The butterfly effect is a curious mechanic which has featured in various forms of media over the years. The whole concept that one small action could cause a chain reaction of events which could, in theory, ultimately lead to an alternative reality where things turn out differently. Visual novels, in general, utilise this process to deliver multiple stories within a single narrative, altering things here and there to deviate just enough so that you get a new experience each time. Song of Memories, from PQube, Pure Wish and Future Tech Ltd Co., Ltd, builds on this and delivers more stories and pathway’s than your average Visual Novel this generation.
I’ll touch on this later (with images), but if you were worried about censorship due to recent events; don’t be. Song of Memories is a very ‘visual’ game with plenty of ‘questionable’ scenes and conversational narrative being spoken by the characters. Last year I was a massive fan of Death Mark for its intriguing story and horrific events, I believe I’ve just found the bar which all other Visual Novels will need to impress me if they wish to take the throne as my favourite VN of 2019…
Song of Memories has a lot of things going on within it that it’s a little hard to keep up with at some points. Its marketing touts it as a “romantic visual novel with a dark and sinister underbelly” – I didn’t really pick up on the romantic side of the story until I had sunk around 25 hours into the game and completed one of the many pathways, but I’ll talk about that later.
The gist of the story is, there is a rogue disease that is currently affecting people outside of Japan known as the X-Virus. Little is know about this illness, but we’ll learn more about it as our story progresses. We take the role of Minato Kamishiro, or whatever you wish to name him, who has lived at home with his sister since their parents died in a plane accident. Both characters have four very close friends, who we’ll interact with throughout the course of the story, a mysterious older lady, and our long-time childhood friend, Kanon, who has recently been discharged from hospital having been in there for many years in Europe.
Our story takes place over the course of one month, October. It’s a month our characters will never forget for as long as they live as events will unfold which will leave scars, memories, and regrets as things go from great to tragedy. You will cry at various points within this story, that’s a heads-up from me. The first half of the game, which I thought was the whole game, see’s our characters go about their day-to-day life. You’ll attend school, pick dialogue options, choose who to hang out with, attend events with certain characters, and discover things about each other as you learn more about what’s going on outside of Japan with the odd TV news report here and there.
Then, depending on how you play the game, which routes you take, who favours you, and what dialogue you chose, you’ll end up with either a good or bad ending, or branch off to one of six new four-six hour ending pathways. These are filled with a lot more action, critical choices, insight, and intense scenes than you’d have seen so far. I achieved the platinum this morning in Song of Memories, it took me around 50 hours. You’ve really not played the game until you’ve seen at least one of the pathways all the way through, I literally couldn’t stop playing until I’d seen every single one of them.
Visual Novel or Interactive story?
Song of Memories, for me, felt more like an interactive story than a Visual Novel (in the literal sense). I’ve been playing London Detective Mysteria on the PS Vita recently (review soon), and that’s your standard Otome game, a female protagonist who finds love with one of the male characters whilst you’re there to read about their stories and make a few choices depending on who you wish to end up within the final chapter. Song of Memories is similar but there are a lot more interactions as you’re given choices every few minutes in regards to what you say to people, where you wish to go next, or how you react to situations.
I’ve seen that some reviewers out there have criticised the game for its slow pace and supposed ‘lack of change based on your choices’, two aspects I would strongly disagree with. Sure, the game could be seen as being ‘slow’ if you’re not a fan of the genre, but I was kept entertained the whole way through and became emotionally attached to each and every one of the named characters to the point I would sometimes jump back a choice or two to alter the outcome. That brings me to my initial point, the butterfly effect. Choices matter, not all of them as some of them are meaningless and won’t affect the outcome at all. However, who you choose to hang out with, where you wish to go, and even what food you give to someone, all affect future events, relationships, pathways, and choices.
