The publisher describes Song of Memories as ‘a romantic visual novel with a dark and sinister underbelly’. What we have here is a light-RPG dating sim with a rhythm game battle-system encased in an otherwise by-the-numbers VN. It’s an odd mash-up which is frequently hit and miss.
Song of Memories deploys the E-mote engine to animate its clean anime character models and it looks great in motion, but there’s simply no denying the fact that the designs are as generic as they come. This cookie-cutter nature doesn’t end at the designs though, as you can reel off the usual personality archetypes as you go along. From your every-man harem avatar, to your perverted friend who’s the butt of all jokes, all the way to the sister who’s too close to be your sister and (shock) turns out to not actually be your sister.
Speaking of your perverted friend while we’re on the topic, he has some faceless and seriously creepy-guy acquaintances of his own who, on every appearance, radiate a fourth-wall breaking aura that makes me wish for their death flags to take physical form and stab them through the eyeballs.
This love tale itself spans a good stretch of harem-filled antics with the cast gelling together well before eventually giving way to the overarching story but, much like an idol group, it all feels very processed. There are hints of the dystopia-lite direction the plot will be taken to within the early game, but initially, while you’re weaving in and out of the school life choice-driven scenarios, you’ll encounter a device, first mistaken for a phone, in which resides a five-person strong hyper-intelligent AI idol girl group named Dream 4 You (D4U). That’s right, I see you rolling your eyes, non-Otaku. When in Rome, folks. Embrace it.
There are reports of unusual acts of violence in the area, rumoured to have supernatural causes. These causes are effectively a monster outbreak and it’s those monsters your group will have to face in battle. D4U are both central to the plot and battle scenes, evident in the way the protagonist summons the reality-surfing group from their digital abode to do his heavy lifting.
Forgot the Lyrics
This is a middling setup for what, on paper, should have hooked me; the turn-based battle rhythm game mechanics. The five idol girls each have their own song and battle combinations and you can choose to have one to five of them sing in unison at the expense of an associated Song Points (SP) cost (effectively your energy/MP bar). Once you’ve chosen your ‘attacks’ (read: singing) you’ll move to the rhythm game proper. While utterly simplistic in nature, it is but a mini-game in the scheme of the novel, so naturally my expectations were dialled back somewhat.
Let me clarify one thing though: this is not Hatsune Miku. The rhythm element is as bare bones as it comes, again likely owing to it being a relatively small portion of the game. Each round of singing lasts in the region of a minute at the most, varying in length depending volume of participants. This does, however, extend the length of the battles to form an arduous of task of defeating foes. Hitting the notes that correspond with the face buttons as they align on the screen is nothing new, but in Song of Memories’ case there’s nothing new to report on. It’s fast and suffers from the HDMI-driven input latency (TV dependent) but presents no timing offset option. The margin for error is small for each individual note, though the game is also forgiving in how many you can entirely miss and remain successful.
There’s no escaping it; fighting in Song of Memories, beyond the initial few rounds, is an absolute bore. It would seem the devs aren’t tone deaf and acknowledged the one-noted structure by allowing the player to skip entire fights; counter-intuitive design whichever way you slice it. If the intention was to streamline, the effort would have been better spent refining the actual combat. The enemies are all slapped on top of the background in a dungeon-crawler fashion and consist of humanoid demon spawn-looking monsters (the origins of which, I’ll keep under wraps). I found myself doing a lot of skipping.
On completion of each encounter the divvying up of experience plays allows the game to play one of its RPG-lite hands. Everything in this regard feels tacked on and inconsequential, especially when grouped with the limited strategies available.
The singing itself is great and the vocalists taking on dual roles as voice actors of their respective idol group member is a classy touch. The overall voice acting performance is a highlight (for anime fans, I hasten to add) but it’s strictly Japanese only. The songs do a great job of retaining the high-energy, bright idol-pop feels, but the group’s characteristics are unfortunately as lacklustre and obvious as the rest of the crew’s.
All this, however, is wrapped in a clean, colourful UI, with smooth transitions from screen to screen and as noted earlier, the graphical presentation here is a massive highlight. Background artwork looks fantastic, the J-Pop colour splash envelopes the mood, the soundtrack keeps up as well as can be expected through the shifting tones and the E-mote system is used to decent effect for the most part but the… ‘wobble’ here is continuous to point of absolute annoyance. It’s accompanied by almost every line.
Overall Score: 7/10
More discerning visual novel fans looking for a deep plot will likely be left wanting, those who are a little more easy-going about the flow of events and are looking for a visually impressive take on genre will find something to enjoy. For everyone else, this song will be quickly forgotten.
Format: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Price: £44.99 (UK PSN)
Developer: Future Tech Lab Co
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 01/02/19 (UK PSN)
Review copy provided by publisher