Memory’s Dogma CODE:01 Review

I have brought this up before, but now would be a good time to restate my mission statement when it comes to reviewing games.  Whenever I play a game, it is because something about it is interesting, appealing, or promising to me, and after going through it to completion, I enjoy the act of analyzing the components of each game.  The process of assessing its strengths and weaknesses from my own subjective perspective.  I do this in order to practice my critical thinking skills, increase my game literacy, and justify how I spend approximately 1,000 hours a year playing games.  It is an enjoyable experience for me, at least assuming the game is at least average in its quality, and Memory’s Dogma is not even close.

Memory’s Dogma CODE:01 Review
Platform: PC(Reviewed)
Developer: LizArts
Publisher: Sekai Project

Set in an implausibly futuristic 2030, Memory’s Dogma centers around Hiroki, an underachieving college student who recently developed suicidal depression after the loss of his close female friend, Sorano.  In order to get over this, he is encouraged by his friend Kakeru to visit a facility known as the Japanese Connect Center (JCC).  An institution that allows people to talk with those who have recently passed away via completely unexplained technology.  As they go visit her however, they discover an inconsistency with her memories, which Kakeru decides to investigate by hacking into this government supervised and immensely valuable database of incredibly personal information, which naturally the two get in trouble for.  Thus inspiring the two to become fugitives on a quest to seek out the truth behind their friend’s death.

That is the initial premise, but the more I look back on and reflect upon the story of Memory’s Dogma, the more confused, perturbed, and overall baffled by it.  It clearly wants to be a thoughtful science fiction story that details a world where people are given government issued smart devices, hologram technology has replaced screens, memories are instantly cataloged and collected by the government, everything is charged via publicly available power-over wifi, and human augmentation is on a steady rise.  One that supports a playful and enjoyable cast, tells a slightly problematic love story, speaks out against corporate greed and the government, at least I think so, and even has the trappings of a zealous action anime series.   

However, Memory’s Dogma is not really any of those.  In actuality, it is a story with delusions of grandeur that is constructed to poorly that I wonder if the creators actually produced an outline of this plot, or just made it all up as they went along, never revising any of their prior work.  To take you on a particularly long walk, when Kakeru hacks into the JCC database via an port in a publicly accessible room, he is able to extract confidential data in a matter of minutes and chooses to put the information on a card.  No idea if they mean an SD card or the like, they just call it a card.

Because of their theft of confidential data, numerous security guards are sent out after the two, who somehow manage to escape the facility.  Ideally, the JCC, and the government as well, would want to catch up with them and apprehend them for stealing confidential information.  This could be easily done if the JCC pinpointed the GPS location of these two by using their MDRs, their government issued electronic bracelet, which the government may track so long as GPS is enabled.  The two characters then proceed to keep this enabled for two days.

Afterwards, the crimes continue as Hiroki and Kakeru begin hacking into the same memory database, which is, and I cannot even comprehend this, somehow connected to a revised rendition of the internet.  Not only is Kakeru able to crack through the protection and able to restore the incomplete data he stole, but he is able to establish a connection to this database via Hiroki’s MDR, where he is able to access massive amounts of data without the government being able to track him, even though he still has his GPS on.

The JCC and the government are fully aware this is happening, but chooses not to do anything about it until the next day.  During the next day, the government decides to name Hiroki and one of his companions, Reina, as fugitives who stole far more confidential data than what they actually stole, and ignores Kakeru for some reason.  Only now do Hiroki and company decide to disable their GPS, and proceed to stay where they have been for at least 12 hours for another hour.  It is then explained that Kakeru once again made his way into the JCC database and pulled out even more confidential internal information.  Information that paints Reina in a negative light.  

In order to prove her innocence, Reina decides that she should go to her former university and show everyone a photograph.  A photograph from a publicly available display at the university that would in the real world have a digital representation of it available on the company’s website or some other website that Reina could more easily access.  Once they go to the university, and only then, a legion of detectives, not the Japanese Special Assault Team or anything like that, find the main characters and place them under arrest.  After they turned off their GPS and went to a location that the police would have very little reason to suspect.  

Not only are they surrounded by dozens of people, the entire college was somehow evacuated within a matter of maybe 10 minutes, without any announcement that the characters could hear, implying that the police not only suspected they could arrive here, but they had a plan.  Afterwards the party, which had grown to encompass 8 people then splits off to handle a superhuman who can turn his arm into a giant blade, and 5 of them are never seen for the remainder of the game, even though some of them were only around for 20% of the story.  