The changes are sometimes subtle, such as you may walk home with one character and have a conversion in a shop which is similar to another girl you choose to walk home with, yet others may offer more background on the story, offer a date to a new place with new dialogue and events, and even a completely different ending to the game. Going back and forth between the choices you’ve made is easy as you can bring up a chart at any time and simply return to any point you’ve experienced and pick a new option. Although, this leads me to my first complaint…
Song of Memories has one of the most complicated and confusing timelines I’ve ever seen in a Visual Novel! First of all, I love that they’ve given us a graphical style in the vein of a calendar/school timetable. But for an avid trophy hunter like myself (with no guides or hints for the game on the internet), navigating and understanding this was a chore! I think it finally clicked after I’d played for about 20 hours, that’s when I realised how I could alter the future and manipulate the relationships going forward.
I’ll keep my understanding brief, but it may help you. Above is the chart. The timetable is made up of Joint (grey) events and character-specific (coloured) events. Each of these events will have a border around them which indicates if it’s a D4U episode, a MAP event, an ending segway, or an Around event. You may also have numbered tiles, these indicate which choices you have made and if they’ve affected the person in question. If the answer is in pink then it a positive towards that persons ending, if it’s grey then it made no difference.
So, what are those borders all about?
D4U Episode: Early on in the game you acquire a mobile device with a five-piece Idol-like pop group AI housed within it known as Dream 4 U. These girls will appear within the game to help you during combat and chat with you in order to confirm your feelings and basically give you hints on how the relationship is going. These border-based events just mean you have the chance to talk to either of the five of them or ignore them. If going for 100%, you have to do all six options.
MAP Choice: In the second half of the game, when it gets more intense, you’ll be able to roam around a map as you make your way through the town. This border indicates those segments as there is quite a bit of combat here.
Ending: Easy one this, if it’s gold then playing this event will lead to a music video and the start of that characters ending pathway.
Around Event: These are events with set requirements. Basically, some of these won’t let you access them until you have seen the previous one, some require you to pick certain narrative choices, or be with a certain person in a set location prior to this event. An example would be when you go swimming – here you can pick either character to hang around with. Whichever you pick will lock you into their story until you deviate.
Is it a love story?
Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t even think of Song of Memories as a dating or romantic game for quite a while. For me, it was a story about a guy and his sister hanging around with their friends, getting into some questionable situations, and generally just going about their day until the festival at the end of October – which I presume is Halloween as it looks like it but isn’t referenced as such. On a side note, what is it with Halloween? Tokyo Xanadu eX+ also ended at Halloween if I recall correctly.
The reason I didn’t realise is that my first playthrough consisted of me reading the story and picking the choices I wanted without looking into the chart that often. This ultimately led me to the ‘normal’ ending, an uneventful point in which the game ended without anything tragic or exciting happening. Not going to lie here – this ending made me question, “is this it?”. I honestly thought the game was going for an ending which made the game seem like a 25-hour story that was going nowhere at all. However…
I decided to go back and experiment with the chart and understand what it represented and how I could find a girl, stick with her and ensure I reached some kind of resolve with her – I wanted to see big, bouncy boo… I mean, I wanted to see a more satisfying ending! And, oh boy was I right in doing so. Not only did I uncover new events which deviated from the ‘joint’ events and had me spending more time with the girl I chose, but it also leads me to the new storyline ending which I had no idea even existed. Each girl you choose, with their respective endings, have their own good and bad routes, ending song, ‘what happened next’ CG and variation on the final half of the game.
That’s right, I refused to just achieve one ending, as I wanted to see if the pathways were the same game, only from the perspective of another character. Two of them play out in a similar fashion, but all six pathways deliver an alternative take on the events which occur after October 31st. So, if you play the game and feel it’s not that romantic, you’re either not focusing on one girl in particular or you’ve not hit the point where choices matter yet.
Did you say combat?
I mentioned earlier that Song of Memories has some combat segments in it. I initially enjoyed these but I soon grew tired due to their length and the influx of them you get during the ending pathways. When engaged in combat, the D4U girls jump into action as you play a simplified game of Osu. If you’ve not heard of that – think Elite Beat Agents, Persona Dancing, Theatrhythm, Hatsune Miku etc… Music plays and you have to press the corresponding button as the note is highlighted on the screen. The more notes you hit, the more damage you take off the enemy.
