Analogue: A Hate Story
There's a ship floating in deep space that's been lost for thousands of years; the Mugunghwa was a generation ship that was supposed to establish the first interstellar colony, but contact was lost and it had disappeared. Until now. You've been sent to board it and find out what happened to it by combing through the logs of its crew, dead these long centuries but still simmering with familial and political drama. Analogue: A Hate Story is a visual novel from indie developer Christine Love that is by turns touching, funny, dark, and introspective. Are some crimes unforgivable? What makes people believe the horrible things they do are done for the right reasons? What does it really mean to be human... and to love someone?
Since you're stuck on your own spaceship, the entire game is presented through a computer interface similar that allows you to talk to either Mute or Hyun-ae, the two AIs still active on the Mugunghwa, read the logs left behind by the crew, or access a terminal to execute more complex commands. The core of the gameplay, however, revolves around the text of the dead crew and discussing it with your two companions. Ultimately, your goal is to find out what happened to everyone on board, but Mute and Hyun-ae won't be satisfied until they feel you've really learned the truth, and that's a lot harder than it sounds since they both seem to have conflicting ideas as to what that is.
You can only have one AI active at a time, but once you've reached a certain point early on you can swap between them freely in the terminal. Show the logs you read to each of them to get insight, more messages, and find out more about them, which is more important than you might think. From time to time, they'll ask you a question, and your response will influence their opinion of you which can direct the game towards any one of five different endings. Just remember that you can right-click the screen to open the options menu and save or load your game at any time.
Analysis: Christine Love is a fantastic writer. The world revealed bit by bit is both fascinating and troubling, and is practically begging for some sort of sequel if only to expand a little more on the universe. There's so much left unexplained that people more interested in science fiction than character development might wind up frustrated, but I would call the story more tantalising than annoying in that regard. It's something you really want to know more about, but it isn't the star of the show; that would be the characters, and not just our two leading ladies. Mute and Hyun-ae are drastically different personalities with more layers to them than you might think based on first impressions. Talking to them and seeing them open up bit by bit in ways that even seem to surprise themselves is extremely rewarding.
Make no mistake, however; this is most definitely plot-focused rather than gameplay-focused. Most of the gameplay focuses simply on reading, showing every bit of text to Hyun-ae and Mute, and occasionally answering a question... with the exception of one clever puzzle-like timed sequence towards the end of the game. Whether this is a bad thing depends entirely on you. Your responses to Mute and Hyun-ae are extremely limited in a way that may frustrate those of us who are less "black and white" and more "shades of gray". Is it understandable given the way the game is structured and Hyun-ae's explanation for the choices at the beginning? Sure, but as the game wore on, the less I felt I could easily answer the questions poised as a simple "yes" or "no", and there were a few times when I felt I had to compromise my true feelings just to proceed.
But perhaps more importantly, I did feel. Analogue's complex narrative and varied cast of nuanced characters, even those you don't get to meet, is almost scarily good at pulling your emotions in unexpected directions. That the story makes you feel that strongly about the things you read about, from the people to the things they did, is more than a little impressive. The careful pacing won't appeal to everyone, but those who appreciate cleverly structured character dramas will get a lot out of it. The gorgeous artwork by Raide breathes life into Mute and Hyun-ae, while Isaac Schankler's soundtrack is unobtrusively beautiful and expressive.
My first playthrough took me somewhere around five hours or so, and while the endings feel a little abrupt, I don't regret a second of it. At times it was uncomfortable, grim, and more than a little saddening, but Analogue: A Hate Story was always, always heartfelt and smart with a light at the end of the tunnel. (Depending on your choices of course.) While it might be light on action, those looking for a deeper and at times darker narrative with a big focus on character development will want to give this one a chance to get inside their brain.