May 31, 2011

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Review: Always Remember Me

Review: Always Remember Me

Winter Wolves Game Studio is a name that any dating-sim fan has heard of. Their resume is quite extensive, with titles such as Love and Order and Planet Stronghold. Their latest title, Always Remember Me, tells a story about a young couple in love whose relationship is almost severed by an accident. Amarantha Fitch now has to worry about getting her fiance, Aaron Cowen, to remember her, as he suffers from short-term memory loss due to amnesia. Of course, it’s up to the player if they want the couple to be happy together again, or if there’s another man who can alleviate Amy’s heartache. The task seems daunting, but Winter Wolves is capable of pulling off a good title.

With just about any dating or life-simulation game, the story is one of the more important factors in determining how much the player will enjoy it. Always Remember Me‘s story reminds me a lot of some of the story arcs you’d see on a popular soap opera. After a car accident, Amy is presented with some devastating news. Aaron, in an act to protect her from getting injured, got struck, and now has trouble remembering anything that happened to him in the past few years, which includes Amy, as you learn that she has only been with him for those few years. Once you are given some reign on how to go about your day-to-day life, many opportunities make themselves available. Amy can choose to follow her heart and aid Aaron in recovering his memories of her, or find solace in the arms of the cute doctor or one of her close friends. Random events when visiting key locations at certain times offer some background into the relationships Amy shares with her friends. You have a broad set of people you can interact with from the very shy ice shop co-worker Lawrence to the creative jokester Hugh. Not to mention the doctor, Eddy, who cares for Aaron, Aaron’s father, and a rather sly ex-girlfriend Abigail. There are two endings for each guy (a normal one and one achieved by maxing out the corresponding attribute) plus the bad ending where Amy winds up alone.

The artwork for the characters are very nicely done. I really enjoyed seeing the beautiful art used in the opening, endings, and backgrounds. Not to mention the cuteness factor of a miniature Amy and friends in the choice boxes. The anime styling of the profiles during normal cut-scenes works extremely well with this title and its genre. The graphics are crisp and very detailed. The layout for all menus (main, dialogue, and save/load) are easy to navigate and don’t look cluttered.

Which brings me to the gameplay aspect of Always Remember Me. The menus are easy to use and the start of the game shows you the basics. As with most dating and life sims, the game is simple to play. Each day is separated into periods of time from morning to evening. Most actions will advance the day, with the exception of shopping and special scenes triggered on random days. The only action that is normally forced on you is when you visit the ice cream shop during the weekday mornings. Each location on the map offers its own set of actions to choose. You can pull some overtime at the ice cream shop, dance at the local pub, or even go home to visit your aunt. Not every action you choose will affect the attributes or affections in a positive or negative manner. Energy and Morale, however, will always got up or down. Both are important, as energy is needed to do a task. If your energy is too low to perform an action, then Amy will go back to her house and rest until it is brought back up to a certain level. Most actions, such as working, will lower it, but watching TV or eating will increase it. Morale keeps tabs on how happy Amy is. In the beginning of the first week, her morale is low, and therefore will impact how successful an action is. Morale is increased by having successful actions and decreased when you fail. Key scenes with any of the potential love interests will result in either an increase or decrease of affection for Amy. The affection levels are important when unlocking the different endings. The four unique attributes (romance, culture, discipline, and creativity) can increase by performing different activities. Each attribute relates to a separate guy.

The opening song, “Remember Me” by Christina Vee, sounds lovely and I really enjoyed the music that played in the background. There was a nice balance to the mood of the music, as it fit the mood of the scene. Upbeat sounds play when visiting the town map, and at certain locations, while rather soft and somber musical chords enhance the depression one would feel during sad moments. The only vocals you will hear throughout the game are during the opening song and whenever Amy succeeds or fails one of her actions. Personally, I would have loved to hear the characters speak and add emotion to their lines.

With the nine total endings, there is a good deal of reasons to replay the game. When I first started playing Always Remember Me, I made it my goal to have Aaron recover his memories of Amy. While I wasn’t successful in that, I did unlock the bad ending. Something that I found really nice and helpful in getting you to replay the game was the fact that getting the bad ending allows you to keep a certain portion of points for both the affection levels and the attributes. This does make it easier to max out the affections for any of the guys you are going after. The bonuses for obtaining the other endings aren’t quite as generous, however. Whether you replay the game because you like to unlock each ending, or you really care about Amy and want to see which of the guys seem to make her the happiest, you’ll likely enjoy going through the story and seeing dialogues specific to each guy.

With a few of the dating sims out there, I normally play through them in one or two sittings, ranging from an hour to three at a time. I played Always Remember Me in short periods of an hour or so and managed to get through the first play-through within roughly four hours. Each extra play-through added, for me, an additional hour or so. The game is perfect for playing in short bursts.

Always Remember Me is one of the better dating/ life simulation titles out there. The story might be reminiscent of an overplayed soap opera story arc, but it is easy to get into. The characters are likable, even the ex-girlfriend, and you’ll find yourself hoping that things work out for Amy. If you are a fan of dating sims and visual novels, this is well worth the playing time. Perhaps Winter Wolves can update the game with character voices, as that is my only real complaint for the game.

Always Remember Me
Platform: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux
Genre: Dating/ Life Sim
Release Date: May 2, 2011
Developer: Winter Wolves Game Studio
Publisher: Winter Wolves Game Studio
ESRB Rating: Unrated
MSRP: $19.99