Category Archives: Mobile

Game Review: Her Story

It seems that most of the games I’ve really enjoyed so far this year have all had one common trait: they embrace the fact they are games to offer a unique story-telling experience.  Movies & books are fairly passive, or perhaps structured is a better word, in how they present their stories.  The “proper” way to experience their story is from start to finish exactly as the writer intended.  Ever caught a movie halfway through & then have no idea what’s going on for the rest of it?  But gaming can shake this formula up.  Because it requires the player’s active participation, developers can present a cohesive story in unique ways.  Her Story is one such experience.

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In Her Story, you play as basically yourself.  Someone sitting at a computer, presumably in a police station, searching through broken bits of video revolving around several police interviews of a woman named Hannah in regards to a missing person, & later a murder.  The plot is that you’re trying to figure out the plot.

I’ve seen Her Story described as an “interactive movie,” which is fairly accurate to how the gameplay is structured.  You’re basically operating a computer to search for small video snippets from Hannah’s interviews.  Although there are several interviews, they’re all broken into snippets of maybe a minute or so length, & you search for new pieces by entering keywords that Hannah says in the videos.  For example, the first video I viewed gave me an idea to search for “Simon” & “murder”.


2893760-herstory-2Narrative: As this is a very heavily story-based mystery game, having a compelling mystery is essential, & I’m happy to report that I felt Her Story‘s story was very well executed.  The mystery, once you piece it all together, was unique & well-thought out.  But what struck me as most interesting was how the player’s unraveling of the mystery is entirely dependent on their actions.  The story’s structure remains the same, but how you uncover it will greatly affect its impact.  You might find a key clue before another player, thus affecting the conclusions you draw about what happened.  It’s hard to talk about without going into spoilers, but an example from my own playthrough was that, for the longest time, I suspected Hannah had a Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) & that this alternate personality had killed Simon.  I found myself writing notes, paying attention to dates & timestamps on the videos to understand the timeline of the interviews.  I’ve never done police work, but it really gave me the sense of being a detective.

There are numerous small details that go into adding to the atmosphere of the game.  I know, it’s hard to imagine how a game that’s nothing but staring at a computer screen staring at an in-game computer screen can have atmosphere, but Her Story manages with its minimal presentation.  Everything just felt a little… off, in a way that’s difficult to give words to.  Perhaps it’s the welling sense that something very bad happened.  Perhaps it’s how Hannah always comes across as unbalanced and off-kilter, even before she’s accused of anything.  Even though I was just watching videos, I couldn’t help questioning myself.  Who was I, & why was I sitting in what felt like a dark, dank room in some police archive?  Was I even supposed to be there?  Why did I care about Hannah’s story?

Overall, if you let yourself get immersed in the mystery, you’ll find it a compelling story.

Score: 5


unnamedMechanics: Mechanics are minimal but work for their intended purpose.  You type in keywords to search, watch videos & can even organize the videos into a sort of save bar to keep everything in order.  There’s not really a lot to say in this regard.  Every aspect, however simplistic, served to aid in the illusion of the world the game was creating.  You even get little popup chat messages from your “coworker”.

If I had a complaint about the mechanics, it’s that the save bar feature could’ve been better.  In the beginning, I was trying to organize each video based on their timestamps so that in the end I would have a cohesive timeline, but it quickly became too tedious.  When you save a new video, it naturally goes to the end of your feed, but you can’t just drop it between other clips.  Moving it will swap the two clips’ positions.  So if you want to move a clip, you have to swap it with each sequential video up the line.  I gave up after a while.  While this took nothing away from the story, it was an annoyance.

Overall, simplistic mechanics that add to the purpose of the experience, but skip the save bar.

Score: 3


Aesthetics: As with the mechanics, the presentation of Her Story is minimal but utilitarian.  From the design of the desktop to the quality of the video clips, it felt like I was using an ancient computer stuck in some dungeon of a police archive.  I have to give a lot of credit to Viva Seifert, the actress playing Hannah.  I thought she gave a very convincing performance.  There’s a natural unnaturalness about her in the videos.  Her behavior is slightly stilted, which I think anyone’s would be while being interrogated by the police.

