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2016-02-08

Aurora Memoria - Philosophical Data Session: 2093 Review

Title: Aurora Memoria - Philosophical Data Session: 2093
Release date: 2015-09-24
Developer: DV-i
Publisher: Priz Tats

"Aurora Memoria" has one of the most interesting origins out of all English language visual novels. It was started as a musical project by a composer DV-i (formerly of the synth pop band "Konnichiwa") and was intended to showcase his 5 track EP. The actual VN was just a side project to package the music, which is such an insane idea that I still cannot wrap my head around it. After all, it probably took so much more time and effort to create the visual novel presentation than just to release a music album. So, there is something very ironic about the fact that I find DV-i's music totally unimpressive and the least noteworthy aspect of the game.

It's probably not fair to lambast the music in "Aurora Memoria", considering DV-i did a lion's share of an otherwise very nice looking VN by his lonesome. He composed the music, created character models, produced animations and programmed the whole thing, which resulted in one of the most impressive looking OELVN's I have ever seen. For DV-i the game might have been all about music, but for me it was surely the looks that immediately separated it from the crowd.
Welcome to the future.
The developer aimed to produce a game that reminisced to the earlier era of video gaming. Specifically, character models were created low-polygonal, as if they jumped straight out of some game from an early 3D era. These characters wouldn't look out of place in some PS1 title from the middle 1990s. While the nostalgia factor is high here, the real astonishing thing is that everything in the game is animated! From the tiniest background details to actual fully animated scenes... in the background. The scene in a cinema shows an actual movie being displayed on the screen. I didn't think that Ren'Py engine is capable of such feats.

The attention to smallest details is very high. DV-i tried to make the UI as futuristic looking as possible, and considering that the game takes place in a post-apocalyptic pseudo-cyberpunk world, he succeeded. Graphical interface totally sells the supposed setting and time frame of the game. Nonetheless, once the first wonder passes, a nagging feeling that the game is not really that good starts to set in, and the reason for that is lackluster plot and insufficient characterisation.
What a pleasant guy.
In "Aurora Memoria" we play a nameless protagonist of indeterminate gender and that immediately raises all sorts of red flags for me, as such featureless protagonists are a staple of poorly made dating sims. Our protagonist has exactly zero characterisation or character growth throughout the VN, which really hurts the story. He or she has been accepted as a member of Accelerated Classes in a prestigious Fuji Academy in Japan (or what remains of Japan after a poorly explained apocalyptic event) and moved there from the city of NuNew York (what a needless tongue twister). As it will soon become very tiring to call our protagonist a "protagonist", henceforth I will call him/her "Dude". So, Dude is a student of Philosophy, and during the very first lesson he is paired with one of the three possible partners. Obviously, each of these persons corresponds to a different character route.
Democratic Labour People's Republic of Consciousness.
I chose to be paired with Hisoka Lethe, a silent moody student, first. Apparently, she has amnesia (of course) and cannot remember anything from half a year ago. With your help, you two determine that Hisoka used to be a hacker, and then try to use her latent hacking skills to unearth her history. Hisoka's route is a quest for identity. She distances herself from her previous unknown self and sees Hisoka-before and Hisoka-after as two different people. That is a fair outlook, because as Hisoka discovers more and more about herself it becomes clear that these "two" people do not share much, except for a name. And then the route had to tackle some stupid conspiracy onto the end, and everything goes down the drain. Now that I look back, I ask: "What's the point?" Was the ending supposed to be shocking, because it didn't succeed. It just makes me sad that I played Hisoka's route first, because it serves as the closest thing this VN has to a true end. Once you finish her route, there are no secrets anymore and the game loses its mystery. "Aurora Memoria" is one of those novels, where an unlockable final route would have actually fit within the narrative, but alas, there is no such thing.
Let's just call this VN a Philosophical Treatise on Love.
George Martelli's route is entered if you choose James Taranto as your Philosophy partner (yes, it makes sense in context). He approaches you as you are waiting for James in the garden and appears to be quite a mysterious young man, who at first even refuses to introduce himself. He talks in a strangely poetic fashion and as his first act upon meeting the protagonist, brings him to an underground lake. Dude becomes attracted to George's aura of mystery and tries to find more about him. After reading this route my opinion is this: the scenario writer stuffed so much filler purple prose here that it started choking me and I had to seriously try to prevent myself from regurgitating it all over my screen. The whole plot can be summed-up in one sentence once all the filler material has been excised: George loved a girl but couldn't get her, out of grief he fell into drugs, alcohol and attachment-free sex until Dude came onto scene slapped his stupid mug and said: "Get a hold of yourself, man!" Happy ending! Seriously, dat purple prose almost killed me. And if you have imagined your Dude protagonist to be a male, like I did, the writing forced it look like the gayest gay route that has ever gayed gays.
Cheeky AI.
Once we had a girl and a boy romantic interest, the third route of course belongs to an AI, because it's the far future... yeah. Zeitgeist, who was definitely not produced in Germany, is a newly programmed artificial intelligent. Your Philosophy professor gives you an assignment to interact with the program in order to see how it sponges the information through behavioural diffusion and how it develops feelings on this or that subject. Any genre savvy player knows what happens next. Zeitgeist develops Feelings with a capital "F" for our Dude. Dude reciprocates and they all but start walking around holding hands. And then the happy ending comes. That is, if you picked the right choices.

"Aurora Memoria" has a total of nine endings; three for each route. There are no surprises there, you get a "Bad", a "Normal" or a "True" ending, depending on how well you treat your chosen partner. The choices are mostly intuitive (though George's route can probably be problematic for some) and I managed to reach all endings without any trial or error. The walkthrough is here to aid you:
» Walkthrough «

I also feel that DV-i poorly explored the setting, which had an enormous potential. We only see glimpses of what it means to live in an "Aurora Memoria" world - people are connected to the global network 24/7 and can even send e-mails by just thinking about it. The dark side of such a global digitisation is an apparent total surveillance by various AI's. Hell, one scene heavily implies that connection to the network is mandatory and when Dude turns off the personal interface, it reminds him that it will go back online in 15 minutes. It's chilling to think that you would have to have a mandatory Facebook in your head at all times and not able to disconnect from it for longer than 15 minutes. Sadly, such interesting setting details are pushed aside in favour of telling three love stories no one cares about.
Philosophy teacher.
I was not really awed by the storytelling aspect of the visual novel, but graphically the game left a lasting impression. It seems DV-i managed to squeeze every last drop from the Ren'Py engine and the game seems to be struggling even on new computers. That can create problems while skipping already read text, as the "Skip" function is uncommonly slow, especially during the animations.

All in all, "Aurora Memoria" is a mediocre game with some good and some bland parts, and overall I had fun playing through it. It's really short, with each route taking about an hour to complete, thus it won't swallow a lot of your time, though a large download size for a Ren'Py game (about 3 GB) might be daunting to some.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official game site
Game's page on Priz Tats
Game's page on Itch.io
DV-i's Soundcloud
Thread at Lemma Soft forums

Final Verdict: 64 %

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