I remember bright as day when the PSP, DS, and even Gizmondo were the talk of the time. We had gone from GBA being the one-and-only handheld to own and were now entering a new era with Nintendo giving us the Dual System, Sony was joining in on the competition for the first time, and the short-lived Gizmondo might be more known for its history more than anything else. I was very much into Nintendo’s creative thinking at the time and thought the idea behind the DS was interesting.
After saving up some money, I finally got the system and our review of the day was one of the first games I owned for it. Another Code: Two Memories was created by Cing, which is now sadly defunct, and this was their second game ever made and, at the time, praised for showcasing the possibilities of the DS. I personally do remember enjoying it for what it was, but I can’t say I remember anything about it at the same time. In fact, I sold it a week after I beat it, and repurchased it for 1 euro for this review. Let us relive nostalgia, and see what this title brought to the table.
(Forgettable) Dual mystery
After an intro showcasing two murders about 50 years apart from each other, you are put into the shoes of the game’s protagonist, Ashley Mizuki Robbins. She is on her way to meet her father for the first time and celebrate her 14th birthday with him. Alongside the letter telling her about her father being actually alive, is an odd construction called DAS, which is basically a more scientific modification of a DS. With her aunt Jessica alongside her, they travel to Blood Edward Island, a place holding some tragic stories if the name did not give that away already. When the duo arrives on the island, Ashley’s father is nowhere to be seen and, after Jessica tries to look for him, she disappears. Alone, Ashley goes out to find Jessica, her father, and get answers on many questions she has about him, his research, and why she was abandoned.
This is a decent setup with a young protagonist who is easy to relate to. She can be angry and emotional, but it is understandable after being left in the dark and she shows that she cares for others and is simply a normal person. This makes her forgettable though, as there are no stand-out characteristics about her, so the personal quest for finding her father is dampened because of this. The journey to find her father is also lackluster as more important parts of his history and why he left Ashley, aren’t shown until the end of the game, and only one other clue is giving throughout the game. Instead, he only lets you know what direction you should go towards through letters he leaves around the area, which is more reminiscent of a cliche valentine’s day treasure hunt than solving a mystery.
Ashley’s comments on environmental things or items are also uninteresting and stationary, which makes it hard to get invested in anything related to her. Though not all is lost, as you will meet up with the ghost D early on in the game. He died on this island, but is struck with amnesia and needs help to recollect his memories. As the nice girl Ashley, you help him with this by exploring the mansion you eventually enter and research the entire area. Making the game take place in one single mansion with plenty of rooms, is a good idea for finding a more personal history and it is done well here. Though what hurts this experience, is when you already have made a discovery, but the characters don’t realize this until much later. This will provide plenty of upsetting sighs, as these revelations can be seen coming all the way from Mars.
Despite these issues and it being more of a side-element, the setup with D’s past is decent and interesting enough to get invested in, especially since Ashley’s story is almost forgotten. However, what destroys it all, is how the plot is told. Dialogue-sequences are forced with unnaturally abrupt questions being asked out of the blue, some commentaries are cringe-worthy where it does not seem they know how to express their thoughts properly, and just state the obvious as a big reveal.
The progression is also terribly paced. When things are obvious before the characters realize them, expositions are provided in the end and certain twists are obvious from the visuals alone, making it hard to get invested or even care. It is impressive how much a decent mystery can falter by the pace alone. For those of you who wonder: yes, there are actually a lot of differences between the English and Japanese dialogue, such as Ashley actually being at unease when she sees a ghost for the first time, or actually feeling betrayed due to being kept in the dark, for example. This is the reason why I am not tackling the Japanese version besides the convenience of English being easier for me to understand, as it is even worse.
We are sadly not done hammering on the negatives yet, as the overall theme of the game, is both a missed opportunity and forgotten at the same time. Rika Suzuki (the game’s designer) wanted to focus more on an emotionally moving story, as well as the idea of using memory for furthering a plot. She has a lot of thoughts around this presumably, with even her father struggling with Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, that does not mean you have the necessary knowledge to create something with this theming. The best parts when this idea shines is when D remembers elements, but it is not much more than that.
Ending each chapter of the game also forces Ashley to remember events she encountered, but they can include worthless elements like what item you found in a room. Yes, they do remember stuff, but the concept of memories versus recollecting is not told well at all, only used. Nothing is explored, discussed, or even provides some interesting insight. The only one was towards the end where we do get some minor sample of controversy by dealing with a fake memory, but only for a moment. It really shows that while you can have a good concept and even something for a plot, not exploring how to tell it, provide theming or a personality, can destroy a whole story. It is forgettable, but at least nothing awful.
Story Score: 3.5/10
See what the D(a)S can do!
Set up as a point-and-click, you will, in this game, use the bottom screen to control Ashley in an overhead view, while the top screen showcases what she will see. The controls are mapped to both the stylus and the D-pad for moving Ashley around, with both the buttons and interface on the touchscreen giving you the ability to interact or check options on your DAS. This is a nice way of giving you options on what is most comfortable, though as a point and click, the ability to touch works wonders.
