I need to begin this review with a disclaimer: The Dark Eye is a series with a long, rich history that has amassed great amounts of respect and love across the world and until I played Memoria, I knew absolutely nothing about it. My knowledge is based on the admittedly lacking amount of background research I did in preparation for this game and the snippets given to me in Memoria itself, so I can only review this fantasy adventure from the perspective of a total newcomer to the world of Aventuria. Luckily, Memoria is a game that stands quite well on its own two feet and has something to offer all that choose to take it on, whether you’re a fan or a long-time devotee.
It should, however, be known that it took me a couple of chapters before I was able to form that opinion. From the beginning, you’re thrown right into the deep end – you aren’t acquainted with your protagonist, the characters are talking about people and places you’ve never heard of (if you’re me, anyway) and the whole thing just feels like one big ‘you had to be there’ moment that you weren’t there for. Luckily, after awhile, you find out that your hero is Geron, a young man who seems to have been on many adventures and who is trying to find someone that can reverse the spell that has been put on his travelling companion, turning her from a fairy to a raven. Time is running short, as Nuri (the raven) is losing her memories, and soon she’ll forget that she was a fairy at all. In case that wasn’t enough of a reason for an adventure, while this is happening Geron is also having dreams involving a princess, Sadja, who is on a voyage of her own, and the two storylines become inextricably intertwined.
Just when I was about to throw my hands up and ragequit because I felt so far out of the loop, the game introduced a mechanism that allowed me to read about the relevant parts of Aventuria’s history and I immediately became more involved in the stories that were being told and became gradually less critical. The dialogue that had seemed especially cheesy when I started quickly appeared wittier, and I learned to love Sadja’s sass and Geron’s devotion to his cause. The background characters did seem a little bland with only the occasional clever line thrown in, so I have to admit that I did sometimes find myself tuning out and realising halfway through a conversation that what was being said was actually vitally important, and would explain the tasks I’d be completing for the next hour. Even when the dialogue was clever, it was often long-winded and while this sometimes highlighted exactly how rich the history of this world was, it did weigh things down. For me, it was frustrating, but I suspect that someone who already loved the series would get a lot of joy out of the snippets of information passed on to the two protagonists.
It should be noted that in general, I’m not a huge fantasy fan (give me time, I’ll get into it one day) so everything I’m saying here should definitely be taken with a small grain of salt – or an appropriate fantasy-themed metaphor. But it’s possible I’m just being a little critical of the detail required to successfully build a fantasy world. Gameplay-wise, Memoria is actually quite well made. Geron is something of a magician and has the ability to repair or destruct some objects within the world, while Sadja is joined on her journey by a magic staff that is able to activate or deactivate torches and ancient beings, send visions to people by using their personal possessions, and other spells that I won’t add for the sake of avoiding spoilers. While these powers do make for an interesting game mechanic, they’re also somewhat inconsistent. On more than one occasion I found myself asking why something wasn’t ‘magical enough’ for a particular spell to work, or why Geron could just decide that he’d ‘rather leave something the way it was’, when it was obvious that the object could have acted as a solution to the problem. The game also seemed to enjoy taking all my tools away from me periodically, so that I’d have to start from scratch again building up my inventory, and personally I just found that to be something of a cheap way to up the difficulty, or to extend the game. It’s fine when it happens once or twice, but by the fourth time it kind of got old.
Visually, the game is stunning, and the score did definitely add to the atmosphere. Some of the voice acting seemed a little laboured but was generally of a pretty high quality, especially considering some of the dialogue was dull in and of itself. Despite several moments of frustration, there was only one puzzle in the whole game that made me want to punch through my computer screen, and the game was kind enough to give me the option to skip it when it became clear that I had no idea what I was doing, walking around in circles in a maze for half an hour. It was irritating that I wasn’t given enough instruction to complete the section myself, but it was refreshing to be given the option to skip through. The puzzles were generally quite solvable and more intuitive than I expected, but near the end of the game I did reach a point where things needed to be done in such a particular way that I had to reload an old save file because I physically couldn’t move on. Considering the game gave me absolutely no indication that there was any method to that particular section, it was a little irritating to say the least.
Overall, I clearly had mixed feelings about Memoria. It’s received glowing reviews from people that were more familiar with the series and references to events and appearances from characters from Geron’s past would definitely appeal to fans. There was even a reference to Daedalic’s previous game Night of the Rabbit, which I have to admit I quite enjoyed. While I would still recommend newcomers to the series give it a try if you’re a fan of fantasy games, and the ending was definitely worth the nine hours I put it into it, I can’t say it was an overly memorable experience for me, and I have come away from it remembering the frustrations most clearly – and I don’t think that’s a good sign. Ever.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Memoria by Daedalic Entertainment.