In life, there is always a debate of quantity versus quality. Some people prefer the idea of an all you can eat buffet for 5 bucks, because you can eat to your heart’s content even if the food isn’t that great. Others would prefer their 5 bucks spent on a tiny portion of an amazing edible. It goes similarly in gaming; you spend $20-$50 on a game but how do you determine its value for the money to you? Is it that it gives you hundreds of hours of play time, even if the play can get repetitive or is it that even though it’s only 10-15 hours long, it’s 10-15 of the best hours of your life?
Trace Memory falls squarely in the latter camp. Depending on your experience with the graphic adventure genre, the game will take you anywhere from 3 to 7 hours to complete, which is extremely short by genre standards. However, it is an amazing 3 to 7 hours and within that short span of time, you will be privy to a really cool story and use of the DS system’s every possible trick.
You take on the role of 13 year old Ashley Robbins, a girl with a troubled past. She is haunted by nightmares of her mother’s murder 10 years ago. If that wasn’t all, her father Richard left her in the care of his sister Jessica for those 10 years so he could finish up his memory research on the desolate Blood Edward Island. Anyway, she’s excited because she got a letter from her father asking her to visit him on the island as well as a special device called a DTS (that looks just like a DS) that only she can use. So Ashley and Jessica hop a boat over to Blood Edward Island.
Things take a turn for the worse when Ashley’s father isn’t at the dock to meet them. Jessica decides to look for Richard, but is gone for a very long time. So Ashley decides to go after her, and it’s not long before she hears Jessica scream. Ashley finds her way to an old mansion on the island, but not before meeting a ghost named D who’s been floating around Blood Edward Island for years trying to piece together his lost memories so he can cross over. He beseeches Ashley for help, and the extent to which you help D will influence the ending you get. So Ashley and D make their way through this old mansion, solving puzzles along the way to try and find what they’re looking for: Ashley, her father and D, his memories. The story is a cool murder mystery story that I enjoyed immensely from start to finish.
Since this is a graphic adventure game, the key part of the gameplay is in the puzzles. The puzzles are generally pretty easy to figure out, but they utilize every last aspect of the DS. There are the obvious puzzles that utilize the stylus and touch screen, but there are others that utilize the microphone and even the DS’ sleep mode. I could go on about the myriad ways in which the game makes you interact with your DS, but that would take all the fun out of solving the puzzles. The only reason the gameplay score isn’t super high is because the game is short and the puzzles are rather simple. Still, the innovative use of the DS makes me excited for other graphic adventures on the system which I hope will utilize all the neat tricks the way Trace Memory did.
Control is good. You move Ashley and D around the mansion in a top-down perspective until an icon lights up where you can access a still portrait of a location with an arrow you can move around to click on various objects. Moving Ashley around is fine, as she moves at a pretty good clip. However, when you’re in pixel-hunt mode, the stylus gives you finer control of the search arrow than the directional pad, which often makes you overshoot the target. Luckily, there isn’t really any nitpicky pixel hunting in this game.
The graphics are nice but nothing that will wow you. During walking exploration, the top down perspective doesn’t give you much detailing on the polygonal characters or environments. Once in pixel-hunt mode, the stills are prerendered and give the look of a dusty old mansion. During dialogue scenes you see character portraits and I quite liked the character designs in the game. Ashley had some great expressions and the other characters looked like people you could normally encounter. No twinkly eyes or bright violet hair here; though Ashley’s bright white hair seemed a tad odd.
There wasn’t a lot of music in the game, but the few tunes present were good. All of them gave that feel of an old mansion, with the right blend of eeriness, intrigue, and that special something that encourages further exploration. It’s not scary music or anything. Sound effects were decent and sounded like I would expect them to.
So do I recommend Trace Memory? Of course I do. If you don’t mind that the game is really short, it is a great game that shows off the capabilities of the many innovative aspects of the DS console. This game has me excited about what other games can do with the system’s capabilities. There are DS games that overuse the capabilities to the point where they seem annoying or gimmicky, but not Trace Memory. If games like Trace Memory, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and upcoming games like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Touch Detective are any indication, the DS can be a great platform for graphic adventures; and since I love that genre, what more could I want?