Memoranda Review

Continuing the recent renaissance in point and click adventures, Memoranda is clearly influenced by Magical Realism, a literary genre that blends real world settings with elements of the fantastic. These books, such as those by Salman Rushdie and Paulo Coehlo, seem well suited to the world of videogames but there have been few, if any, attempts to explicitly combine the two. Memoranda certainly fits the description, standing out as a well-informed and intelligent ludic response to the literary genre.

The game follows Mizuki, a protagonist who suffers from a selective form of amnesia in which she regularly forgets her own name, and her quest to cure this ailment takes her through a colourful and whimsical world whilst subtly questioning our reliance on ‘normal’ life.

The first thing that strikes you is the unique hand-drawn graphical style of the game. The various characters are fabulously designed and the locations are well drawn with a great mixture of the mundane and the magical. Real world settings such as alleyways and cottages are juxtaposed with fully furnished ratholes and the town is populated by a variety of human characters alongside man-sized feline opera singers.

It is when we move onto gameplay that my experience becomes less positive, however. Adventure games, perhaps more than any other genre, require the player to occupy the thought processes of the game’s designer. When puzzles are a matter of combining objects and working out the correct places in which to use them, there needs to be a consistent logic in which the player can absorb themselves. Such a logic does not have to closely follow the rules of real life – Monkey Island’s monkey wrench puzzle in particular stands out – but there must be consistency. Memoranda’s early puzzles didn’t really convince me in this regard and often seemed to require trial and error rather than intellectual engagement.

Some puzzles were obscure to the point of frustration and there was often little in the way of signposting to guide the player as to what they should be doing. There is a journal – the titular memoranda – which does at least let you know the main tasks that will continue the narrative, but the classic “solution” of sweeping the mouse across each screen to find the hotspots that can be acted upon soon rears its head. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the more clearly narrative turn of developers like Telltale and even more modern takes on the classic point and click adventure, but I would have liked a highlight button that could have rendered this outdated practice unnecessary.

However, at about the halfway point of the game, something must have clicked and I found myself enjoying Mizuki’s world much more. Once more locations are opened up and more characters uncovered, the writing seemed to improve. In particular, the acquisition of a camera that reveals the true nature of those it pictures represented the peak of Memoranda’s writing.

It’s a shame that the beginning is relatively heavy-going, as there is much to enjoy in what follows. In some ways, it almost feels as if there is a wonderfully quirky animated movie being constrained by the inevitable wandering and backtracking of the point and click gameplay. Moments of well-crafted dialogue lose their lustre when repeated in the search for the next solution. The game does continue to intrigue, however, and always manages to remain charming even in the face of frustration.

What’s Good:

  • Gorgeous and original artstyle
  • Well written and voiced
  • Genuinely interesting and quirky take on magical realism
  • Some well designed puzzles

What’s Bad:

  • Slow beginning
  • Several overly obscure puzzles
  • Limited verbal responses to actions

Memoranda is an enjoyable game that simultaneously benefits from the exploratory nature of the adventure genre whilst being held back by the inevitable repetition that puzzle-solving requires. It stands as a beautiful and literary engagement with an important genre of contemporary fiction that gently interrogates our sense of self identity. If that sounds a little dry, it also has an opera-singing cat and a puzzle that involves cleaning up vomit. Quirky and charming, I would recommend it to players looking for something different, but be prepared to fall back on a walkthrough during its more obscure moments.

Score: 7/10

Written by
Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.