First of all, I just want to ask what is wrong with the number 2? This game is clearly a sequel that takes place two years after the first game, with the same protagonist starring here as well. In any case, this is an interesting title as it was not released in America, but did come out in Europe, and while the same designer returned, a new director entered the scene: Shigeru Komine. I don’t really know if this is the reason for the “unique” experience I had with this title, but let me ask you something: have you ever been drowsy from playing a game? Not just on occasion after hours of playing, but barely after the first couple of minutes every time you start playing it? I have never experienced anything similar, despite how tedious or relaxing a game was, but Another Code: R is the first game to ever do this to me. Allow me to explain.
When characters don’t think, just have flashbacks
Two years have passed since our protagonist, Ashley M. Robbins, reunited with her father after 11 years of being apart. However, breaking the habit seems to be hard, since Ashley’s father, Richard Robbins, had to leave again for his scientific work and has been gone for six months. He was, at least, kind enough to ask Ashley to come to Lake Juliet so they could go camping together. After complaining about her father’s absence and general parenting to the audience, she soon discovers that there is something more going on at this small campsite.
Where do I begin with this mess? I suppose those that you are meant to care about: the characters. It is incredibly hard to do so, however, since everyone is one-dimensional with barebones personalities. Ashley constantly complains about and to her father without communicating properly with him, and is in general oblivious to every single plot development, making me question, in every single conversation, “didn’t you get a solid answer on this already?”. It feels so bizarre that she has to elaborate on the smallest event, making her arbitrarily drag out conversations without it being needed. The other characters are even worse, such as the obvious bad-guy, the bratty girl you are supposed to feel sorry for, and the witch who is actually just a lonely lady.
No one has any characteristics that are explored or go through a good arc, which is especially confusing when everyone’s issues are being nonchalantly fixed in the end. This frustrates me on so many levels, despite me not caring about the plot at all. It is depressing to see this be so poorly handled, as they clearly had a theme throughout the story with every character: Abandonment. It could have been interesting to see this from different perspectives, but it is not explored well and just goes through the essentials, with no interesting insight. The worst offender is our heroine’s relationship with her father. It is never resolved and when they talk, I can see a hint that the developers wanted to show that her father is trying, but just is not a good dad, and what this leads to. However, with accusations that feels forced instead of tackling the real problem head on, it gets to idiotic and simple-minded drama, you just want to leave them in their own misery.
This is also an aspect that becomes worse, thanks to the poor dialogue. It is filled with exposition, even if something is already apparent, or has already been established twice, like a plot important discovery. It is so bizzare how poorly the writers understood human emotions, as the characters could be robots for all I know. I don’t know if it is due to the translation, as many react very sterile, which might easily be due to certain words in Japanese having double meaning. In any case, the dialogue is still clunky and off putting, with moments that are supposed to be heartwarming feeling like poor fanfiction.
This in itself is a reason to doze off, as no one has any personality and everybody feels as bland as cold rice. What adds to this tiresome story is the subpar plot. There is actually a reason for why it is called R, as it is basically rethreads many story beats from the previous instalment. Rehash would be a better word though, as it follows many of the same elements from the previous game, with even less interesting twists and more characters that are unimportant. If you have played the last game, déjà vu will be present, and if you haven’t, you will beg for something interesting to happen. The lore that the townsfolk and the overall plot tries to add is easy to predict early on, like the rest of the plot, and it all is on a low level with no interesting insight or progression.
A good example of this are Ashley’s flashbacks, as none of these matter since they never make a clear connection to the overall plot, and the companion she will eventually have along, is forcefully tied in to the plot. Her comments on the environment are uninteresting, which makes the world less interesting than what the visuals would have you think. One strange trend carried over from the last game is that she will remember parts of her discoveries at the end of each chapter. These can be completely insignificant discoveries, like what item she found and where.
The best way to describe the overall story is forced and tired. All aspects are terribly dragged out, the plot and characters are uninteresting with nothing becoming important, and the ending you can definitely see coming 8 hours before it even happens. There are only two segments I enjoyed in this 11-13 hour game. One was that they tried to make Ashley’s relationship to her father understandable, even if it was forced with arguments that really did not go anywhere, and one part where characters talked about aspects of memories. However, when the ending came along, I just wanted to sleep again. The worst part about the entire story however, is that it is in memory of one of the team-member’s late mother and the people he/she actually met in the real Lake Juliet. Isn’t a bouquet and some nice words enough?
Story Score: 1.5/10
I barely even pointed at the screen!
Another Code: R follows some of the previous games mechanics, with it again being a point & click adventure game. You can move Ashley on the path she is restricted to in a 2D-manner, with going into foreground and background being restricted to the pathways you are on. I honestly don’t get this design, as you will backtrack constantly throughout this game, and you will acquire a map with clearly laid out buildings and constructions early on. Why not just present a map-screen and fast-travel?
