This review has quite a stored history. I accepted the game for review from a PR contact with the purpose that it would go up on PopMatters. I didn’t know that someone else was already doing the game and had a review in the pipeline. So began my trek to find this review a home. After a number of dead ends, one editor said he’d look into it, though by that time it was too late to be paid for. I was fine with that. I just wanted it published somewhere and to fulfill my obligation. A little over a month later I was informed that it could not be used at all. So, finally comes to rest here on my home site, my last resort. Ah well.
Memoria may be a fantasy adventure on the surface, but at its narrative essence at its core is that of a mystery. It’s a point and click adventure game that is billed as a direct sequel to Daedalic Entertainment’s previous effort in The Dark Eye universe, Chains of Satinav, it isn’t necessary to understand what is going on. The catalyst for the plot is the ending of the first game, but Memoria quickly establishes its own identity to focus on a new character and unravel what happened to her several centuries ago.
You play as the local bird catcher, Geron, fresh from his adventure from Daedalic Entertainment’s previous installment in The Dark Eye universe Chains of Satinav, out to turn his friend Nuri back into the fairy she once was. He seeks out the help of a traveling merchant with a spell to reverse her condition. His only price is the answer to an ancient riddle from an old story of the forgotten Princess Sadja.
You also play as Sadja as her story plays out over the campfire, through visions and in the written account of a magical adept. You are dropped into the middle of her adventure. She is a forceful personality that is on a mission to get a magical artifact to the site of a battle for the fate of the world. A battle that in the present day is not remembered at all. She finds a magic talking staff in a tomb and they are off.
Memoria will switch between these two perspectives as Geron pushes forward trying to figure the answer to a riddle, but events happen that may hinder his ability to get a cure for Nuri as even a forgotten past still has its repercussions on the present.
Saying anymore than the developers have a firm grasp on the story they are telling would seem unfair as the game is ultimately a mystery and hinges on solving the truth behind Sadja’s tale. Events seem to conspire away from it, even as the beginning blatantly tells you what puzzle the whole game is leading up to, everything will come back to that point.
Fantasy in recent years has turned away from the sense of wonderment by creating the empty, unexplained spaces in the world and turned magic into another science, Memoria bucks that trend and creates a world where magic feels, well, magical. It doesn’t get bogged down into the world building details or the exact mechanical nature of how magic works, instead focusing on the characters’ desires and having magic being another method by which they pursue them.
The characters themselves are strong and are developed not only though their action, but given life in their presentation. There are a few secondary characters whose voice acting is weak, particularly the children, everyone else manage to hold their ground and not get in the way of the story being told. The end result is a cast of memorable and understandable set of characters that we can immediately identify what they are about. The standouts being the firebrand Sadja, the enigmatic talking staff, and Geron, who even as an everyman has his own goal oriented iron will that comes subtly through. There are some technical issues with animations, particularly the faces, but they don’t get in the way.
In previous games the developers had serious problems in getting out of their adherence to 90s point-and-click adventure conventions. Thankfully, Memoria is far more organic in its puzzles. Puzzles were convoluted messes that made sense only to the singular bizarre logic of their developers and put in for the sake of having puzzles rather than making any narrative sense. Now we are going though the rather mundane process of healing Nuri’s wing, because that is the relationship these two characters have. Puzzles can be about character development as much as they advancing the plot. Necessary items used hidden behind multiple walls of puzzles spread out across so many screens that forced the player into long stretches of busywork and backtracking trying to figure out the solution. Instead, during Sadja’s travels her guide refuses to share his food and she has to fend for herself. The eventual rabbit trap is rather convoluted and a little adventure gamey, but because the whole puzzle is contained to a single screen it is far more rational than it could have been.
The structure of jumping back and forth between the two time periods also allows for areas the be sectioned off and for puzzles not to rely on a complicated interlocking of times in order to progress. The isolated sections means that the needless complexity is toned down. A problem arises and Geron or Sadja has to resolve it with their limited inventory and their wits.
They also include the almost now standard ‘highlight all interactive objects’ button, which remove the old pixel hunting problem and puts all the pieces in front of you immediately so you can get right down to the task of putting them together. Unfortunately, the little indicator sparkle happens to be the exact same color as several objects and areas throughout the game, like crystals, lamps and in one case a very polished stone floor. As a result you can scan the screen several times and keep missing it, not realizing that an important hotspot necessary to progress even exists.
On the surface Memoria is a fantasy yarn, underneath that is a mystery tale, but ultimately Memoria itself is a story about stories and our need for truth in them. In the end, the game isn’t about grand battles or political intrigue, wishing for a better life or for things to return to the way they were. All the magical trials and interpersonal tribulations are leading up to a climax about revealing a simple truth, the answer to a riddle, the solution to a mystery. It’s an excellent adventure that works on every conceivable level.
8 out of 10