Y’all know me; I’m constantly on the quest for indie game psychological thrillers, especially of the trapped-in-one-setting variety, so Remember, Remember, a new game about five university students trying to escape an abandoned laboratory, was an exciting find. Remember, Remember is part visual novel, part horror maze game with a tone suggestive of Forbidden.exe. It’s the collaborative product of otome writer Michaela Laws and programmer Ethan Nakashima.
The story begins as Kris [insert last name here] and his four best friends, Lisa, Rosa, Xavier, and Peter, are running late to their college graduation ceremony. Because none of them majored in basic street smarts, they accept a ride from a stranger in a van claiming to be a student. The next thing they know, they are trapped in some kind of scientific facility, the only exit barred by lasers. The friends recognize each other, but find themselves unable to recall anything of their past life. A mask appears above them on screen and claims that some of them have been keeping terrible secrets(!), and in order to extract these particular memories and reveal their guilt, Kris must play a game using the nearby console, in which he must deliver protective haloes to all his friends before time runs out, lest they drown.
No one can leave until the truth has been revealed, and Kris decides, based on how he plays the game, which of his friends survive. This is because one or more of them were implicit in the abduction of his little sister Sara, five years before the events of the game.
The maze segments are the game’s central “horror” conceit; you are a butterfly with limited vision and various monsters lurk in each level. You have to deliver a protective halo to each of your friends before time runs out. Getting caught means a time penalty and losing your halo if you were carrying one, and though the mask villain appears onscreen to laugh at you, there’s no penalty jump scare, an indie thriller design choice I can only describe as… noble.
On its own merits, Remember Remember is not very scary (although the creative sound design is ON. POINT.), because bees and owls are not very scary and, more to the point, Ren’Py is the save-scummiest engine on Earth. There’s no need to act with caution when you can just pop a squat in one of the 47 save slots available a line of dialogue or two beforehand and make as many mistakes as necessary.
That’s not to say the mazes aren’t intriguing, especially once the designs veer into darker and more abstract territory. I especially loved the Maze of True Fear, which opted for ominous shadow people on a crosswalk over familiar insects in a forest setting and opens with a jarring carnival riff. A longer game could have gone in the direction where the mazes became more unnatural and disturbing as they progressed (in the style of Eversion, perhaps), but as it is, Remember Remember evokes guilt and a weighted sense of responsibility better than it does terror.
There are 9 full endings depending on how you perform in the final maze. The story is by Michaela Laws, which means you can optionally foster a romantic relationship with two of the characters, allowing for more ending variations. The content advisory listing rape and pedophilia, compounded by the notion that some of Kris’s friends are supposedly guilty of something involving Sara, had me extremely worried, but these warnings are actually only relevant to the extra unlockable journals which provide some villain backstory.
The reasons Kris’s friends are each implicated are not actually that damning, so the final choice of whether to save or condemn them treads on less moral grey area than I was expecting. That aside, Rosa, Peter, Xavier, and Lisa are all well-rounded and likable enough that I felt compelled to save them every time. Lisa isn’t great, because her personality is mostly being contrary and getting mad at people, but she does have some redeeming qualities and depth (it’s just that they aren’t apparent outside her route because a certain someone decided to erase everyone’s memories whoopsie daisy).
If your opinions differ from mine, the merciful ending unlocks the same amount of content as any cruel ending, so there’s no unsubtle developer prodding to go in one direction or the other. You can save any combination based on how you view the scenario and whether or not you want to spite the antagonist.
The Mask, so he is called, is your supermarket aisle escape-the-room villain. He’s self-important without being very smart or likable. I take offense on behalf of science whenever this man waves his bonesaw around and uses the term “experiment” like he learned it from a magazine. He’s spent most of his career dissecting live subjects in order to answer such questions as: the origins of pain, why we faint at the sight of blood, and why human mutilation disgusts us, which those who defer to the IRB may know are mysteries that can be solved through less invasive means.
It’s unclear why the protagonists’ memories would be erased, though “for the lulz” is a motivation I’m willing to accept if it gives us a horror visual novel. However, the Mask decides as his final experiment to use the mazes, combined with an allegory about a lost butterfly, to trigger memory recall and encourage those “guilty” to confess their crimes. After the penultimate level, though, he realizes with dismay that no one has recalled anything, despite the fact that “using emotionally linked words during a moment of anxious duress can cause memories to be recalled.” A couple of things wrong with that:
- the “emotionally-linked words” (which I assume were ladybug, bird, butterfly, bee, and spider) are neither emotional nor linked; they were not encoded during the kidnapping because they are part of an allegory made up afterwards
- this guy is a moron
- stress hormones have been found to both inhibit and enhance memory recall; Mask was banking on the latter for his revenge shenanigans to even make sense
- most literature seems to find an inhibitory effect however, which may even get worse after stress levels have returned to baseline
- this kind of research is usually applied to discussions of PTSD and eyewitness testimony
- makes no distinction in his methods between catecholamines and glucocorticoid effect on memory
- and finally…
- positive effects of stress on emotional word recall are apparently nullified by propranolol, incidentally the drug he administered to his subjects in large doses before the tests even began
I can’t tell if he is the dumbest villain ever or if the writers are just brilliant.
Most criticism for Remember Remember concerns the lag some players have experienced during the mazes. I would highly recommend downloading the demo first to see if your computer can run them without problems. If you encounter an issue, try changing the renderer in-game by pressing Shift + G. I didn’t encounter any problems running this game, but I find this helps (along with keeping the laptop plugged in) with reducing Ren’Py lag that can sometimes occur.
Remember, Remember retails for around $15, but the price is covering the payroll of the artists involved rather than extensive play time. All of the content can be seen in less than six hours. The game is fully voice acted (and well voice acted, wowzers!) with a custom soundtrack and GUI, 17 CGs, a handful of unlockable extras and 5 mazes you can replay any time, in case you really like mazes. Plus the developers laugh at you on the splash screen which I consider a feature.
I bought RR knowing it wasn’t that long and I enjoyed my time with it. Whether you buy at full price, wait for a sale, or watch someone’s let’s play depends on whether you’re willing to let your budget for art patronage dip into your entertainment budget.