Thankfully, you can actually ‘skip’ every single fight via an option you’re given. This skips the segment and gives you the experience as if you’ve just won. This levels up the girls and unlocks new songs really quickly. These seemed like a nice distraction at first, but after about 15 hours or so, I started to just skip them as I wanted to get back into the story for I was hooked on finding out what was going to happen next.
Okay, some of these extra features will sound familiar, as we usually get them with Visual Novels anyway, but there are some which I’ve not seen before – Song of Memories is literally bursting with content!
• Access to view all of the main CG again, in all their moving glory
• Access to all main events, so the text and CG played back at any time
• A set of four mini-episodes which are 30-60 minutes long each – these should be watched after you’ve completed the game
• A ‘what happened next’ 10-15 minute episode for each character upon getting their ending
• Both Web trailers
• A countdown of voices from each of the characters both on and post-launch
• Two video introductions for each of the characters introducing themselves (24 videos)
• A glossary of info on words, places, people, events, and items which you complete as you play the game
• Three small segments with each of the five members of D4U which unlock over time
• A diorama creator which utilises the games ‘E-mote’ mechanic to create your perfect scene!
Now, that’s the ‘bonus content’ which is provided on top of the 40-50 hours of actual gameplay footage, which is over 40 hours of recorded voices (including the protagonist) and more than four CD’s worth of music! That’s a lot of content for your money but, there’s one thing above I’ve not mentioned yet…
I’ve mentioned this process a few times, let’s talk about it. I’ve played a few different styles of Visual Novel, Punch Line and The Midnight Sanctuary were both fully 3D with scenes you could explore in a 3D space with 3D models, 428: Shibuya Scramble consisted of thousands of photographs to create a unique and distinct experience, and most VNs are simply still images of the characters faces which have a number of various expressions, as we saw in Death Mark. Song of Memories lies between Death Mark and Punch Line.
The E-mote system basically takes a 2D image and applies structure to the image in the background, this allows the character to self-animate to create an almost anime-style of animation on the fly as you play. It also means all characters will fidget, sway, blink, change their expression, and dynamically alter their feelings as you listen to the dialogue. It’s a layer of depth I’ve not seen so far in the VNs I’ve played outside of the 3D modelled ones. One funny aspect to this is, when a character begins to talk, all the females appear to ‘jiggly’ their baby feeders as if they’ve just given us a little shimmy! It’s rather amusing and is very entertaining to watch as you read the dialogue (as it’s on boob-level).
Now, I mentioned this mechanic was within the diorama in the bonus section – it’s quite fun as well. In here, you can pick any of the main characters, the D4U girls, and a few NPCs who you interact with throughout Song of Memories. You can only do one girl at a time, but you can swap between all the clothes in the game, change backgrounds and the time of day, alter the size of the girl, and also adjust all the E-mote settings. These settings include adjusting how the body is positioned, the facial expressions, the direction she is looking, the eye and mouth shapes etc… I’m not a big diorama fan, but as a bonus feature, it’s quite fun and interesting to see how the devs most likely controlled the girls behind the scenes.
Song of Memories simply looks so clean and crisp compared to some Visual Novels out there. The E-mote system works wonders as it brings the 2D drawn assets to life as they move in a fluid and realistic-like way whereas technically remaining as 2D drawn creations. As with any VN these days, the environments are beautifully drawn, the characters have had a lot of love and attention put into them, and the Fan Service is there for those who like the more ‘intense’ scenes. This combined with the memorable and very beautiful soundtrack comes together to create an experience that is emotional, exciting, interesting and addictive.
In regards to censorship concerns – in order to pass the rating board, the English version of the game had a few alterations made to it – these are present on both the PS4 AND the PC versions of the game. Basically, the girls’ ages have been either adjusted or removed from any conversations/the glossary and the word ‘School’ was changed into an Academy (although the map still calls it a school), and that’s it. So, no accusing Sony of censoring anything this time please, it was simply a change to appease the rating board without changing any in-game content.