The game also has a lot of small visual cues & attentions to detail that help immerse players in the game “world.”  For example, two clips might show Hannah in the same outfit, but she has her hair up in one but down in another, giving you a clue that the second video comes later in the interview.  Another small detail that caught me off guard but increased my investment in the game was when the lights would flicker on my “screen”, making “my” reflection faintly flash across the desktop.  Such a small thing, but when I realized I wasn’t playing as myself but someone actually in the game’s world, it added a second mystery to solve.

Overall, the presentation is simplistic but with great attention to detail to help with immersion.

Score: 4


Replay Value: Low.  Nothing changes in the story, so I feel no need to replay the game.  However, as there is some fun to be had rewatching a mystery to with knowing eyes to see if you missed any clues, some gamers might enjoy replaying the game.

Score: 3


Breakdown

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Final Score: 4

Final Word: While it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, Her Story is a solid experience & great example of story-telling through mechanics, with great attention to detail.  If you’re a sucker for a good mystery or want to try something new, it’s work checking out.

–  GamerDame

Title: Her Story
Consoles: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Rating: N/A (personal rating T)
Developer: Sam Barlow
Publisher: Sam Barlow
Release Date: June 24, 2015

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Filed under 4, Indie, Mobile, PC, Reviews

Game Review: Bad End

Not even a month into the new year & I’ve already completed three games.  Not bad!  Granted… they were all new games that I got over Christmas sales, so they don’t actually tick off my backlog, but… Oh well!

I can’t quite pin down one thing that drew me to today’s game, Bad End.  It could’ve been that it has decent reviews for a little indie visual novel game, or that it was discounted even more than it’s $2 price.  But probably a large part was that I have a thing for horror stories that take advantage of modern technology.  This love of being haunted through progress started with the movie Stay Alive, a movie about a video game that kills people if they die in the game.  And Bad End’s premise is basically the same.

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The titular Bad End is a game within the game.  Players take the role of regular high school student Kyuuhei, who begins investigating rumors about a new mobile game that kills people after his best friend mysteriously dies of a heart attack the same night he texted Kyuuhei about getting the game to work.  Believing this can’t be a coincidence, Kyuuhei discovers that no one seems to know where this game came from, despite its popularity, & threads from people who get the game to work always end mysteriously.  Kyuuhei takes it upon himself to finish the game without making any mistakes to hopefully end the curse so no one else dies, but between the mental fatigue and ghostly phone calls, the line between the game world & reality starts to blur.

As with most visual novels, all of your actions are limited to simply selecting between various choices when the game prompts you.  But as the title suggests, these choices are littered with Bad (or quite literally Dead) Ends.


20170103185103_1Narrative: The overall impression I left the game with was that it was a missed opportunity.  There’s nothing in the story that I can point to as bad, but I don’t feel it was as good as it could have been.  The concept of controlling a character in a visual novel that’s controlling another character in another visual novel is interesting.  And the mystery revolving around the Bad End game (in the game) is well-paced.  I enjoyed solving the mystery along with Kyuuhei, always trying to stay one step ahead of the game.  I felt excited when I caught on to where the story was going, as well as a sense of accomplishment for being right.

That being said, I did find the resolution disappointing.  It was very clichéd, & surprisingly cheesy for a Japanese horror story.  If you know anything about Asian horror, it’s usually that there’s no happy ending.  I did figure out what was behind the cursed game, & it made sense… but I felt Kyuuhei was way too forgiving about the whole ordeal.  The “misunderstanding” killed a lot of people, including Kyuuhei’s stated best friend, & yet he seemingly overlooks this detail because he gets some T&A out of it.  I swear his last scene in the game comes across as, “It sucks my best friend in the whole world died, but at least I got a girlfriend!”  I don’t know… I’m not a guy, so maybe that would be their response, but it just irked me.