The entire game is like this.  Poor story progression, inconsistent or downright stupidly presented technology, and plot holes aplenty.  As somebody who cannot help but play editor whenever they are going through a visual novel like this, I was left immensely frustrated by what Memory’s Dogma was doing.  For a story that is clearly trying to be smart, compelling, and nuanced to some degree, the lack of foresight present in even the basic plot structure is unacceptable.  Actually, no, that is not fair.  For a story, this lack of foresight present in even the basic plot structure is unacceptable.

However, it only gets worse as the story tries to bring itself to a close.  After being finally captured by the JCC, Hiroki and his companion Reina are held hostage by the antagonist of the game.  A downright sadistic, egotistical, expositing, shortsighted, businessman supervillain the likes who which not only clash with any preconception this story had of being even remotely respectable.  A collection of tropes that are shoved together to create this non-human character whose actions do not make sense from a resource or plausibility factor, and is rendered so powerful he is only defeated by a deus ex machina that is never explained in the context of the story.  Which, by the way, never answers what specifically happened to Sorano.

This is already shaping up to being a game where I have very little nice things I could say about this game, and none that I want to, but it had to do one more thing to absolutely set me off and cement itself as one of the very few games in this world that I feel a genuine sense of hatred towards.  Seeing as how Memory’s Dogma chose to delve into one of the few things in this world that I cannot handle, unwilling surgery that results in a character losing their bodily functions.  Whether it be the maneuverability of their bodily parts, their ability to see, or even their own sense of identity.

During this scene, Hiroki loses a ring finger, the language center of his brain, the part that allows him to form coherent words or properly communicate with others, and then his ability to perceive the world properly, rendering it a bizarre and painful abstraction that he cannot process without being wrapped in pain.  All before losing his ability to simply see, all due to incisions made directly into his brain while he is left completely conscious and while the antagonist is toying with him, treating him like an experiment and taking clear pleasure in his pain.  Hiroki is then so mortified and mentally tormented by the process that he begins to create a mental fantasy in order to avoid the pain and suffering he was forced to undergo.

The worst part?  This entire scene could be removed after Hiroki loses a finger, and nothing would about the story would really change.  You see, Hiroki eventually gets healing powers, so he is able to restore everything done to his brain in a few minutes, and only lost his finger, for some completely arbitrary reason.  It was also established that the supervillain was a deplorable sample of subhuman scum who did this to him was indeed a deplorable sample of subhuman scum.  Also, after undergoing this horrific torture, Hiroki does not appear to have any signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, nor does he even seem bothered or perturbed by what specifically happened to him.  Which I find to be egregious on behalf of the writers because just the thought, just the idea of this happening to a person is enough to stir up a minor mental breakdown within me.

I could go on for another page or two about the sheer quantity of baffling and bad decisions this game could make.  From how holograms effectively replaced screens, to how the term augmented reality is misused in several instances, and generally how impractical the MDR itself is.  Or how unbelievable the way the story utilizes Sorano’s sister, who is either insane, stupid, or has some severe undiagnosed mental problems.  However, I feel that I would just be shouting a wall if I went on any further.

Although, I should address the mechanics of this visual novel, which take the form of a series of timed decisions that minorly alter the story in ways I could not perceive or lead Hiroki down a bad ending where the truth is lost and the game resets to the beginning of the day, for some baffling reason.  It may as well be a kinetic and fully linear visual novel, but instead it has a series of mostly meaningless choices scattered throughout.  

The only remotely kind thing I have to say towards Memory’s Dogma is that its presentation is, in all actuality, pretty appealing.  I like some of the character designs, the sprites and CGs are well drawn, the backgrounds look very nice, and it presents a pleasing future visually, even if it is not very practical.  The voice acting is a bit better than I would have expected from a small scale visual novel, and the music is alright, but for some reason the game plays a high pitched sound whenever the cursor moves over the menu commands at the bottom.  A decision that caused me to disable the sound effects entirely.  So good on that audio designer.

I truly do not enjoy ripping a game to shreds, but Memory’s Dogma was a constant barrage of disappointments, shortsightedness, and amounted to 10 collective hours that grew exponentially frustrating.  It is a misguided, contrived, and poorly handled story that I would only ever compliment it for its ambition and the fact that it thankfully ended prematurely, with the developers choosing to stretch the story over three games, when the the first one was hardly captivating enough to warrant a continuation.  

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