Oh, *Hyun-ae, let's solve mysteries together forever~
Hate Plus is a fantastic... something between a visual novel and a kinetic novel. Both this game and it's predecessor, Analogue, aren't a tangled spiderweb mess of routes, choices, decisions, Good and Bad Ends. There aren't many branching decision points in these games (Hate Plus doesn't even really have any), which kind of removes a lot of their "gaminess." That's okay with me; the visual/kinetic novel genre exists somewhere in the digital melting pot between traditional literature, comic books and video games. That's pretty great, in my opinion.
I won't go into the story because it would be rife with spoilers, but I'll talk some about the game itself. Hate Plus is even more linear than Analogue, which is okay. The bulk of the "gameplay" is spent reading over recovered logs from the derelict generation ship Mugunghwa
. You've got the assistance of whichever AI you either choose or carry over from your Analogue clear data. Depending on the choices made in Analogue or when starting a new game, you may have a different relationship with either *Hyun-ae or *Mute.
The meat of the game's story is told through the logs and the AI's commentary on the logs. Because your ship was damaged somehow, you have a limited amount of data you can sift through every 12 hours, which forces the game to be played over a period of at least 39-ish real-time hours (though you can circumvent this, but the author will call you a "jerkface"). Every time you read through six logs or read a log that's very significant to the plot, your AI partner will want to discuss something with you. Depending on your progress, this could either be a discussion about your relationship or about the mystery of the Mugunghwa
's reversion to a primitive Neo-Joseon culture. Occasionally you'll receive a message from your employer or other people, usually while you are extracting new data from the encrypted logs.
And that's pretty much the extent of the gameplay. There really isn't much "game" here; it's entirely about the narrative. And that's okay. The narrative is excellent; Christine Love is a fantastic writer. As a writer myself, she makes me jealous. The logs and your progress through them are carefully metered so you're slowly drip-fed the main story while seemingly being distracted by random bits and pieces that don't seem relevant. They become very relevant later.
The plot itself, like its predecessor, is seriously messed up stuff
interspersed with little rejuvenating isles of humor and heartwarming. While I was going through the game (I was playing *Hyun-ae's route; I intend to finish *Mute's route eventually) there were many points where I desperately welcomed *Hyun-ae's insistence that we stop and chat. Some of the stories you read in the logs are soul-crushingly sad. Spending time "talking" with *Hyun-ae and her generally ridiculous levels of adorable sweetness balanced out the intense tragedy of the story from the past. I haven't completely finished *Mute's route, but her "breather episodes" seem to largely be composed of humor (and that's great, too). As the plot progressed further and further, the hopelessness of many past characters' situations started to press heavily upon me, drawing me deeper and deeper into the self-contained world and its terrible drama.
That isn't to say Hate Plus doesn't have problems. It has problems. The "real-life" time limit is my biggest personal gripe, even though you can
circumvent it. As a general rule I hate it when games try to control the rate at which I play them. I can't stand turn limits, limited numbers of saves, save points, diminishing returns on experience points gain (I especially hate daily quests in MMOs, but that's a rant for another day). My second-biggest problem was the UI seemed to be very sluggish in responding to my mouse commands. Scrolling through the logs seemed to take far more "spins" of my mouse wheel than I would need to execute to scroll a web page in Chrome, for example. I was spinning the mouse wheel so much my index finger started to get a little numb! I tried lots of keyboard keys in an attempt to find some other way to scroll, but nothing seemed to work. Trying to grab the slider didn't work, either. Occasionally clicks on UI elements wouldn't register. I don't think these issues were part of the "interface screw" from the ship's low power and damage.
A lot of people seem to have another major gripe: the infamous "cake" sequence in *Hyun-ae's route. To be honest, I actually loved this part. Partly because I really did find it completely, adorably cute, and partly because it gave me a brief respite from the soul-crushingly depressing things I was reading
. I happened to be playing at 3AM, but I still went in the kitchen and made a cake (it was pretty tasty, so it worked out). I understand why the developer chose to add this, and I can understand and appreciate why people would be annoyed by it, but I really loved the fact that it was in the game.
Hate Plus is a fantastic visual novel and I'd recommend it to almost anyone, especially fans of science fiction. The plot will make very little sense if you haven't played Analogue, however, so I recommend buying them both and playing them both. Don't let the poor "hours of play per dollar" ratio scare you off; there's some really great story here!
I will warn you though that if you suffer from massive testosterone poisoning, you will probably find both games to be very uncomfortable. Both can be aggressively girly
, especially on *Hyun-ae's routes. For me, that's a big win. The gaming industry as a whole is completely dominated by titles that are aggressively hypermasculine. It's nice to have something that more caters to my side of things.