Whenever you want to interact with what the top-screen is showing, you can press the highlighted magnifying-glass, or the dialogue-button to interact. With people in the picture, you can, of course, chat with them, but it always boils down to talking about every option and nothing more. Whenever objects are in sight, you can touch them or use the D-pad and buttons for selecting, but as stated: touching is the way to go. All is good so far, but what you need to do to get further is always obvious, so you should never be stuck with the exception of two times when you are forced to backtrack for two different items. This is a huge problem the game has in general when it comes to items: you need to have examined an object before you can pick up the item you need for tinkering with it. Often it is not a huge bother, as the items you need are located in a nearby area, but it is still an unneeded form of padding. In adventure-games, you want to pick up anything and not being able to do it even before you need it, can confuse you in thinking these items are unimportant, which is always annoying and tiresome.
The puzzles themselves range from good brain-teasers to interactive setpieces for showcasing what the DS can do. Some are literal jigsaw-puzzles, but I did enjoy them and some will have you using the DS in unique ways that I can’t say I have seen others do. One interesting puzzle, had me holding the system in a specific way, and look in a reflection, which was a neat situation. Also, while the DAS is not much more than an encyclopedia and used for options, saving, and reading messages Ashley’s fathers leaves around, you can use it for taking pictures with some nice overlay-puzzles being provided. Others are more nonchalant however, like breaking up a bottle by tapping it or cutting ropes. This kind of interactivity is the most common “puzzle” and overshadows the engaging and clever ones. I can at least praise them for being more enjoyable due to using the touchscreen for slight interactivity compared to buttons, but they are just gimmicks for the system’s unique capabilities and nothing more.
The game is broken up in 7 chapters, each being different in length. Every chapter provides a linear setup, with a huge amount of hits & misses in the puzzle-department, but after ending a chapter, you are quizzed on it. There is no penalty for answering wrong and you simply do them so you can get a move on, as they are incredibly unengaging. Clocking in just shy over 3 hours, there is really not much to say about this title than what I already said. It is a showcase for what the DS can do, but incredibly simple in its approach with only a couple of puzzles being interesting, while the rest are minigames with penalties. Kinda like a more fleshed out tech-demo.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
If Myst looked rushed
I am actually a fan of the idea of using still images for the majority of the presentation. It is simple, but looks good with the photorealistic backgrounds mixed with the cartoon and hand-drawn character-models. It works substantially thanks to some good lighting and clever use of strong colors for making them blend better. The idea of using the upper screen for what you see around and the bottom for movement is neat, and this idea of how to use the dual system visually is also provided in other parts of the game. In interactive segments or puzzles, you might need both screens such as for throwing an object upwards, or in the very first cutscene, you see what Ashley dreams about on the upper screen, while she is sleeping on the bottom one. The images also start out with simple animations, giving them all a subtle comic-feel that is coming to life and I like the character-designs being diverse and memorable, even if their mouth-animations makes it look like they are imitating fishes.
However, this is neglected further on as you go from the nice-looking forest and deck, to the mansion, as the difference between character-designs and environments are more obvious due to different shades of lighting and more realistic designs having cartoon characters in them. It feels quite rushed and it does not help when the bottom-screen features cheap 3D with poor textures and low attention to details, especially when viewed from above. A map-screen would actually have been more welcome, even if the colors are strong and pleasant. Areas you visit too, are more of a decent setup than anything creative. The mansion has bedrooms, an art-room, music-room, kitchen, and so on, and while all are designed well, nothing is really interesting. Though whenever the still images come back again for cinematic moments, they can be used to poor effect, like spinning pictures around or cropping them, with the outlines being clear as day. It is incredibly cheap, and it is a shame the artistic design from the beginning is not present throughout. The top screen still presents some nice environments, but no creativity.
The music fares much better, thankfully. The ominous soundtrack of peaceful piano and the chimes of bells creates a nice atmosphere that can be calm, mysterious, or slightly unnerving. I really love how they use few instruments to make the songs more impactful, and while the tracks are short, they are not present for long and those that are, change their tone to become higher or a tad more complex for giving some variation. The ambient sounds, like Ashley’s footsteps or seagulls outside, are nice touches to provide immersion without getting loud and obnoxious. I am not much of a fan of the chimes that play whenever you discover something though, as they can be played if even if you discover something insignificant. This makes them much more unappealing, and exiting anything provides an odd sound that mimics a compressed fart.
Presentation Score: 5/10
As mentioned briefly before, you can find messages from your father, which are stored in cartridges you use on your DAS to read, and there are plenty of optional diaries from him as well. They are a nice read for some humorous or interesting insight on this man, but it will make you tap anything on the screen, even if it seems nailed down, and that makes it tiresome to find them. The same goes for finding D’s memories actually, as there might be some elements you can’t interact with properly before you discover something else, which is tedious. Though it does provide more insight into his story and will even affect what ending you get. It is definitely more satisfying to get through just for the good ending, but it will consist blind hunts. You can also play your saved game again after it is finished, however it does not do much other than save the extras you found, as the puzzles are the same.
Extra Score: 3.5/10
A lot of the downfall, might actually not be because of the game being rushed, but the different interests the studio had. Suzuki commented that there were a lot of hard times for the team, with even the lead programmer, Hagihara, having a lot of disagreements with the director, Kanasaki, during the latter half of development. It honestly shows as the game gets worse and worse.
Another Code: Two Memories is a mediocre showcase at best, with some clear potential. I still care for this title, but can’t recommend it to anyone except those who are obsessed with the system or are downright terrible with adventure-titles and need an easy beginning. If I can say anything positive, it did help give the adventure-genre more of a foothold in Japan according to the game’s designer, Suzuki, but you are much better off with Hotel Dusk, the Professor Layton-games, or the Phoenix Wright-series. This one can easily be lost and forgotten.