But, for me at least, the biggest misstep is all the squandered opportunities the story provided Bad End.  It had the potential to do some interesting things.  They could’ve done some fourth wall breaking stuff by having the character in the mobile game be self-aware & work with Kyuuhei (something that would’ve made sense given the origin of the cursed game), or even some double-fourth wall breaking stuff by having Kyuuhei realize he was being played.  At the very least, I would’ve liked to have seen something other than you-mess-up-once-&-just-die.  The way the store page & trailer presented it, I expected the real world to gradually become more dangerous as threats from the game started chasing Kyuuhei with each mistake he made.  What I got, however, was make a wrong choice & a ghost hand comes out of your phone & strangles you.  The End.  Maybe it’s not fair to judge a game based on what I wanted, & there were some clever bad ends in the beginning (like choosing to believe your friend really did die of natural causes, not pursuing the mystery & living happy life, or going insane from the constant calls from the dead because you couldn’t take the pressure of making a choice in the game).  But it really did feel like the studio dropped the ball.

Overall, aside from a disappointing resolution & some clichés, I can’t say there was anything “bad” about Bad End’s story.  But it wasn’t memorable either.

Score: 3


20170103213327_1Mechanics: What can you say about the mechanics in a visual novel game?  You use the mouse to select an option when prompted.  That’s it.  It is nice, though, that you can save whenever you want, meaning you can save before you make a choice & start back from there if that was the wrong choice.

As for the choices themselves, for the most part if you pay attention to what’s going on in the game it’s not too difficult to make the right choice.  Except for the very first choice made while Kyuuhei’s actually playing the game.  Kyuuhei’s first choice inside the Bad End game gives you one of three directions to run & there’s absolutely no way to know which one won’t get you killed.  It’s obvious when you make the right choice why it’s the right choice, because it’s the direction that leads you back to the main street, but prior to that the game gives you no clues about what’s in any of the directions you’re given the option to run in.  And given that you can actually make one free mistake (meaning you get a second chance) it feels like the developers knew this & were just being mean-spirited.  Like they wanted you to die here.  That just feels like bad design.

Not much else to say.  Just don’t be stupid, & in most cases you won’t die.

Score: 3


untitled-1024x680Aesthetics: If you’re not familiar with the visual novel style, most of the graphics consist of a background with still images of the characters speaking superimposed on it, with dialogue boxes beneath.  And while Bad End has all that, in comparison to other visual novel games I’ve played recently, the images are very uninspired.  Again, not bad.  They just look like your average anime.  The backgrounds are pretty generic, which is doubly bad considering you’ll be seeing the same places over & over.

The music likewise feels very stock.  I know I’ve heard some of them before, but I’m not sure if they’re stock music that comes with whatever program the developers used to create the game or if it’s from a royalty-free site.  Worse yet, none of the music seemed to really fit with the accompanying scene.  The normal music is way too cheery for the game’s themes, & the music intended for scary scenes wasn’t scary.  And as there are no voices, or any other sounds, the music is all you have to focus on.

Overall, there was nothing particularly bad in the presentation, but nothing to make Bad End stand out, either.  Everything felt very stock, & gave me the impression of not putting in much effort to give their game a unique feel.

Score: 2


Replay Value: Low.  There’s really no point to play Bad End more than once after you’ve beaten it.  Even if you’re dying to get all the achievements for seeing all the bad ends, because you can save before each decision you can just pick up where you died.  The game’s always really short, only taking a few hours to finish.  Score: 2


Breakdown

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Final Score: 2

Final Word: Bad End reminded me of those Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure books. While there’s nothing glaringly wrong with Bad End, there’s nothing memorable about it either.  The most interesting thing about it is an interesting premise, & it doesn’t even handle that well.  Overall, I can’t recommend Bad End to anyone really.  Even with the low price, I can recommend much better visual novels to put that money toward over this.

–  GamerDame

Title: BAD END
Consoles: PC, iOS, Android
Rating: M
Developer: Arai Koh Create Office
Publisher: YOX-Project
Release Date: November 25, 2015

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Filed under 2, Horror, Indie, Mobile, PC, Reviews, Visual Novel