Trace Memory

Developer Cing made its Nintendo DS debut with this game in 2005. Previously, Cing had only made games for PlayStation 2 and mobile phones. Despite being rookies with the unique Nintendo hardware, Cing stepped up masterfully to create an engaging mystery novel which set the format for its successors.

Trace Memory puts you in the person of Ashley Robbins, a precocious youth who lives with her aunt because her parents are long missing. For her fourteenth birthday, Ashley receives invitation to a rendezvous with her long lost father on a remote island aptly named “Blood Edward Island.”

The Interactive Novel

Like Hotel Dusk: Room 215, this game bears many of the hallmarks of a novel. It is dialogue and exposition heavy, using flashbacks, imagery, and subtlety of detail to deliver information and clues to the player. The game is, naturally, interactive, and to a certain extent you control the outcome. There are various endings in the game each which hinge upon how you approach things. Some would be considered “failures” while others are usually varying degrees of success. This is true of many games, but in Trace Memory, the differences make life and death differences for the characters.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

As the title suggests, recall and memory play vital roles in the game’s outcome. Ashley is confused by her past. Her memory of her parents and what happened to them is vague and frightening. Her moments of clarity are coupled with terror as she tries to deal with the memories that are surging to the surface of her mind. At the same time, Ashley’s companion, the disembodied spirit of a young boy, must also try to regain his memories so that he can pass on to the next world. Both characters’ memories suggest that their pasts are anything but rosy– full of murder, grief, and tragedy. These are heavy subjects for children to broach, but together both characters are able to cope as they hunt for the truth. The boy also helps the reader/player to view the tragedy of his life as the potential for a catastrophic end to Ashley’s.

This hunt becomes difficult when other characters from Ashley’s past emerge with conflicting stories, and tell her about Trace Memory, the technological marvel that casts everything she knows into doubt. The machine, conceived and created by her father, mother, and their partner can read the memories of a person or even implant them in people’s minds. This adds doubt to Ashley’s quest, and removes any trust she had in anyone she had encountered.

This game is not for children. Though the protagonist is a child, the game is a tale of murder, distrust, betrayal, and the unsettling memories people try to bury in their past. As far as novels go, it isn’t a very imaginative set of themes, but the interactivity of drawing the mystery out into the open for yourself helps to fill in those gaps.

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