s okay that you don’t like the character designs, but cosplay of professions is just sort of like that. Also, I know that in-universe defenses of authorial choices (i.e. “it’s fine that she’s naked because she breathes sunlight through her skin” or what have you) are pretty weak because they’re not addressing the actual complaint, which is that human creators are using disproportionately sexy designs that go way beyond depicting an accurate range of what women are comfortable wearing.
However… nothing extreme or unrealistic is happening here? This character is not flaunting it in a way you couldn’t see on the street (I went back to look at all her outfits and they’re all pretty tame, she just has a big chest), her wanting to dress like that makes sense for the character and you can even get her to talk about why she does it, and the other AI girl does not do this. Sometimes people like to dress moderately sexy. I’ve known real-life women who enjoyed doing this, and I think it’s pretty fucked up to say that depicting that in fiction is worse than depicting only more modest women, or that modesty itself can’t be just as objectifying (see: the hanbok and how it’s representative of when she was forced to be modest AND was the most sexually objectified out of any period of her life).
Also, while this is tangential and not directly related to *Hyun-Ae, who is an AI and has perfectly tailored clothes and probably whatever kind of breasts she wants because it’s all digital, real humans with big breasts often have their clothes have a tighter fit around the chest (regular people generally don’t get their clothing tailored, and if you have big boobs you often have to balance your garment fitting your boobs and looking shapeless on the rest of you vs your garment fitting your rest of you and being tight around the boobs). Also, large-breasted people have more cleavage than small-breasted people, which means that something that looks modest on a small-breasted person is going to look less so on a large-breasted person, even to the point where they look like they’re trying to be sexy even if they’re just like, existing while having breasts. This is a problem involving actual sexual objectification of real people (and not just hot people problems, either – I am not attractive and this happens to me). Please learn to accept that humans are mammals and consider what your critiques of fictional depictions of people are saying about actual people.
(I think the game is set in space Korea because Korea actually had a well-documented cultural reversion like this in the past, but I’m not Korean either so I don’t really have anything to say on what is or isn’t appropriate.)