The Starship Damrey is an anomaly in today’s game market. Rather than including tutorials that offer guidance to first-time players, this unusual first-person adventure game eschews any notion of handholding by intentionally obfuscating any and all information about its mechanics and story. Instead, the game begins with a message from the developers (long-time Japanese gaming industry veterans Kazuya Asano and Takemaru Abiko) urging the player to utilize aural clues and intuition to make headway in discovering the mysteries of the titular starship and the fate of its crew. I found this premise absolutely fascinating, but after my scant two-hour experience aboard the Damrey drew to a close, three damning words continued to echo in my head: “Is that it?”
Playing The Starship Damrey is meant to be a journey of self-discovery, so it’s difficult to say much of anything without verging into spoiler territory. The player character wakes from cold sleep aboard the Damrey, afflicted with amnesia, and utilizes a remote-controlled robot to explore the ship and search for answers about what happened to its crew. Even divulging that little is probably too much, but suffice to say that the story is interesting and will keep the player guessing until the end — perhaps even beyond the end, as a few details seem to have been intentionally left unclear. Players with save data from any of the other GUILD titles (Liberation Maiden, Aero Porter, or Crimson Shroud) can unlock an extra short story after the game is complete, but this truthfully adds little to the overall narrative.
The dark corridors of the Damrey are navigated in first-person view, but somehow, the controls manage to feel clunky. The player essentially moves on a grid, much like Etrian Odyssey or Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, but bizarrely, there is no option to strafe. The character also moves in annoyingly small increments, which isn’t apparent when “walking” at full speed, but it can make pinpointing objects a little bothersome. The entire game is structured around exploring and solving puzzles like the adventure games of old, but I didn’t find any of the puzzles especially clever. In fact, after being spoiled by the brilliance of games like the Zero Escape series, I found them yawn-inducingly pedestrian.
As I mentioned above, the game insists that sound is an integral part of the experience, but I can’t really agree. There is almost no music to speak of, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are few interesting ambient sounds, either. At best, sound helps the player locate and exterminate space leeches, a side-objective that doles out a paltry reward upon completion. Aside from the angry clicks of these interstellar parasites, I can recall little aside from amateurish voice acting and the ever-present whir of my robot’s treads moving along the ship’s steel walkways. Likewise, the graphics are so unremarkable that I can scarcely remember what the game looks like. Drab colors, dimly-lit rectangular hallways, and lifeless objects make up the majority of what the player sees aboard the Damrey. A more memorable environment could have done wonders in establishing the game’s identity.
It’s difficult to evaluate The Starship Damrey. I can understand the “feeling” that the developers were trying to evoke, and I commend their boldness in marketing a game based solely on a concept like “You know nothing. Begin.” However, the game never really delivers much of anything. It feels more like an experiment in narrative presentation than an actual video game, and while I think there is no inherent problem with the design philosophy of The Starship Damrey, the reality is that it just isn’t very exciting to play.