Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
When Square (now Square Enix) released Another Mind in late 1998, the game’s release received little attention. After all, with Xenogears and Parasite Eve, 1998 had already seen the release of two real gems; and only three months after Another Mind, Final Fantasy VIII was taking Japanese retail store shelves by storm. Pitched against such million sellers, an obscure novel adventure obviously did not stand much of a chance. In fact, even within Japan, the game has become a rare item. All that, however, is not to suggest that Another Mind is a bad game. It just happens to be different… very different when compared with today’s mainstream games. The most fitting term to describe the game might actually be “bizarre.”
Unlike most other Square offerings, Another Mind’s visuals are anything but mind-blowing, even for a title released in November 1998. Those who want their adventure games to be either cute (like the Ever 17/ Infinity series) or visually impressive (a la Dreamfall: The Longest Journey) will have to look elsewhere. If one were to liken a standard Japanese adventure title to an interactive animation movie, the best comparison in Another Mind’s case would be a bizarre indie film. Cut-scenes are few and far between, as the game generally relies on stand-still captures of real-life environments such as a hot spring resort, a hospital, or a school building along with copious text to push its story forward. The characters are portrayed by real-life actors, whose faces appear on the screen when the respective person is talking.
Also unlike the majority of Square titles in the PlayStation One era, Another Mind actually features voice acting, if only during movie clips. When they are allowed to show their talent, the voice actors and actresses manage to portray their respective characters convincingly. The soundtrack may not be able to compensate for the lack of spoken dialogue, but nonetheless it is as unique as the game itself. Being the first solo project by Junya Nakano of Dew Prism (Threads of Fate) and Final Fantasy X fame, it was composed only utilizing a synthesizer. This however does not translate into a monotonous experience, but rather an interesting and rather diverse score. Upbeat and melancholy tracks are followed by more light-hearted pieces.
Similar to the classic Japanese horror film The Ring, Tecmo’s Zero (Fatal Frame) or Konami’s Silent Hill, Another Mind employs a more subtle yet continuous, and therefore more frightening approach to the horror genre than Capcom’s Biohazard (Resident Evil) series that relies on a few but powerful shock and awe moments of horror. This horror paired with mystery and a good dose oddity, is furthered by the player’s unique perspective: Instead of the usual girl-hunting hero, you are put into the role of a bodyless being residing in the head of a young girl named Hitomi Hayama. Another Mind’s story begins with Hitomi being submitted to a hospital following a car accident. Upon regaining her consciousness, she is faced with a bizarre situation: The protagonist, or rather his mind, is residing within her mind. Anything the 16-year old senses is also felt by the mysterious being inside her head. Hence you are witnessing all the events the game throws at you, ranging from several suicide attempts over a mysterious murder in the hospital and the subsequent chase through the hospital to a foiled bomb attack on a rock concert through her eyes. From time to time, you will be given the chance to talk to Hitomi. Instead of just choosing from a number of given options, players are free to construct their own sentences with given sentence parts. This feature allows for quite a few hilarious comic-relief intermezzos in the middle of all the suspense and mystery. When Hitomi wants to enter a hot spring together with her classmate Mariko, she hesitates to take off her clothes, knowing that the player might get an overly explicit sneak peek at her body. After arguing a while with you, she prevents you from peeping by closing her eyes. Occasionally, this comic relief has a tendency of becoming a very shallow affair that does not provide a lot of entertainment. Another annoyance is the slow-moving text.
Although hard to comprehend at times and with hard to swallow content as well, the story is definitely the game’s highlight. As if the aforementioned premise of the protagonist acting as another mind in Hitomi’s head was not bizarre enough, this unlikely duo finds itself in the middle of a story featuring suicide attempts, murders and tons of mystery. Plot twists and the surreal nature of the entire narration can make it quite challenging to keep up with everything that the game is throwing the player’s way.
Another Mind does not suffer from excessive length, as the ten chapters took me less than 20 hours to complete. Despite all the differences, the title shares one key trait with its various adventure genre cousins: There are multiple endings, and if you don’t choose your selections wisely, you might get introduced to the “game over” screen along the way. The problem here is as obvious as it is straightforward: Even if one manages to avoid the dreaded “game over” screen, figuring out which answers led to a good ending can be quite frustrating. Apparently one can play through the game a second time in order to see a third ending.
So after all said and done, can I recommend Another Mind? Sadly, unlike import classics such as Sakura Taisen or Tokimeki Memorial, this title is only something for import gamers looking for a rather unique and very Japanese gaming experience. If it wasn’t already hard enough to get a hold of the game, the rather spartan presentation lacking the outstanding voice acting of Sakura Taisen or the state-of-the art visuals one would expect from a Square Enix game is likely to turn away most casual importers after only half an hour. The best term to describe the admittingly interesting story and setting is bizarre. The sometimes hilarious answers you are free to give Hitomi, if you feel like it, as well as the stellar debut by composer Junya Nakano definitely make up for the flaws. Throughout the game however, there are quite a few occasions, when the going gets rough. Dialogue moves at an incredibly slow and tedious speed, in turn creating annoyance rather than suspense or entertainment. Similarly, several light-hearted conversations turn out to be shallow rather than entertaining. In short, Another Mind is a niche title catering to a very special and enduring audience interested in reading rather than playing an interactive story that is as bizarre as it gets.