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Shadow of Memories

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2001; vt Shadow of Destiny). Konami. Designed by Junko Kawano. Platforms: PS2 (2001); Win, XBox (2002); PSP (2009).

Shadow of Memories is a highly atmospheric graphical Adventure with an unusual plot; the player must solve the mystery of their own murder. The display is fully three-dimensional, and the gameplay revolves around puzzle solution and conversation with computer controlled characters, in the manner of Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (1993) or The Longest Journey (1999). The game begins with the murder of Eike Kusch, the player character, in a modern town in Germany, followed by his resurrection by a mysterious figure. This entity tells Kusch that if he wishes to survive he must change the sequence of events that led to his death, gives him an erratically functioning Time Travel device, and dispatches him into the recent past. The game then proceeds through a sequence of fatalities; the player can repeatedly succeed in preventing their character's death, only to discover that they will then be killed in a different way, and resurrected yet again. Eventually it becomes clear that the only hope of survival lies in travelling to a variety of time periods, including the Middle Ages, the beginning of the twentieth century and the 1980s, and attempting to uncover the secrets of Kusch's forgotten past.

The game's rationale depends on Science and Sorcery (the individual who rescues Kusch is an alchemically created homunculus who uses a technological Time Machine), but its conception of Time Travel is entirely science-fictional. Time passes continuously and simultaneously in all periods during play, meaning that if the player travels into the past an hour before they are due to die in the present, they have only sixty minutes to save themselves in the past before their fate is sealed. This conceit, which corresponds to assuming that Kusch can only travel specific distances in time, adds a real sense of tension to the gameplay, since the player is always racing an unforgiving clock. While the town of Lebensbaum (in which the game is set in all its various eras) is not especially interactive, being almost completely deserted, considerable effort has been devoted to giving the player as many options as possible within the limitations imposed by the design. The game's structure is highly multilinear (see Interactive Narrative), with a variety of endings and a labyrinthine web of behaviours which allow for many complex interactions in time. If, for example, Kusch attempts to talk to a previous version of himself, the consequences are as disastrous as might be expected.

Playing Shadow of Memories can be a curiously disorienting experience. The reality of the gameworld becomes dream like and insubstantial as Kusch experiences his last day again and again, with subtle variations introduced by his actions in previous time periods (see Time Loop). Mysteries are uncovered and secret identities revealed, but it is hard to be certain that these revelations are fundamental, and not artefacts created by changes made by the player in the past that may be altered at some point in the future. After completing the game once, the player can choose to begin again, but in this iteration Kusch is clearly aware of having experienced the story before, in some other reality. Eventually it may emerge that the homunculus has manipulated everything that happens in order to ensure his own creation through a circuit in time, but this reality seems no less mutable than the rest. [NT]

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