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AGAIN: Interactive Crime Novel (DS) artwork

AGAIN: Interactive Crime Novel (DS) review

"Again is the latest (and maybe last) interactive novel game from Cing, the developers of Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk. Such a pedigree makes this game even more disappointing than it otherwise would be."

Again is the latest (and maybe last) interactive novel game from Cing, the developers of Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk. Such a pedigree makes this game even more disappointing than it otherwise would be.

This time around, the gimmick is the lead character's ability to examine crime scenes as they appear at two different points in time. The touch screen shows the present, while the top screen provides a look into the past (with "past" falling anywhere from five minutes to 30 years before the present depicted in the game). For the player, then, the key is to make sure that the environment shown in both scenes matches.

For example, if a door was slightly open in the past, opening that door in the present will allow you to view a short cinema scene that reveals one aspect of the crime taking place. Once you've uncovered all of those scenes from an area and have pieced them together in the proper order, a more revealing scene will play and usually reveal the faces of both the victim and any criminal involved. It's an interesting concept up to a point, but it could have been better implemented. Most occurrences in the game are just too dull and there's no attempt to spice them up for the player's sake. Suppose that you choose to examine a chair, for instance. Your character probably won't say anything more than "It's a chair" or "This chair is old" or something equally boring and unhelpful.

Of course, what really makes or breaks an interactive novel game is the story. Unfortunately, that may be Again's biggest weakness. The game follows the adventures of FBI agent J. Weaver (henceforth known as "Scowly McFrownstoomuch") and his partner/sidekick agent Kate Hathaway ("Ponytail," as I like to call her). The game opens with Scowly and Ponytail, who have been led to the scene of the first in a string of unsolved 19-year-old murders. Said crimes ultimately ended with the deaths of young Scowly's parents, Mr. and Mrs. McFrownstoomuch, and the disappearance of his older brother.

Upon entering the room where the first boring victim was killed, picking up the killer's trademark "Eye of Providence" (which has been cut out of a dollar bill) and experiencing the cheesiest migraine headache in the history of cheesy headaches, Scowly discovers that he has magical past-seeing powers. He uses those powers to find a message that someone wrote directly to him. It has been scrawled on the bathroom wall. That message? The killer is back and is planning a repeat performance of this two-decade-old show. After passing out and waking up in a hospital room--and against Ponytail's protests--Scowly hops out of bed and decides to re-open the long-abandoned case of the Providence murders.

Supporting characters include the schizoid Detective Beardface, who you can tell is totally badass because he has a beard that extends halfway down his neck. Detective Beardface can't decide whether he wants to choke Scowly to death for being an FBI agent, or be his BFF and have sleepovers and braid his hair and talk about secret crushes. There's also Asian Forensic Scientist Lady, who is only too happy to run silly errands for Scowly instead of examining boring old bloodstains, and Bitter Hoodie Man, who sometimes looks a bit like a Skrull. All characters are represented by sprites made from photographs of real-life actors, a style you probably haven't seen since the mid 90's. It's a an appropriate approach in this instance, since everyone in the cast appears as flat as his or her personality as a result.

The plot itself is full of twists and turns, but you'll see them coming from a mile away. Once you solve the first murder, you'll easily be able to predict the most of the remaining murders, but that won't stop Scowly and Ponytail from freaking out every single time there's a new body. The overreaction isn't exclusive to murders, either. The fact that two characters are romantically involved is revealed several times by multiple characters, but that won't stop Scowly's jaw from dropping the fifth or sixth time he hears about it.

There's the pacing. Oh, God, the pacing! Most of the time, you can figure out who you're supposed to talk to next by paying attention to the last person who spoke to you. However, it's not at all uncommon to find yourself systematically chatting up every single person whom you've encountered in the game so far as you look for that one key person who will allow you to progress the story.

For example, you'll hear about Lead A from someone, but you won't know who to ask for more information about Lead A, so you ask everyone. After asking everyone and getting nowhere, you'll receive a phone call from someone you can't contact yourself, telling you that they've investigated Lead A and have found a bit more information. Then Lead A will become Lead A(2) and you'll try to figure out who would know more about Lead A(2). It turns out that everyone knows a little bit about Lead A(2), so you'll have to talk to everyone AGAIN in order to gather bits and pieces of information. Much of that information is just something that you already knew, presented in slightly different wording. It's boring and predictable, two qualities that keep such discussion from being rewarding. There's so little in the way of actual interaction that it ends up feeling like you're reading a book, only now you have to search every room in your house to find each new page.

The writers must have realized that the story they were telling was terrible, so they threw in a completely pointless thread that is more engaging than the main tale that the game weaves. The events in that thread are actually somewhat interesting and difficult to predict, but their outcome is never properly resolved! The one question that I couldn't answer for myself remained unanswered and I don't even care because the overall explanation at the game's conclusion is so stupid that any additional answers would probably wind up being equally lame.

What all of the above really means is that if you're in the mood for a visual novel adventure for the DS, Hotel Dusk is a much better place to look. If you've already played it, play it again to remember the days when Cing made great adventure games. Again will just depress you.


Roto13's avatar
Freelance review by Rhody Tobin (April 24, 2010)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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