"This is an emotionally resonant fantasy about flawed, interesting people that will stay with you for years to come."
Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, RPGFan would like to point out that the full English script for The Dark Eye: Memoria was proofread by editor Kyle E. Miller during the game's development. In order to avoid any potential conflict of interest, Kyle has intentionally not been involved with RPGFan's editorial process on the game at any stage of review.
It's hard to believe that less than two years ago, I had never heard of developer/publisher Daedalic Entertainment or tabletop fantasy game The Dark Eye. Last year's Chains of Satinav, a fantastic adventure game developed by the former and set in the world of the latter, was easily one of my favorite games of 2012 — as well as one of the most excellent adventure games in recent years. It should come as no surprise, then, that I've been eagerly anticipating the follow-up, Memoria, given that it promised a bigger story starring two characters, and a continuation in the wake of Satinav's admittedly abrupt finale. If the game had managed to at least live up to its forebear, which I expected it to, I would have been happy.
It did me one better.
Memoria begins a short time after the close of Chains of Satinav and focuses once again on the one-time birdcatcher Geron. After his adventure in the previous title, Geron's fairy friend Nuri found herself trapped in the body of a raven, her original humanoid form having been destroyed as a result of events in the original game's finale. In the months since, Geron has been brought low in his search for a way to return Nuri to her true form. The game opens as the moderately magical hero makes a deal with a mysterious merchant: solve a riddle, get a spell to restore Nuri.
The riddle is presented by way of a framing narrative: the tale of the exiled princess Sadja, who lived generations before Geron and was possessed of an extraordinary drive to become "the greatest hero of all time." Broad and generally vague goals aside, Sadja is a fascinating character who serves as the second playable character in the game. The structure of the game is such that the player alternates between the two characters every chapter, slowly unraveling the secrets of the past and the connection that binds them together across the ages.
While Satinav had an enjoyable (if very focused) story buoyed by strong characters, Memoria's tale blows it out of the water in terms of both depth and scope. Both Geron and Sadja are fascinating people, and thanks each of them being possessed of unique magical talents, each of them plays differently when it comes to puzzle-solving. The core themes of the game are emotionally resonant, and the exceptional dialogue and voice acting serve to elevate the game far beyond the admittedly lofty heights its predecessor managed to crest. The supporting cast is equally endearing, and while the game is fairly serious in tone, it has its fair share of humor thanks to them (of particular note is Sadja's talking magical staff).
The gameplay functions almost identically to Satinav, and indeed, to most point-and-click adventures: click on stuff, grab everything that isn't plastered to the wall, combine said trinkets into ever-more-useful baubles, and coax information out of people in order to further your aims. Geron's magical ability to destroy small objects returns, along with an opposite power inherited from Nuri. Sadja acquires the ability to manipulate eldritch objects early on, and throughout the adventure both heroes acquire additional talents to aid in resolving the sometimes brain-busting conundrums that await. While the game typically follows a clear path of logic, it can sometimes be difficult to determine what to do next due to an odd lack of feedback on your actions in many cases; for example, one early puzzle sees you attempting to come up with an overly complex story in order to confuse an aged wizard. To do so, the player must make selections during a lengthy series of dialogue choices to piece together the tale.
Because the game gives many nearly identical "failure" responses, it becomes difficult to tell if the player is on the right track or not. There are a few other puzzles throughout the game that can also be a bit obtuse, but the existence of an in-game hint system (which, mercifully, does not outright spell out the solutions for you) does mitigate this considerably.
The game's artwork and character designs are absurdly gorgeous, and unlike Satinav, the game does not wait until the final hours to send you to some truly fantastic places. Unfortunately, one carryover from the prequel is the game's erratic and at-times infuriating performance issues. Whenever new animations are to be played, menus are to be opened, or new scenery is to be revealed, the game frequently freezes for several seconds at a time. This is ever-present and has the effect of making the animations in the game appear jerky, and significantly impacts the immersion factor. I had these issues on three separate PCs of varying configurations — and considering that they persisted from the last game, I was quite disappointed to see them not addressed in the sequel.
Fortunately, the audio comes off without a hitch. With less than a handful of exceptions, the voice acting is varied and outstanding. Geron's actor delivers the character's jaded-and-world-weary-yet-still-full-of-dry-wit demeanor with gusto, and both Sadja and her talking staff are a delight to listen to, particularly when speaking to one another. I'm the kind of player that often skips through voice acting once I've read the text, but the multifarious accents and exceptional delivery combined with the well-translated dialogue had me sitting quietly and listening to every line — a feat not accomplished by an adventure game since King's Quest VI. The music is equally beautiful and comes courtesy of the same Daniel Pharo and Dominik Morgenroth responsible for the original game, so if you've played the original, you'll know what to expect here.
If you don't care for a slow-paced, methodical gaming experience, Memoria is not for you. For absolutely everyone else, this is an emotionally resonant fantasy about flawed, interesting people that will stay with you for years to come. That it is wrapped up in gorgeous artwork and sound, along with rock-solid adventure gameplay is, for me, merely icing on the sweet, sweet cake.