I’ve been continuing with my easy-to-finish visual novels, particularly as it’s been difficult for me to focus on actually completing games these days. It’s probably also partly due to the fact that I’ve since moved, which has completely changed my schedule. So this time, I’ve spent a bit of time playing Analogue: A Hate Story, which is a visual novel that I would mostly recommend because it’s somewhat different to the others.
The story of Analogue starts with the player being a person who has been hired and sent to investigate the ruins of the Mugunghwa, a ship that mysteriously failed in its mission; you’re meant to look through the ship’s files and download them. During that time, you meet two characters who are AI: *Hyun-ae and *Mute. The asterisks are silent, denoting their status. This means that the entire story is told primarily through log files rather than directly through the characters; they provide explanation for any logs you find, and they outline their own feelings regarding the people in the logs, as they both had relationships with the people of the Mugunghwa.
The first part of the game is spent with *Hyun-ae, and she provides the most information on a character in the log files known as The Pale Bride. When you meet her, she provides you with some information regarding the society; it includes a Korean phrase that apparently means “valuing men above women.” She also details the society from the log files in darker terms and focuses on how patriarchal values have undermined the value of women, treating them like objects; this is something that is clearly shown through The Pale Bride’s diaries, as she originally grew up within a society that had more equality and options. Her diaries show how confused she is, not understanding how the society aboard this ship could’ve gone from what she’d known to the patriarchy she now has to survive within.
The second part is spent with *Mute, who is a frustratingly subservient female AI that will get frustrated with you almost any time you say anything about being an independent woman or a man who supports women. She’s confused by women who haven’t found their place by a man, who haven’t done their duties as wife; she uses very sexist language and often throws around slurs about women that I’d rather the writers not use. She also talks about one of the women who started having an affair with her husband’s mistress, making fun of their love and describing it as being ‘scandalous.’ Understandably, this is part of the story that’s told in the log files; the society that had been aboard that ship was not one that was friendly to anything other than a traditional heteronormative society, and there is a log file provided where the husband finds out and basically torments both his wife and the mistress.
Most of this is probably why I like this visual novel, even if it can be a bit uncomfortable to read at times. I especially like the endings where *Hyun-ae exists; she makes the story relevant with the commentary she provides, and she is far easier to be empathetic toward. *Mute’s paths are particularly difficult to tolerate because of the excessive sexism she provides as a literal product of the society in which she was developed, with exception to the ‘harem’ ending – an ending where you’re forced to kind of break the fourth wall and find a file that neither character has shown you – because you force her to somewhat empathise with and understand *Hyun-ae.
There are some problems with *Hyun-ae’s paths, though. She proclaims love for a person she’s only just met (you, the unnamed protagonist), and she will ask in two ways to basically be your wife. She becomes awkwardly infatuated with your character, and it’s a bit awkward when you pair it with the other aspects of her characterisation. She’s supposed to be strong, independent, and cautious; that was precisely what led her to the decisions that she had previously made. But when interacting with your character, she becomes awkward in many ways that feel counter to everything else you learn about her. That’s really the biggest problem with her.
It’s surprising as a visual novel because one of the elements they rarely deal with includes anything about feminism; the female characters in visual novels are almost always subservient in some way to someone, which is part of what makes the genre typically uncomfortable and frustrating. It’s also part of what makes it such an easy genre to spoof (Hatoful Boyfriend, anyone?), since it often is over the top in so many ways. Analogue takes a different route and actually makes an interesting story that has some elements that could potentially challenge the typical visual novel story. It’s still problematic in its own ways, but it’s enjoyable and something that I can recommend.