Sometimes, you are just not ready for what you want to talk about. This I know because I originally started reviewing the original R.O.M in December 2016, before I heard about a voiced version that was coming out. I decided then to wait for it, and then I learned that a Nintendo Switch version was also going to be released with additional content. Now that the game has gotten a longer title and I had a less than enjoyable time with Newfound Courage, I figured it was about time to talk about R.O.M, even if there will be a Sega CD-version of this later on.
2064: R.O.M INTEGRAL is definitely inspired by Snatcher, which was the reason for why I was so excited for this title. What actually surprised me in an interesting change, was how the game was set in a future where all LGBTQ characters were presented on equal terms and faced less discrimination. This is also where I learned about different LGBT-terms, such as LGBTI, LGBT+, and GLBT. I feel tremendously old already for not being able to keep up with this, despite that I go to the annual Pride Parade and am a part of this community myself. So let’s take a look into the future and see if 2064: R.O.M INTEGRAL is the paradise I hoped for.
A dive through existentialism
In the not so distant future of 2064, our story starts in Neo-San Francisco. Our technology has had a rapid development, which has, in turn, helped or made people’s lives easier. Not just with ROM’s, which are personal robot-assistants and more stylish and handy to have than smartphones or computers, but also in the form of Hybrids. These are humans who have mixed their genes with ones from animals in order to enhance their abilities or help them out of illness. While these are certainly impressive feats of progress, there are activists who are against this rapid evolution, fearing this can create complications for our own species and lose what it means to be human.
With those being pro and against this technological leap having formed into political groups, doing whatever they can to succeed, you (as yourself) are a journalist and have just reviewed a pair of headphones in order to make the month’s due. The next day, however, a ROM named Turing sits on your desk and needs help. His creator is gone, and even stranger, unlike the traditional ROMS with clear functions, Turing is self-aware and evolves both emotionally and mentally.
This is where the general theme of 2064 comes into play: existentialism. The game’s plot revolves heavily around Turing’s existence, the Hybrids vs the human-revolution, and shows both sides of the conflict in order to clarify that it is not as simple as black & white. This is maturely handled, and I am impressed how neither sides are portrayed as bad, just conflicted and, due to the harshness, decided to pick a side. It is impressive that it all ties back to Turing’s missing creator due to Turing himself being a unique robot with something else than a traditional AI. This is really impressive, and no form of political of philosophical thoughts feels forced, as all have clear reasons for why they exist and stand so strong, even if they are opposites.
How these subjects are handled is also strengthened by the characters. All come with diverse personalities and backstories that are either small or grand, but none are forgettable due to them having an important, complex, and believable effect on who these characters became in their later lives. There is so many trivia I would love to talk about, such as why the hybrid Jessie is as involved in politics as she is or why Starfucker is a delightful mix of soft and forceful, but all of this would not just spoil the story, it would actually not be enough to showcase why their stories are so good.
This is because of how they develop as characters and how much you get to know them through your interactions. Everything has a natural flow where you have to build trust or show decent manners in order to get closer to people. This is handled very well by impressive attention to the dialogue, where every character has a clear way of saying things, strong emotions behind them, and perfect direction. Because of this, you easily get involved and want to see not just your story unfold, but theirs as well. Speaking of which, the overall plot is a great crime-mystery, where you must search for clues and try to come up with the best conclusions on who the culprit is and why. All clues lead you to feel one step closer, but still keep the mystery at bay, which is great for building up the suspense. The story is filled with twists, turns, betrayals, and even harsh loss, with all being effective for making yourself emotionally attached or even unsure on what you are doing.
