Review – Analogue: A Hate Story

analogue_important_phraseI really wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought this game. I had never heard of Christine Love until maybe a year ago, when she was featured in an article on a gaming website. Before Analogue, her two previous works were Digital: A Love Story and don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story. I had played Digital: A Love Story just a couple of weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised. It was a fun little game with an interesting gameplay mechanic and solid writing. It was enough to convince me to put my money down and purchase Analogue. I love visual novels, and after getting a taste of her writing style, I was ready to delve headfirst into what I thought would be an engaging sci-fi mystery.

I wasn’t exactly wrong. Analogue has plenty of mystery embedded in its story logs, left behind by a long dead crew. It’s an eerie feeling to have to read letters left behind by people who have been dead for centuries, as you struggle to figure out what led to their demise. In a way, it sort of invokes other sci-fi mystery stories like Dead Space or System Shock.

7177439470_afc8c6ff8a_oBut this is no horror story. Instead, you might be surprised to get a deeply complex story of a ship that mysteriously undergoes a complete breakdown of modern societal norms and turns into a hierarchy based on feudal Korea, namely the Joseon Dynasty. That particular era is notable in history for the way women were treated. This unusual setting for a sci-fi mystery is what really grabbed me as I got further into the game, and boy does it have a lot of drama and tragedy. But let’s not get ahead of myself.

The story presented in Analogue is that of the Mungunhwa, a  “generation ship” that was sent to the outer reaches of space to establish colonies. For reasons that are still unknown, society onboard regresses to that of Joseon Dynasty-era Korea, an extremely patriarchal culture where men had supreme power over women. Over a thousand years later, the now derelict space craft is rediscovered after losing all communication with Earth some 600 years previously. The protagonist is tasked with collecting the ship’s logs and figuring out exactly what happened, and in the process comes across the story of someone known as The Pale Bride…

7177440366_f03ea43afd_oAnalogue shouldn’t be called a visual novel, even though it certainly has elements of that genre. There is a LOT of reading in this game. Most of your time will be spent perusing through the many logs left behind by the Kim and Smith families. Some of the entries are about trivial matters that seem unimportant. But the more you read, the more you start to understand that something had gone wrong within the society aboard the ship. It’s important to unlock every single log to really get the full picture of what life was like before tragedy struck. It’s a testament to Love’s writing skill that she is able to pull you deeper into this mystery and get you to strive for the truth. About an hour into the game, I wasn’t just reading a story to figure out what happened; I was emotionally invested in these people’s lives and wanted to understand their tragic lives.

screen-terminalGameplay wise, you’ll spend a lot of time just sifting through the many logs. Logs are presented in a non-linear order, meaning you will have to go back and forth a lot as you unlock more logs. You can show your AI companion any of the emails, who will then offer their opinion on the matter to further provide some backstory, or she will give you additional logs that fill in some of the gaps. Conversations with your companion will occasionally include dialogue choices that will affect which ending you get. Some choices are very amusing, and it’s worth going back a few times to select different responses and see how your companion’s reactions change.

One feature that allows this game to really stand out from other visual novels is the use of a command interface. This part plays more like an old-school text adventure, as you enter commands into the ship’s computer to access the AIs and decrypt information blocks, among other things. It doesn’t become an important feature until about halfway into the story, when a crisis forces you to log into the ship’s systems. This was one of my favorite parts of the game, as it really made me feel like a computer whiz and gave me some actual presence within the story. It’s a brief reprieve from all of the reading, but it’s a fun mechanic that I wish was incorporated a little more into the main game.

Analogue-a-Love-Story-review-thumbHonestly, the story was a little bit difficult for me to follow at times. Part of that has to do with the many names that are thrown at you and of which you are expected to remember. It’s great that the game includes things like a family tree and a pronunciation guide, but if you’re unfamiliar with Korean names, it can be a bit difficult to remember just whose story you’re following. It helps that you can go back at any time to read logs that you’ve already seen, but it takes a while to really settle into the story. I just wish there was an easier transition into reading the crew logs, since the logs themselves are presented out of order.

Another thing that bothered me was the romantic subplots involving your two AI companions, *Hyun-ae and *Mute. It’s hard not to see it coming, and within the visual novel genre it’s not uncommon for the female characters to fall for the protagonist. But for me, it just felt too forced and unnatural. After all, there’s very little interaction between the two AI’s and the player character, especially since they can only communicate through binary options. The result is a romance that seems to spring out of nowhere and isn’t given nearly enough time to really develop.

analogue_survivalMy biggest criticism overall is that the game missed an opportunity to really delve into the bigger issue of gender inequality and social hierarchy. After all, the setting is based on the Joseon Dynasty, a time in Korea when women were severely repressed and seen as nothing more than baby makers for future heirs. Love has obviously done her research in transplanting those ideas into her narrative, and I applaud her for that. It adds a whole layer of complexity to the story that I’m sure no other setting could have possibly done. Not only is it unique in its strangeness, but it makes the drama of the narrative even more compelling.

121Yet, I really felt like those issues weren’t explored enough. As you read through the various logs, you start to uncover the bigger picture of what life was like aboard the Mugunghwa. Amid the saucy affairs and whispered gossip, you can sense the oppression that the women faced under the rule of their husbands. It’s made all the more crazy when you realize that this sort of thing has already happened in history. A lot of the time though, this setting is used mainly to create drama for The Pale Bride, an important figure who pops up a lot in the ship logs. Her rejection and rebellion against a system meant to repress her freedom is tragic, but I wish that more could’ve been done with this setting.

Despite its flaws, Analogue: A Hate Story is a wholly  unique narrative experience. The setting is like nothing else that I’ve read and Love’s writing does an excellent job of capturing the lives of these tragic characters. I really do wish that those darker elements were touched upon just a little more because of how it raises a whole different discussion about gender and society. But overall, it’s an engaging piece of visual novel narrative that I’ve grown to like from Love’s work. If you like sci-fi mysteries that dare to be different, Analogue: A Hate Story is definitely worth checking out.

Lingering thoughts:

  • You can pick up the game on Steam for $10.
  • A new DLC called Hate Plus is coming out on August 19 that will answer the remaining mysteries.
  • You should definitely check out Christine Love’s other work, Digital: A Love Story!
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