What an insanely beautiful looking adventure game that’s completely drowned out by obtuse puzzles and an equally confusing story.
What is Memoranda?
A visually stunning point-and-click adventure game from the folks at Bit Byterz and Carbon Fire Studios, which follows the 25-year-old insomniac Mrs. Mizuki on her quest to remember her first name. Since separating from her husband, she’s been suffering from said insomnia and what appear to be hallucinations of a sailor under her bed.
In regards to her missing name, Mrs. Mizuki has no problem remembering other things — the names of her friends, childhood memories of her father, the stories he’d tell her about dinosaurs, and more — but her first name only resides on a name tag inside of a locked safe within her apartment.
Along her adventure, Mizuki will partake in typical point-and-click adventures, collecting items and solving puzzles in order to move the plot along. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and some of the puzzles are incredibly obtuse, but it’s a somewhat serviceable game for fans of the genre.
Where does it go wrong?
What begins as an interesting (yet cliche) premise immediately goes off the rails as you’re reduced to collecting seemingly random items and being introduced to a host of characters that always seem to task you with mundane requests. For instance, Mizuki’s neighbor likes to tinker with electronics and asks her to collect frequencies so he can complete his latest project. How does one physically collect something invisible? Well, you’ll have to combine a liquid and a heavy gas within your inventory, then ask the opera singer (who is a cat) to belt out the frequencies so you can scoop them up in a jar.
Memoranda feels like a fever dream fairytale, but none of its story beats ever result in satisfying outcomes. They all just lead to more errands. Some of the residents are animals trying to become human, or vice versa, but you’re never really told why — and a pivotal character you try to help doesn’t even want it in the end, so all of that time felt wasted. Why does a man who spends his entire life making spaghetti and housing an elephant do what he does? According to him, it’s “important,” but he never divulges the information.
Memoranda is based on various short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, and having not been familiar with their work beforehand, I feel like a lot of the goings on here went unexplained. I’m not sure if they’ll make anymore sense to fans of their work, but I just felt lost most of the time. Everything is cryptic and nonsensical and I kept hoping the finale would lead to some big revelation, but the game just kind of ends.
Many of the game’s puzzles are just as frustrating. I’m a fan of point-and-click adventure games and I’m used to what a friend of mine online refers to as “adventure game bullshit,” but there were at least three puzzles I would have never figured out without using the game’s hint system. And when their solutions finally became clear, it was never in a clever “why didn’t I think of that?” way.
Should you check it out?
With so many point-and-click adventure games finding a home on the Nintendo Switch, I have a hard time recommending Memoranda over something like Syberia, Broken Age, Broken Sword 5, or Grim Fandango. It has the ingredients to form a competent adventure game, but it’s missing that secret sauce that brings it all together.
It’s easily one of the most beautiful adventure games on the Switch, though. There’s a wonderous storybook feel to everything, from the characters to the French-inspired village, and the voice acting isn’t too bad either. It’s just a shame that the perplexing puzzle designs and illogical, senseless story failed to deliver anything meaningful.
Maybe if you’re a point-and-click diehard (of which I consider myself), then give it a shot once you’ve exhausted some of the other superior options out there. But even then, I’m having a hard time recommending it. Kudos to the art and sound design team, though.