Video game developers too rarely look beyond genre pillars like Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings for inspiration. So when the creators of a new point and click adventure claim to have been influenced by the short stories of Haruki Murakami, it piqued my attention. The end result only disappoints when it adheres too closely to the conventions of the adventure genre.
Murakami is a Japanese literary author best known for his novels Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84. He typically portrays a contemporary real world where the mundane is punctured by the surreal. Page upon page is devoted to describing banal activities such as preparing food while outside a second, moss-covered moon hangs in the sky. His writing can feel plain, almost naive, yet at the same time can feel exhausting in its painstaking attention to detail. In one book, a man sits at the bottom of a dry well for chapter after chapter. It can be hard going.
Memoranda isn’t a retelling of any particular Murakami tale. Rather, it’s a pastiche of his style; it borrows elements (characters, situations, cultural references) from a selection of his short stories and reworks them to explore the same themes of loss and the fragile reliability of memory that often punctuate the author’s work.
It tells the story of a 20-something woman who suffers from insomnia, thanks to the unnerving presence of a gap-toothed old sailor at her bedside each night. She keeps old photos and scrawled-upon post-it notes pinned to her apartment wall in an effort to hang on to her memories of the past.
The only problem is: she’s forgetting her own name.
The game plays out in as traditional point-and-click adventure fashion as possible. Each of the slightly more than a dozen locations around the sleepy seaside town in which the woman lives is depicted as a single, static screen. You click to look at certain objects, to talk to various people, and to use or combine items you’ve collected along the way. New locations are unlocked as events unfold while certain actions can trigger changes to previously visited areas. The former tend to be well-telegraphed and highlighted on the town map but the latter often require backtracking just to double-check if anything’s changed.
The puzzles are all over the place, frankly. They tend to take more from Murakami’s sense of the absurd than the everyday. Where this fails is when there’s no rhyme nor reason for a particular solution working, or when the surrounding dialogue or character observations fail to do their job in providing clues. But when they succeed there’s a poetical resonance to the solutions. I enjoyed making these leaps of logic, connecting the metaphorical dots even if they were unintuitive. Even when I solved puzzles via brute force, I was often able to appreciate the cleverness of the solution in retrospect. Sometimes, objects in inventory are closer than they appear.