Now, the game isn’t perfect, in terms of the technical side. I found a rare crash at the end of one of the endings should you be using a PS4 Pro and have Supersampling turned on. This has been reported so should be patched – if not, just disable Supersampling if you experience a crash. There are also a few translation issues here and there. A few words like “can’t” appear like “can ‘t” sometimes, I’ve seen “Schoo”, instead of School (probably why it wasn’t changed), and a few others missing the first or last letter – nothing major though.
Also, as you can see by the images, the text is really, really small. I have a 51″ TV and I sit about two meters back – this meant the text was sometimes hard to read as certain parts were a mere 1cm in size on that TV! I got used to reading the main dialogue text, but any instructional text may require you to get up and move closer to the screen. Playing Song of Memories on a small TV (about 19 inches) will be a disaster unless you’re right on top of it. There’s also no way to increase the font size – not even using the PS4’s accessibility options. Hopefully this is something the developers can implement in a patch, but I’m personally thinking the small font may be why the Switch isn’t getting a port.
Thankfully, all the trophies will unlock on day-one as I got the platinum earlier on today with no issues once I worked out how to get the final few trophies.
Okay, I’ll try and keep this short as the review has gone on much longer than anticipated – if you like Visual Novels then Song of Memories should be on your radar. It’s a shame the Switch port was cancelled as I know a number of people who would have loved playing this game due to their addiction with Visual Novels – but that was something outside of PQube’s hands I heard. Personally, I feel Song of Memories is very interesting. If you play through the game and don’t even glance at how your choices are affecting the story, then you’ll get a “is that it” ending, yet focusing on each girl will deliver so much more when the second half of the game is expanded upon and becomes playable.
There are a few predictable parts within the story – especially if you’ve already played a pathway through to the true ending. Yet each path feels new and exciting, with a whole new final half of the game focusing on that girl yet still exploring how the others interact with you in this ‘butterflied’ pathway. The combat was fun at first but got a little repetitive towards the end, but it’s an interesting way to keep you engaged and introduces us to some really good songs from the D4U girls. One thing I will say is, go into this game thinking of it as an interactive story with multiple pathways, plus a side serving of Otu-style music events. It’s not as interactive or engaging as Death Mark or Punch Line, but your choices do matter and will eventually lead to a life or death situation based on how you’ve chosen to tell your tale.
If it’s not obvious, I Loved this game and I think you will too.
Visual Novel fans looking for a new story to become absorbed into should pick up Song of Memories upon release. The game is a flip on the Otome style, having a male protagonist who is surrounded by big breasted beauties who he’s grown up with yet has suddenly begun to have feelings develop regarding one of them (players choice). The baseline story sees you preparing for and hosting a Halloween event within October, the real endings kind of bring about the end of the world!
However, depending on your choices, what happens next will leave you with very mixed emotions, tears will fall, people will shout at their TV, and minds will be blown as we all know, happiness comes at a price.
Song of Memories is a story you will become absorbed into as you become emotionally attached to every named character. You’ll also want to watch the E-mote animations in play as you listen to the brilliant voice acting and hear the witty and funny dialogue being acted out perfectly in Japanese. The game itself is bursting with content as much as Natsume’s boobs are bursting to get out of her skimpy clothes! The final question is, who will be your waifu?
Song of Memories£44.99
- - A story which pulls you in and makes you instnatly emotionally attached to all the named characters
- - A very entertaining and self-aware script with sexy, funny and serious events
- - The E-mote process for moving the 2D characters is really good, the 2D assets deliver more emotions than most 3D games!
- - The music in the game is awesome, Dream 4 U are a great choice for the game
- - Over 40 hours of base-game content, many more if you dive into the many bonus features and aim for 100% completion of all storylines
- - The text is very small, even on a big TV. I hope the developers can increase this moving forward
- - The combat segments are cool at first but can get a little repetitive
- - The 'chart' you use to move back and forward through events is a little connfusing as you're never 100% sure what actions you've taken up until that point
- - There is a technical bug for Pro users using Supersampling at the moment (pre-launch). See my review on how to overcome this if it's not resolved