Unearth conspiracies that will change your view of the world. Find and arrest demented serial killers that threaten the lives of innocents. Confront spirits from other worlds. Fight wars with all manner of creatures, alien or otherwise. Save the world. Save multiple worlds. Save multiple worlds while fighting alien creatures and unearthing conspiracies that... well, you get the idea. What do all the above have in common? They have all been, at one point or another, the main focus of storylines found in adventure games. These themes have in fact become so common that nowadays players may cringe at the mere sight of yet another adventure game with such a storyline. That is where Trace Memory (A.K.A Another Code: Two Memories) comes in.
At the heart of its story, Trace Memory is simply the tale of an apparently orphaned fourteen year old girl, Ashley Mizuki Robins, and her journey of finding her father, whom she thought dead for years and who has at last decided to contact her, asking her to meet him in the abandoned island of Blood Edward. However, Ashley’s journey is also about finding herself, and about taking that very important first step from childhood to maturity. Sure, it is true that before long you will encounter (and befriend, interestingly enough) a ghost, and also confront not one but two conspiracies, one in the past and one contemporary to our protagonist’s time, but when the game takes place in an island called “Blood Edward”, did you expect any less? Still, ghost stories and conspiracies are not what this game is about, as the focus of the story remains on young Ashley, and her quest to finally find her father, even if that means undertaking an adventure that would test the courage of grown-ups.
From a technical point of view, the game is quite accomplished, especially for a Nintendo DS game, given that its hardware is not exactly state-of-the-art technology. The graphics are divided in two different parts, two dimensional drawings of the main characters as well as pre-rendered backgrounds make up for the puzzle-solving part of the game, while fully three dimensional graphics are used for the exploring aspects. As for the graphics themselves, they are for the most part really beautiful, since both the two dimensional drawings of the characters and the pre-rendered backgrounds are excellent and really add to the game visual quality. The only ever so slightly negative aspect of the graphics are the three dimensional character models and background which are not at the same level of quality as the rest of the visual part of the game, especially when compared to modern PC games, but that is due to the DS’s limited hardware and not because of the developers’ fault. The music is mostly comprised of moody and almost haunting tunes, which help create the game’s somewhat brooding atmosphere but you are unlikely to remember any of them once you have finished the game.
Trace Memory has a very unique style, which is unlike any other game of its kind, even on the same gaming system. When comparing Trace Memory to Phoenix Wright, the other well-known DS adventure, it is easy to see that the two are both unique and still charming in their own rights, as they do not share a lot between them. If we were to make an analogy through human personalities, Phoenix Wright would be more like the extrovert kind of person, with its vibrant personality and an attitude that grabs you from the throat and never lets go, while Trace Memory is the introvert of the two, with a more introspective view of things, and perhaps, as a game, with a deeper meaning. As mentioned before, Ashley’s tale is one of self-discovery and of finding the father figure that her life has lacked, with all the repercussions that this may have for our young protagonist. Change, especially abrupt change as the one presented in this story, often leaves behind its marks on people, and that is a recurrent theme in the game. At the end of each of the game’s chapters, Ashley reflects back on the events that unfolded during it, in a playable sequence so the game does not become a slide-show, where the player has to answer questions regarding said events as well as Ashley’s past. The reason behind this contemplation is Ashley’s effort to retain her memories throughout her whole ordeal, and retaining her memories means retaining her personality. Our heroine, despite her young age, has realised that the changes taking place in her life could affect her personality in a fundamental way, to such a degree where she would essentially lose herself. It is this fear of the loss of her identity that makes Ashley cling on to her memories, a very realistic fear for anyone going from childhood to puberty and then on to maturity. The theme of lost identity is also evident on other characters, such as D the ghost’s tragic tale and his quest of regaining his memories, and also even with the mystery of who Ashley’s real father is, who she imagines him to be and who he actually turns out to be. I could go on and on about how this theme is explored in the game, but you are better off experiencing it for yourself, trust me. As you may see, Trace Memory’s story emphasises on issues not commonly found in games, especially console games. Due to this, Trace Memory has been somewhat overlooked and dismissed by some as uninteresting, which is really unfair to the game as it provides a different experience to most other representatives of the genre.
Another aspect of the game that adds to its uniqueness is its interface, which effectively combines the features of both first-person and third-person adventure games, all thanks to the dual screens of the DS system. As mentioned above, graphics come in two different styles. On the lower screen, you have the typical third-person representation with you, the player, exploring your surroundings, while on the top screen, whenever you reach a location of interest, the screen changes into a first person view of that location so you can interact with it in more detail. This is also the part where you will be solving puzzles, and they reflect puzzles found both in third-person games, meaning mostly inventory and dialogue puzzles, but also typical first-person adventure game puzzles, such as Myst-like mechanical puzzles. If the sound of the latter type makes you flinch, there is no need to worry. Trace Memory takes full advantage of the DS’s touch screen technology, so you can always manipulate objects through the stylus rather than moving a mouse cursor around, and this makes for a more involving procedure, so you should rarely be bored of this sort of puzzles. In fact, thanks to the excellent use of this technology, Trace Memory provides with some actually new styles of puzzles, something really refreshing since puzzles in adventure games have more or less been rehashed over and over again in the last ten years or so. This new style of puzzles involves the player interacting with their environment in a way not possible in a typical PC adventure point and click game, and it definitely makes things more interesting as it forces the player to think outside the box so to speak, given that you cannot hope to solve some puzzles in a typical way. I wish I could provide with actual examples of such puzzles, but in doing so I would spoil their solutions and that is something I want to avoid, since it is really satisfying to solve them on your own. I will say this, however, when you will be asked to remove dust from an object in the game, expect to react as you would in real life, rather than wagging a cursor all over your screen, as you would in a usual adventure game.
However, sadly not everything is of the same high quality in Trace Memory. If there is one major flaw with the game, it is the fact that is really short. It took me a little over six hours to finish the game, and did I spend a lot of time exploring my environments and paying attention to every line of dialogue. Of course, I would much rather play a short game that is consistently good throughout than play a game full of tedious parts the only point of which is to make it last longer, but six or seven hours of play time is still on the short side, in the end you are likely to be left wanting more from the game. Still, once you finish the game, some of the files found throughout are changed to provide more information on the background of the island and its former residents, so that is one incentive to replay the game, something usually missing in adventure games. Another somewhat negative aspect is the fact that during the last part of the game puzzles are almost non-existent, and you are just moving from room to room and watching cutscenes, a problem that plagued Dreamfall as well, though it is not as bad in Trace Memory’s case since there is still some interactivity left. That, and also you are likely to be so engrossed in the story by the time you get to the end that you may not care about the lack of puzzles all that much and focus on the story a lot more. Lastly, movement in the exploration parts of the game is limited, as the path that you can take through areas, especially the outdoor ones, is fixed and you cannot stray from it, and thus the actual exploration that you get to do is also limited. This may not be that big a problem for people who like linear games, such as myself, but for people who like to explore their environments in games, it may prove to be a quite annoying issue.
In closing, Trace Memory: Two Memories is a special game, with a touching and emotional story as well as a unique and innovative puzzle system that should make it attractive to both old and new fans of the genre. Moreover, it is also one of the best DS games released to this day, providing solid evidence that adventure games can not only flourish in console systems, but also create new ground for the genre. Developers Cing have already announced that they are working on a new adventure game for the DS system, called “Hotel Dusk: Room 215” and offering a noir-style police story, so hopes are high that they will manage to impress once more.