As you might tell, there is a ton of story to be told here with heavy emphasis on dialogue, especially between you and Turing. However, despite how philosophical, plot-heavy or even character-deep it gets, nothing feels unnatural in how they talk. This is because nothing is brought up out of nowhere. A great example is when Turing asks about why he exists, as it simply ties into both the story’s plot to find his creator, while also connect it to the game’s theme and the character’s struggle. It is incredibly smart with its dialogue, and even your character’s description of the world around them is fantastic. There is even a good amount of humor implemented here to be more lighthearted, with my favorite being a running gag about using the ID-card on bizarre locations or items, which is always good for a chuckle.
I think the best example of how mature with its theming the game is, might be when Turing makes a profile for you, where you must input your name, and how you want to be referred to as. This includes he, her, they, xe, ze, and if that was not enough, you can make a custom entry with pronouns sets. It is never in your face about it, only slight humorous, and simply goes with acceptance and moves on with the game. This is a marvelous story told with perfect pacing, great characters to get in-depth with, engaging plot, fun notifications, intriguing lore, the writing contains tons of quotable lines, and the theming is handled properly to get anyone involved. Even the endings aren’t just normal good or bad, but rather: what is your idea of the best outcome, which is always more interesting than just having to say what is right or wrong.
Story Score: 10/10
It is called R.O.M for a reason
2064 takes obvious inspirations from Snatcher in its gameplay, but also showcases clearly that it wants to tell a story first and foremost, making this a visual novel. There is a ton of dialogue to read, which is always engaging and the player can choose how to respond, such as aggressively, kind, or objective. It gives you different dialogues or even outcomes depending on what you say, making it easy to get involved with how you actually respond. 2064 does, however, include point and click aspects which is nice for the sake of more direct interactivity. With objects you can highlight, you can either look at, talk/consume, interact or pick up, or use with one of the items you hold in your inventory. It is a familiar setup, easily implemented for either mouse and keyboard use, or with a controller.
These puzzles are fun and light brainteasers, but never challenging. This is because the game constantly handholds you and limits areas you have to check in order to proceed. It is certainly nice to keep the puzzles focused and not force you onto a blind hunt, but because these are very light puzzles with solutions being clearly laid out, such as finding a code on a screen and you just have to note it down, you are rarely in for a hard time and just have to be observative. Even the map for traveling shows where you need to go, so I never had a problem with figuring out what my next move should be.
There are tons of secrets to find and interact with in the game, such as talking to your plant and see if it grows, optional conversations, and puzzles that can include different solutions, making it heavily focused on the atmosphere of a real world and era to explore. There is also some fun tile-based puzzles where you must plan your moves accordingly, a clever maze where you have to memorize the pattern, and fun shooting-mechanics where you have to react on a 3 by 3 panel and choose what to fire at. Sadly, these are only met on two occasions and are sadly short-lived. This also goes for a boss that is incredibly engaging and terrifying, as well as a great conversation-tree, where you have to find the right responses.
Because of the great variety 2064 adds in, it is a shame that these could not have been explored more throughout the game and evolved. The puzzles are fun if simple, and the elements to vary up the game are fantastic at testing your reflexes or your consideration on what the best move would be. 2064 is certainly more focused on telling a story and you being involved and act the way you see fit, and while it does this exceedingly, it clearly had some missed opportunities with the diverse mechanics. If anything else, the HD-rumbles for the switch makes it great for better immersion, as they can be incredibly subtle.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Going back to the past to get to the future
I have already talked enough about how much this game references Snatcher, and the same is true in the concept of the visuals, while also using similar effects that the Sega CD could offer. How it portrays your point of view with characters you talk to, the cutscenes and graphical capabilities, and how you interact with the options for interaction, all screams Snatcher in particular. Oddly enough though, while 2064 goes for a clear style and reference with all the limitations it has, it still manages to create a world of its own with bright colors and bizarre creations.
