Memento is a rather short, fast-paced RPG which puts together great storytelling with old school-pixel graphics. Coming from a team of Japanese RPG makers, what it lacks in length is quite nicely made up with a compelling story, well designed characters and four alternative endings.
You play as Shizuru, a Japanese student who goes on a school trip with her teacher and other fellow pupils. They visit a war museum on an otherwise deserted island and soon enough the events take quite a disturbing turn. Since the place is full of dark memories and Shizuru wanders alone into the islands wilderness, the war relics somehow jump to life as if they were trying to shed light on all that’s happened there in the past. Prepare to be chased by a crashed aircraft or swallowed by a submarine.
The gameplay and graphics have a nice retro style, it almost felt like playing some old classic on Gameboy Color. Given how simple the visuals are, we were really surprised on how the creators made the best out of it and managed to build up the mood to a couple of jump scares and intensely creepy passages. One of the reasons the game works so well is the wise use of sound effects and music. Memento is very quiet, there is no constant theme during the whole gameplay. While there are sound effects, music usually accompanies only the action scenes where Shizuru has to run for her life or save another student from a bunch of slightly pissed porcupines.
We liked the diversity of traps and challenges Shizuru has to overcome. The industrial war artefacts blend together with nature to create deadly weapons, the wilderness poses danger by itself and there is even a giant skeleton which represents ghosts of the past. It is essentially the memories you are facing here since tragic events and injustice happened on the island. Most challenges require getting safely past traps or just running for life. Some of the mechanisms are tricky and call for intuitive thinking. There are often no hints and you have to pay great attention to detail in order to find hidden notes and other indices.
Speaking of running, you have to be fast. As fast as possible. Memento does not tolerate any mistakes whatsoever and one wrong step often leads to death and respawn at the last checkpoint. You can save the game at spots marked by a cross-shaped drawing or artefact. Shizuru can also pray on these spots to replenish health. While you start with 5 hit points, the game does not allow going back to full health once you take damage since Shizuru can only pray when down to one hit point. This means you will spend most of the game playing at around two or three hit points. However most of the chases and traps kill you instantly so it is not such a big issue. Memento is quite difficult and you will probably face most of the challenges more than once. Normally this would be annoying but since the atmosphere is built so well, each try is thrilling and gets more intense.
The saving spots seem quite scarce in the beginning due to high difficulty but once you get familiar with the gameplay, it only gets better. You will also meet another student on your journey who happens to carry a cross pendant so you will be able to save and pray on the go. While this feature is quite handy given the frequent deaths, there are still some annoying parts where the save options do not help. Most of the action parts directly follow cut scenes which you cannot skip. Since you are only able to save the game before a cut scene, you will probably end up watching some of them up to fifteen times and that is quite annoying.
One of the down sides of Memento is the short play time. The whole walkthrough lasts only a bit longer than one hour. However this is relative since the game is difficult and so the real time you will spend on your first go can last up to five hours or even longer. On the other hand, there are three bad and one good possible endings so if you enjoy the story, there is definitely replay potential.
We would recommend this game to fans of story-driven games who do not necessarily need fancy graphics to enjoy the experience as well as anyone who loves Japanese pop culture. Despite a number of flaws, Memento is a memorable experience especially thanks to the well-written script, relatable characters and a sad story with a tweak of horror. LaboGameStudio did a great job showing that a horror game does not necessarily have to be a realistic 3D spectacle to give you the creeps.