Daedalic Entertainment has garnered much respect these past few years. With numerous releases ranging in style but always maintaining a certain standard of quality, the German developer has justifiably become a driving force in the adventure genre. Their most recent release, Memoria, looks to expand on the events of 2012’s The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, offering players a second trip into the striking but unsettling, gloomy world of Aventuria. It's once again held back from greatness by awkward voice acting and hurried storytelling at times, but within the strange yet stunning fantastical settings, another dark story filled with personal sacrifice unfolds. And this time around the sequel expands on its predecessor's gameplay, including the use of new magic spells that impart a unique flavor on the experience.
Returning players partly reprise the role of the young bird-catcher Geron. A meeting with a travelling merchant named Fahi ignites Geron's search for answers to his one unending question: Will his beloved Nuri ever be the same after the dramatic events of their previous adventure? But Memoria's story is unique in its approach, telling a dual tale that spans centuries and hundreds of miles. On the opposite end, we’re introduced to Sadja, a seemingly cold, decisive, and hard-nosed princess from a much earlier time in the land of Fasar. Underneath her city lie ancient ruins said to contain the "Mask of Malakkar," an ancient artifact that will help her defeat the threatening demonic army of Borbarad. By Geron's time, the tale of Sadja simply recounts her disappearing suddenly, never to be heard from again, and in return for helping Nuri, Fahi charges Geron with solving a riddle that will reveal the truth behind the princess's fate.
In terms of story, Memoria is certainly more ambitious than Satinav, revealing bits and pieces of Sadja's own tale as Geron progresses in "present day." Geron is the vehicle for the telling of Sadja's personal journey, as he's granted the ability to witness the same events Fahi sees nightly in his dreams. The two-tiered story spans multiple settings, from the ruins underneath Fasar to a flying fortress. Geron revisits some familiar places, including the local marketplace and the Academy of Combat Magic, as well as new areas such as the Clothier’s district, the surrounding wilderness, and a surreal garden.
Each character has their share of obstacles to overcome. Geron must solve mysterious events in his home town: villagers being turned into stone pillars, the theft of a merchant’s gems, and the unnerving fate of the magic Academy’s headmaster make up some of the challenges he faces. He is constantly at the mercy of the mysterious entity responsible for acts of theft and murder, while Sadja is tested by a shady travelling companion and undermined by the adepts of the flying fortress Keshal Rhi. The warrior princess’s main goal is to serve in the holy army and make her mark in the history books, all the while a demonic army threatens the fate of her kingdom and its people.
While it's interesting to explore two such distinct storylines, there seems to be a tug-of-war between the tales of the two main characters, and the balance is sometimes tilted in favour of Sadja. I do like the concept of multiple characters separately yet cooperatively forming a whole story, but the flow from scene-to-scene is not always consistent, and at times all the mandatory switching back and forth denies the story the clarity of a single perspective. The seemingly disparate perspectives of Geron's and Sadja's stories do come together at the end, though Sadja's conclusion lacks much emotional impact.
The supporting cast in Memoria is memorable, but largely under-utilized. Returning from Satinav are the likes of the strange fairy scholar and the headmaster of the Academy. But many new characters are added as well, including Bryda, the prized novice of the Academy, and a magical wooden staff that accompanies Sadja on her journey. The variety and distinctiveness of these secondary personalities is welcome, but it's also what makes the quick entrance and exit of some of them somewhat disappointing. Daedalic has a knack for creating colorful characters, but in Memoria exposition often takes precedence over character development.
The protagonists themselves are hit-and-miss. Geron is slightly more believable this time around as a hero in love, but he's still somewhat lacking in conviction. Sadja is supposedly callous, but later events confused me when clashing interpretations emerged, her intended personality of a strong, motivated princess somewhat deflated by the conclusion of the game. By the end I felt like I'd lost sight of the character she was meant to be, buried among the many story elements requiring resolution. We’ve had one full game to learn about Geron and Nuri, but Sadja’s characterization is compromised here by the focus on multiple characters. By the end, I felt her personality had been redefined in a way that wasn't particularly justified by the story.
The bigger problem that hinders Memoria's characters is the unconvincing, awkward voice acting, which seems to be an issue with many localized Daedalic adventures. One of the first characters we meet, Fahi’s young daughter, sounds like she's simply reciting her lines, but other children are far worse – a particular disappointment considering Daedalic's own The Night of the Rabbit starred a strong voice actor in a youthful role. Geron’s original voice actor returns, but while he occasionally raises his voice, for the most part his performance is flat and disconnected. Fahi turns in one of the more authentic performances in a suitably Middle Eastern accent, but overall the cast suffers from a lack of voice direction.
Dialogues show characters fairly close-up at times, and the lip-sync animations are off as well. Some movements cut out, or don’t show at all. As I progressed I got used to it, and the highly detailed character drawings help atone for the jittery animation. Fortunately, the script itself works well for the most part, and I didn’t find the translation at all problematic.Continued on the next page...