Review by Chocobahn
"You will enjoy it more by reading it, not playing it."
Jake Hunter is a private investigator, and like every private investigator you see on TV, he is the chain-smoking, loner type character who hides around corners, waiting for that unfaithful spouse to walk out the front entrance of a love hotel. Except one thing, Jake doesn't stalk adulterous partner. He solves real crimes like murders, conspiracies and petty theft.
There are six self-contained cases in the main game. Each one can take upwards of three hours to complete. It is a long time when you consider that there is not much 'gaming' to be had (I will discuss that later). If anyone has played the likes of the popular Phoenix Wright series will get the general feel of this game. But do not be mistaken, this is not Phoenix Wright.
Memories of the Past is a dialogue driven game. There is a bunch of dialogue to go through. Cases are, for the most part, interesting. It is full of twist and mystery. It is up to you to guide Jake in his quest to solve the crime. The narrative is not as engaging or even dry in some places. But for what it is worth, it does reasonably well.
However, characters are very one-dimensional. Besides Jake, his secretary / personal assistant Yulia Marks and his friend King at the police station, other characters appear sparingly and without any substance. This is due to no fault of the game, given that there is just not enough time in each case to have any real character development.
In Ace Attorney, you may find characters or settings that interlink with a different case, but in Memories of the Past, each case is a stand alone. There is no links between cases. It is like reading a collection of short stories, not unlike reading Sherlock Holmes, really.
The main part of Memories of the Past is 99% visual novel, 1% game. There is no gaming to be had in the main cases. The flow of the game involves you being given a case, then go around places to collect evidence, interview witnesses, starting a fight, dodging bullets, etc, and of course, solving the crime.
Locales you can visit are limited to those that will advance the story in some way, and once you are there, you will not leave the place until you have met all the people you meant to meet and collected all the evidence you meant to collect.
You cannot go wrong in the six main cases in Memories of the Past. All the dialogue trees are predefined. If you choose a 'wrong' option, the game will guide you back onto the right track.
This is a dialogue driven game. As such, there are hordes of dialogue to go through. It is a mostly linear procession of descriptive text and dialogue windows that you click through. If you are looking for some lighter moments, you will probably be disappointed. There is hardly any humorous moments. The cases are heavy, the crimes brutal and it often leads Jake into the darker side of humanity.
As far as interaction is concerned, you are presented with options (like "inspect" or "talk"), and by cycling them through, you will eventually finish what you have to do in that location and move onto the next one.
By not opening up all the locations at once, it saves you the frustration of having to wonder all around the place in order to trigger the next scene, but it also severely restrict your movement by 'holding your hand' all throughout the game.
At a certain point in each case, Jake will sit down and organise his thoughts. It basically consists of a mini quiz that question about the things that have happened during that segment of the case. This is a way to refresh a player's memory and making sure that you are paying attention to the game and not just skipping all the dialogues.
There is an inventory system that holds basic things, such as your phone, business card, or evidence. But you hardly ever refer to them unless it is required by the game. For example, the game does not automatically dial or answer the phone for you, you have to do that yourself (I hardly consider that as 'gaming').
If you are stuck in the game (which I find it hard to believe), you can have Jake light up a cig and consider his next move. It comes as a surprise to see that this 'feature' is allowed in the English version, considering Phoenix Wright have to do with 'grape juice', even though it is clearly wine.
If you are after some light entertainment, you will find them in Jake Hunter Unleashed. These are (very) short cases that are designed to be played for laughs. Characters are drawn chibi style, with cut-out cardboard feel to the characters. They are light-hearted, entertaining cases that take a break from the much more serious crime in the main game.
Just like the main game, you are given a case (that you cannot refuse, even when you are given a choice to), interview some suspects, crime scene, then come up with a deduction that will point you to the culprit of some hideous crime, such as making an ugly mess in the store room of the local drama club.
Unlike the main game, though, you can actually lose in Jake Hunter Unleashed if your deduction is incorrect. So for better or for worse, you need to investigate every place thoroughly and read every testimony carefully.
Throughout the entire game, there are some code words that are scatter around. These are passwords that unlocks art galleries, commentaries, bonus animated shorts and the likes. A database can be accessed from the main menu that shows a brief description of the cases and characters that appear in them. Nothing overly appealing in it.
Graphics direction in Memories of the Past somewhat stray away from a typical game. This game has a dark, serious tone to it, and the colour palette certainly shows that. It mostly comprises of dark dull colour, with the occasional bright colour shining through.
The background is a result of photoshop work superimposed on what I believed to be a real-life photo. This is the first game that I have encountered that uses this kind of technique. It gives off a sense of realism.
Characters, too, are designed with realism in mind. They are far away from the likes of the Ace Attorney series with its anime style characters. I must admit, though, they do not look pretty. In fact, they feel very much like a crayon drawing, a lifeless crayon drawing at that. There is no sprite movement. Most of the time, the characters only have one image.
Short cut scenes are injected throughout the game, usually at the end of each case. They are short, perhaps only lasting a few seconds, and while it does not provide any add-on value, they are a welcoming addition.
Moving onto Jake Hunter Unleashed, and you will be met with cardboard cutouts of our protagonist and his crew. As with the nature of this section of the game, the graphics takes on a complete U-turn from the main cases. They are funny, brightly coloured, and looks every bit like they are about to do something embarrassingly regrettable.
Every tune in this game is full of jazz. Maybe Jake likes listening to it. The music gives off a light feeling amidst all the dark secrets and twists. Sound effects are minimal. You can hear gun shots and fist being thrown, but they are fairly generic and lack oomph.
Being a rather linear game, there is no replay value to speak of. The dialogue is as straight forward as it could be. The one real reason to replay is to obtain password that you have missed so you can unlock extra contents, but they do not worth the reinvested time. Just simply find the code on the internet is much quicker. Yes, I know this is cheating, but are you willing to spend another 12 hours or so going through the same thing just to get some passwords? And there is no guarantee that you will get it in subsequent play through either.
Jake Hunter is a private detective who, in his line of work, sees a lot of murders and crimes and punch ups and whatnots. His world is certain not as dramatic as, say, Phoenix Wright, but Jake undoubtedly make his own marks.
For anyone who have played the Ace Attorney series and expect a similar outing with Jake Hunter, don't. You would be sorely disappointed. As a game, the main cases lack interaction between you, the player, and the characters in the story.
Memories of the Past is more like a visual novel than it is a game. If you like reading detective / mystery novel, you might find this game fascinating, in spite of some spelling errors that crop up here and there.
Despite its not so pretty graphics and lack of interaction, I did find myself engrossed in Jake's adventure, as he uncovers the true culprit(s) behind hideous crimes. This game is not all dark and serious. The humorous Jake Hunter Unleashed is a light-hearted entertainment in its own right.
Unfortunately, I find it hard to recommend this game. Bear in mind this is not for those who are looking for dramatic courtroom showdown, or action packed police chase down Highway 53. This is a narrative driven story that needs to be digested.
* Jazzy music
* Jake Hunter Unleashed is cute, funny and entertaining
* Plenty of extra content
* No game play to speak of
* The main game is dark, full of twist, not for anyone looking for light entertainment
Score (out of 10)
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/26/10
Game Release: Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past (US, 05/26/09)
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