Forgotten Games: Trace Memory (aka: Another Code) (NDS)

another code box shotAnother Code: Two Memories (known as Trace Memory in the US) is a lightweight little adventure game for the Nintendo DS that should be hitting bargain bins soon. Why am I mentioning bargain bins? Because there is one key weakness that you’ll read about in reviews everywhere: The game is short.

But if you pick this game up at a bargain price, you can treat yourself to one of the more ingenious adventure titles to appear in the last few years, one that’s only possible on the DS. And that’s not marketing talk there.

You’ll be guiding 14 year old Ashley around a pretty desolate island. How do teenage girlies with white manga hair end up being stranded on an island? Ashley has received a mysterious package from her dad. Who she thought had been dead all these years. The package contained a relabeled Nintendo DS with a fingerprint reader. Once examined, it lured her and her aunt onto a forlorn little island that seems to have ghosts on it, and a past as tragic as Ashely’s own. You get to uncover her past, that of the island’s inhabitants and that of her father.

What’s charming, and a relief, is that Ashley deals with these circumstances in a more or less mature, coming-of-age story-like manner. Of course you’ll read sentences that seem like “WHAT!!! OMG WHY MY DAD DO THSI TO ME WTF!!!11” from time to time, but all in all the dialog is mature enough not to bore an adult to death. This is refreshing — look at Children of Mana or Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. That’s kiddy dialog right there, and it annoys the hair off my scalp.

Ashley’s very beautifully drawn, in a slightly blurred and softly shaded style that’s not so typical of the mainstream anime I know. Her animations, while only intermittent, are smooth and rather natural. No V-for-victory signs and little arcs for smiley-eyes here, just a normal lanky teenager. With white hair. Grah, so they did have to sneak an anime cliché in there. Look at the box shot for an example, she’s drawn the same way in the game itself. Again, a nice and courageous change from the primary-colored Dead or Alive softporn girls with small noses and humongous breasts that the market cherishes so.

Unfortunately, the style of the 2D art doesn’t seem to extend to the 3D one. On the lower screen, you see the scene in polygonal 3D from a top-down view, where you can move Ashley around with the D-pad or stylus. On the upper screen there is static imagery or the scarcely-animated 2D portraits of people you talk to, and of Ashley herself. While the 2D style is convincing, the still 3D renders of the places you can look at seem like something out of a beginner’s tutorial in 3D modeling. Using POVray. With scenes written by hand, in a text editor. Think “Myst” and you’ll be thinking of prettier vistas still. This is further confused by the polygonal 3D style on the overhead map. It’s not horrible to look at, but it adds yet another style! So we’re dealing with three different graphical styles clashing together in one game. On the other hand, the still images get their job done very well, and Ashley is simply charming. So there.

I’m being all negative here, but that’s actually opposite to the purpose of this posting. What I’m trying to say is that this game, despite it’s shortcomings of, err, being short and utilizing three contrasting graphical styles, is very, very enjoyable. Not only is it a new commercial-grade adventure game, something that is rare in its own right, but it also brings a few innovations to the table, in an era where innovation is often equaled to monetary loss for publishers and when no one wants to take the risk of being the innovator anymore.

I’m talking about a few of the puzzles. You’ll be facing puzzles that involve using your very own Nintendo DS, physically, in completely new ways. And they don’t involve any stylus scribbling or mic blowing at all! I’ll let you find those on your own though, because it’s a very rewarding and surprising experience that makes your heart smile and your mind believe in the vitality of the adventure genre again. On the other hand, you won’t find any brain-wrecking exercises like in, say, an Infocom text adventure. That’s why I said lightweight: You’ll see through most of the puzzles in a few minutes to an hour, casually. If you’re looking for a true brain-teaser, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

To sum it up: The short lifespan of this game would make it disappointing at full price, but if you have any sort of sympathy for the adventure genre, you owe it to yourself to try finding this at either a bargain price or used.

3 thoughts on “Forgotten Games: Trace Memory (aka: Another Code) (NDS)”

  1. I haven’t played Children of Mana, however, in defense of Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, I don’t see how one could expect a mature story and/or mature dialogue from it. The entire game is made to be goofy, from the tank battles, to the enemies, to the main character; while I can’t say I love all of the dialogue/accents present in the game, I certainly feel it would lose something and be rather detrimental to the game if the creators had tried to take a more serious approach.

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  2. Maybe I could word that differently. I didn’t want to unduly criticize DQH etc. for their kiddy dialog but instead mention how Trace Memory differs. I wish DQH in particular wouldn’t annoy me so much, it seems to be rather fun otherwise 😦
    It’s certainly true that it’s part of the style for DQH and wouldn’t make sense any other way 🙂 With Children of Mana and other more typical JRPGs, I think companies just aren’t interested in investing much time into their writing. When people are happy to hear the same formula for the nth time (“Monsters have started to appear around town!”), there’s no incentive to change.

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