"Those who want to see a fine example of elevated video game storytelling would do best to check this game out."
Analogue: A Hate Story is Christine Love's follow-up to her offbeat debut, Digital: A Love Story. That debut is a cool little game with killer writing, but its retro, 1980s text adventure feel might be a tad esoteric for some. Analogue: A Hate Story may come in the more accessible form of a visual novel, but it too lacks appeal beyond a specific type of gamer. That's fine by me, though, because I happen to be that kind of gamer.
The story is harbored around the Mugunghwa space station launched into space 900 or so years prior to the start of the game. You play a space lackey for some federation on a seemingly routine salvaging mission to figure out what happened to the Mugunghwa. By tapping into the space station's communications hub, you meet the computer system's AI, a young woman named Hyun-ae, who helps you sort through the logs of the past to solve the mystery of the station's fall. Later on, another on-board female AI named Mute makes an appearance, and that's when things get complicated. There are some logs that Mute can access that Hyun-ae cannot and both have strong and often conflicting opinions when interpreting these logs.
The lightning rod in this mystery is a cryptic woman known as "The Pale Bride." She's a young girl placed into cryogenic stasis to be released in the future when a cure for her illness could be found. Of course, as society devolved over the centuries, she eventually became known as some sort of messiah who must only be hatched from her egg during society's darkest hour. The girl is forcibly "hatched," but since she spent her childhood in a more egalitarian past, she defiantly believes people in the future are backwards to the point of stupidity, yet they think she is a savage from an uncivilized age with wild, crazy, and unnatural ideas that must be curbed. That push-and-pull tension makes for the best moments in the story.
It seems that society on board the Mugunghwa before its fall had a repressive patriarchal structure in which men had absolute power and women were basically just there to serve them and beget them sons. Women were not allowed to leave their homes or be educated, and they were commodified into arranged marriages: basically any feminist's worst nightmare. The vivid descriptions of the lives and opinions of the denizens made my blood boil a little bit sometimes, and that kind of emotional response means that the story affected me more deeply than the usual video game plot.
The story progresses as the player reads various logs in the ship's computer system and consults Hyun-ae and Mute to investigate further. Because the logs are written by specific people, the entire story is presented from biased perspectives, and the AIs themselves don't always see eye to eye. Therefore, it's up to players to puzzle through all this information and formulate an opinion of the truth for themselves. The game has multiple endings dependent on how much players discover, how much players wish to discover, how players interact with the AIs, and what decisions players make at crucial junctures.
The majority of the game is spent reading, but there are some interactive sequences that involve accessing hidden programs by typing text like in DOS prompts. This is pretty slick and gives a greater sense of interactivity than these kinds of games normally have, but gamers not used to DOS prompts or hunting for clues (i.e. one log must be read carefully to find the system's password) might find the interface archaic, clunky, and maddening, especially during the timed sequence near the end. I love it though, because it made me feel like I was trying to muddle through a dated computer system from a ship that's been incommunicado for 600 years.
"Less is more" is a phrase bandied around like crazy, and the aesthetics are proof positive of that saying. The detailed portraits on the white background, the subtle laser lines shooting across the screen, the grey outlines to the menus, even the old-fashioned DOS look and feel of a dated computer system all come together for a sleekly sparse look. The lovely minimalist music complements the look as well as lending atmosphere and gently licking around your ear like a sweet lover. The graphics and music really drew me into the game's world, encouraged me to use my imagination, and immersed me far more than a lot of games with flashier graphics and bombastic music.
It's no secret that I thoroughly enjoyed Analogue: A Hate Story. The writing is stellar, the music and graphics are stylish, and the interactive gameplay elements are immersive. I also appreciate its unapologetic attitude toward mass appeal, instead opting to please a very specific kind of gamer. Those who want to see a fine example of elevated video game storytelling would do best to check this game out. It may not be a long ride (5-7 hours for a single playthrough), but it is a satisfying one.