I believe it is because you would see even more how barebones this game really is. Whenever you enter an area, like a house, you are restricted to move left and right, with the occasional doors to enter. Here, you can zoom into highlighted areas and interact. This is fine and the pointer works well for this kind of game, but there are really no interesting puzzles. All except for one clever brain-teaser, are showcases for the gimmicks the wii-remote can do, where you point at the screen, drag, push, pull and similar. They are really unimaginative, as you will be set to do daily things with no real interesting challenges or creativity. The worst is the new TAS, which is the remote Ashley will get that is supposed to represent the Wii-remote. All it will do throughout the game, with exceptions at the end, is basically being your key for opening doors by a simple QTE. That is it. You also have a new DAS, replicating the DS lite, but it is even worse as it is mainly your option-menu and for taking pictures. These motion-segments are rare themselves, making them forgettable.
I want to quickly talk about the single interesting puzzle, as it makes you combine pictures to solve a puzzle and think of its meaning. This is cool, but it is the only one, as all others are just poor QTEs. Though I barely even pointed at the screen in the entire game, because I was either walking on a linear pathway or having forced conversations. These dialogue-sequences drags on for long, and it is all thanks to the terrible questions that will pop up, which you must ask for getting further in the game. Why not just have them as part of the conversations, or better yet, shorten them instead of lingering on every single detail? There are some options for answering differently at times, but these are vaguely different or it’s made clear which is the right answer. The only one that had a better use for this option was one time where I could acquire proof of my innocence in two separate ways, but that is again one out of all the dialogues throughout the journey.
Everything you do in this game is incredibly shallow and not much more than holding an actual play-button on a broken remote. It really is interesting how little effort is required to get through this game. If you want an example of how short the game really is, if you skip all the dialogues, you can go through the game in about 3 hours. There is almost nothing to stimulate the brain however, as searching for items is clearly laid out or nearby, the puzzles are poor with dated gimmicks, and walking around and talking to people is what you will be doing 90% of the game!
Gameplay Score: 1.5/10
If my old campsite looked cel-shaded
This is at least one aspect I do not completely hate. The game features a cell-shaded presentation, which is a good move to make characters have nice facial-features, appealing color-pallets, and attention to detail. The character-models are well made and pleasing to the eye, despite making it clear what kind of character-tropes they are, and all are diverse and different from each other. Like in the previous title, I also like the design of Ashley as she has unique characteristics visually, with white hair and dark eyes, but still dressed believably to make her a more relatable and realistic character. The setting is also colorful by being at a campsite with rich forests by a huge lake, with many minor details like animals popping out from the bushes at random. One really lovely detail, is how things move into place or pop up, like a puppet-show or a popup-book.
Sadly, the creativity stops here, as this is quite an uninteresting location. This is basically a campsite with some minor diversions, such as a greenhouse and a factory, and not much else. None of these places have much inside them, so the locations themselves appear shallow with repetitive layouts. It makes the colorful use of cel-shading feel wasted, and almost questionable why it was used. It might be for the comic-panel, but it only makes us see two characters on each side, or Ashley on the right, while the object is on the left. It is really useless. What is awful about the presentation, however, is how every animation drags out the game, and it tries, for some reason, to make something so insignificant as a toy car a big transaction. This is also a common thing throughout and I wish you could skip these entirely.
The soundtrack is mediocre, with some pieces being nice piano-tunes for walking around that provide uplifting tones, but also has a ton of repetitive tracks and the use of violin or piano-chimes for every discovery feels tiresome. Nothing is bad, and all instruments are clearly heard, making it relaxing and enjoyable by the simple use to create a calm atmosphere. It is just that the pieces edge out between above and below average.
Presentation Score: 5/10
I am going camping alone
Yes, there is actually something more you can do here. You can find cans that you can recycle for the chance at winning something on a gumball-machine. It is nice to be taught the importance of keeping a clean environment, but the prices you can win are not even cosmetic and it makes it questionable why you ever would want to recycle again, so the message is already quickly neglected.
After beating the game, you can play it again in a New Game Plus-mode. I have no idea why you would, as it only makes it so you can fast-forward texts, get some graphical changes, and some slightly altered puzzles, though they don’t become harder or more interesting. You will also get more messages about Lake Juliet, but the lore was already poorly written before and you really don’t need more exposition.
Extra Score: 1/10
This was a strange and terrible experience. Everything simply dragged on by every conceivable interaction, and I just had no reason to care about anything. It all feels forced due to the uneventful plot, the barebones dialogue with vague human emotions, and puzzles that are a joke or gimmicky waggle. It is a slow game that forces you to walk everywhere with little to keep your brain engaged or challenged and I am not surprised that many have said this is an over 20 hours game, when it is really between 11-12 hours, as it feels twice its length. If you don’t have other consoles and need a point and click game, please track down a copy of Zack and Wiki for a fantastic experience. If you want something with a deep story, then consider Broken Sword Director’s Cut.