What would you do if you were to wake up tomorrow, having been thrust into a completely foreign society? Being greeted by your "new family" who tell you what to say, what to think and even how to feel in order to not violate their social norms? Being told that your identity, the place you carved out for yourself in the world, is long forgotten, but that they already have a new role good and ready for you? That your dreams no longer matter?
This fate, among many others, is one of the gears in the complex machinery
that would end up removing all traces of life from humanity's great hope, the huge pioneer starship Mugunghwa
, in Analogue: A Hate Story
In this unconventional sci-fi/mystery visual novel, you are a space investigator
hired to find out the truth about what happened to the Mugunghwa
and how it got lost on its mission to settle foreign planets. Arriving at the wreckage and linking up to the ship's computer, you are greeted by the archival A.I., who offers to help you sort through the letters, reports, and diary entries of the people who lived on board before a mysterious catastrophe killed everyone. You quickly learn that very little is as it seems, and there are so many personal motives
wrapped up in the situation that actual honesty is hard to come by.
The presentation in Analogue
sets up a computer-y atmosphere with abstract backgrounds and actual in-story explanations for things like the multiple choice "dialogue wheels". The effort put into the art is largely concentrated into the two highly detailed on-screen characters, who delight with a plethora of poses and facial expressions to convey their emotions. The soundtrack, especially the character themes
, features recognizable melodies (sometimes in several variations) realized in a consistent style that works extremely well with the atmosphere constructed by the rest of the story.
For most visual novels, the user interface tends to be an afterthought, and only rarely is it a point of contention in a review. Analogue
, however, eschews the medium's tradition of a branching linear narrative and forges its own path in regards to navigation inside the story. In essence, every piece of text that you can find is one of the "files" of the ship's archive that you can view in any order, and you can also talk to the A.I.
or drop back to the command-line interface
at any point. This provides the player (a term that I use deliberately, because for Analogue, being a mere "reader" really isn't enough) with a high amount of agency that few visual novels choose to provide. It also creates a proportionally high number of opportunities to fail, for example if the player is not quick on their feet when it comes to using the computer terminal as the situation requires.
This sets up an interesting contrast with the main character's agency in the plot. After all, many years have passed since the events you read about and there is no way to influence the outcome or to save anyone. The only thing you can do is to find out the truth. There is a present-day plot involving the main character and the two artificial intelligences that still reside on the ship's computer, but the focus is on the mercilessly unchangeable past.
The people on the Mugunghwa
lived in a surprisingly traditionalist society with strong codified gender goles and rampant classism. The members of the noble families all struggled for power, but no one seemed to heed the big picture or pay any mind to the ship's course. It was a troublesome situation in which a little girl from hundreds of years ago was awakened from cryostasis. Her family hoped that the Pale Bride
might bring them salvation, but what could she do to find her way in a society that was so radically different from the one she knew? You notice early on that she seems to be somewhat of a focal point for the events on board following her reawakening, but how does she factor into the eventual genocide? What caused the ship's undoing? And why do the two A.I.s despise each other so much?Analogue
is, at its core, a mystery story. While it is still a visual novel and you can gloss over most of it without really internalizing it and still get to the end, it is a more rewarding experience to actually untangle the relationships of the characters and understand how their motivations propel them to do what they do. There aren't really any mechanics in place to support this endeavour, other than the family trees that the A.I.s helpfully provide you with. I found that my enjoyment of the story increased significantly as soon as I started taking my own notes with pen and paper. I would encourage you to do the same, because otherwise it is very easy to lose your perspective as you wade through the countless documents, each colored by its author's perceptions.
Bit by bit you wrestle the truth from the ship's archives, and slowly you piece together the puzzle until you are able to see the full picture in all its horror. All aspects of it, from the psychological
through the sociological
to the interpersonal
themes of the story, paint a drab picture of loneliness and despair. It poses the uncomfortable question of whether the ship's population as a whole might have been beyond salvation for who knows how long, doomed many years before the finale of the story; whether the event that put an end to all biological life on board was merely the logical conclusion, much like you would turn out the lights when you leave an empty room. It's hauntingly honest in its depiction of the darkest depths of the human soul, and after completing the story for the first time, it left me with a strong feeling of unease about what any one of us might be capable of, given the right circumstances.
It does also have its lighthearted moments, and even though visual novel connoisseurs will find many tropes and clichés conspicuously absent, Analogue
coquets with the expectations carried over from its genre siblings in certain moments, such as when one of the A.I.s invites you to dress her up in various outfits
. It's no stranger to fun and there is plenty of clever humor to be found in the data logs and the A.I. banter.
The overall execution in this VN is so congruent and polished that any perceived shortcomings almost have to be rooted in personal taste. Some people might not care for the minimalist presentation, others might have preferred a more linear way of storytelling, yet others may have their reasons for not wanting to read a story where gender inequality is a prominent theme. But judged on its own merits, I can find nothing but praise for Analogue: A Hate Story
within me. It's unique and interesting, and if you think that a mystery visual novel with deeper than average gameplay mechanics might intrigue you, I can recommend it without reservation.