The city you explore is filled with diverse locations depending on their economic status or even political standards, such as the bright and welcoming bar of Stardust, the mansion of Miss Flores, or your rundown apartment. All places are colorful and the game in general favors strong, bright colors at that, which is a nice contrast to Snatcher’s look. In fact, the world is also more uplifting and down to earth, which is a nice change from either Sci-Fi in far distant futures or apocalyptic worlds. Character-models are just as diverse as their personalities. All come in different flavours, be they punk, high-class, or simply contain subtle features such as freckles. It really creates a world with varied characters that are easy to remember, with all feeling like a part of the city due to sharing similar artstyle and clearly establishing social standards through visuals, which is impressive.
Speaking of the world, it is a neat mix where you clearly see inspirations from Bubblegum Crisis and Phantasy Star 4, and making it a contrast to Blade Runner by being bright and cheery. It is really a work of art, and a future I can get by due to its more positive vibe and take on what might be. Because of the clear inspirations from other ideas put in a presentation that represents an old era, it creates oddly enough a new and unique design due to finding inspiration instead of outright stealing. This is quite strange to me, but it is kinda like if you get a banquet of all the best meals you know of, with a perfect blend of antre, main course, and dessert.
Cutscenes are stylish with great amounts of strong and subtle animations, making you always engaged for what is about to happen. The same can also be said for the backgrounds with plenty of small motions going on and the character models as they always come with high facial-expression. This makes the game feel alive and real, which is just lovely. Even subtle effects such as how characters emote mid-conversation is just great attention to detail, and you can really tell the developers went the extra mile to make this a world to get lost in.
Before this iteration, characters talked with different pitches of blips and blops, which were really neat ways to put forth what kind of emotions these characters had and tone of their voice. While I still think this holds high regards and works tremendously, I am impressed by the voice-acting added in. Every character gets a distinct voice, tone, accent, and contains perfect direction that makes their personalities shine through via auditory methods. This is impressive, and it made me appreciate every character on a whole new level, such as how Jess can explode, TOMCAT having a mother’s touch to her voice, and Turing being robotic, but also trying to mimic emotional ways of talking. This is another reason for why immersion is so easy to be had here, and the same goes for the general sound-effects that uses the system’s capabilities it represents to a great level.
Then we have the soundtrack, and it is glorious. A jazz-punk genre is a great choice for this uplifting world, but used diversity to make songs calm, exciting, intense, or even depressing, with piano-tunes or chip-tones that references the known “genesis twang”. This fits perfectly within this technological world that also has some fixation on “the good old days”. Due to the clear tones and perfect beat, every song becomes memorable and I had them stuck in my head long after the game was turned off. Actually, this mix of the old and new style, both in the soundtrack and visuals, is done with so much care, I am impressed by how everything matches just perfectly. Guess it is kinda like salt and pepper.
Presentation score: 10/10
Art should be appreciated
The multiple endings defined by your actions makes 2064 intriguing for repeated playthroughs to see other possible outcomes as it depends on what you do throughout the entire journey. This is also enhanced by the adorable post-game content where you can see how your actions had consequences and how people react to you afterward. Because of how effective the ending and post-game is at establishing the consequences of the action you had, it makes it easy to go through this story all over again, but it does not stop here. You get to look at artwork, concept-designs, trailers, and the entire soundtrack is included. It says something when I spent over an hour just admiring everything here.
Besides this, you can also explore within the playthrough, play a game-console that represents the 3 by 3 shooting, and the Switch-version includes a remastered version of the side-story, PUNKS. It is a short and sweet tale about two lesser characters that last only for a couple of minutes, but is definitely worth every second of your time. While it makes me wish for similar stories for the other characters, I might be at this point greedy, but that is just because of how engaged I got with everything and just wished for a bit more insight into other characters’ stories as well.
Extra score: 9/10
Paying tribute to a cult classic, and elaborating about themes within existentialism, while creating something unique and original, is far from an easy attempt. Incredibly enough, Midboss was able to do so with 2064, and it is an essential visual novel/point and click for anyone remotely interested in video games as higher pieces of art or just wants a great philosophical read to get lost in. It is also probably the best Christmas-game I know of. How is this not a Kojima-game?!