8 / 10 Banzai!s
Translated as Aquanaut’s Holiday: Hidden Memories, the game was released in Japan in September of 2008, and never saw an international release. Though there exists a Hong Kong and Korean version which contains “Engrish” subtitles, Hidden Memories is relatively non-existant in the West.
The title is a sequel to Aquanaut’s Holiday released for the Playstation One back in 1995, which DID see an international release. So why not Hidden Memories? Who knows. Artdink, the game’s developer, perhaps felt this title wouldn’t sell overseas. Or, since big titles like Grand Theft Auto IV were just released, Artdink felt they couldn’t compete with a game about fish – and has since been forgotten (Yes, that can happen). Whatever the reason, Hidden Memories received fair success in Japan, and was the first Japanese-only title to have trophy support.
You play a journalist (whom you never get to see) investigating the disappearance of oceanographer William Graber, at a base in Polynesia. The game can be divided into two views: there’s the research base, which basically looks like a photograph, where you can chat with two scientist, Jessica Porter and Robert Kemelman, and the first-person underwater exploration scenes.
Despite being a journalist, you’ve got a lot of oceanic work to do. You’re recording and cataloging every different species of fish, dolphin and whale to get cash for the base, which in turn you can use to purchase batteries for the sonar navigation buoys, allowing you to visit new areas of the ocean, and buying things called NaSu which allows you to “warp” to different locations.
While the main plot is to find clues leading to the whereabouts of William Graber, there are several side-quests along the way, such as investigating a sunken ship, and making contact with “singer fish.”
What I Liked:
For a game released early in the Playstation 3’s life, the graphics of the underwater scenes are fantastic. Unlike Afrika, where the animals sometimes moved like mechanized creatures in a Disneyworld attraction, the flow of the fish and other aquatic creatures move smoothly with more realism than a Microsoft Window’s screen saver. Though the game is first-person, Artdink opted to NOT have a metal frame as though viewing through the window of the submarine. I thought this was a good call, as it allows the entire ocean to fill the screen, with the exception of your radar in the corner.
Each “area” is different, and so it’s always exciting when you gain enough cash to purchase a battery for a sonar navigation buoy, allowing you to explore a new portion of the ocean. Some are shallow corral reefs, others are a maze of deep caves and tunnels, some contain sunken ships while others have strange faces printed in the sand. Weird. It would be fair to say Hidden Memories is an adventure game, for that’s what it feels like: an underwater adventure.
The story is engaging, beginning as a mystery surrounding William Graber’s disappearance, finding clues, then ending with an unexpected bang. I won’t spoil it for you, in case you have intentions of importing the Asian version with the Engrish subtitles, but Hidden Memories is one of the few games which actually gave me goosebumps.
What I Didn’t Like:
My only real complaint is regarding the ocean base scenes. These are imperative, as sometimes you need to speak with the two scientists, Jessica and Robert, in order to move the story along. At times, you’ll be exploring the ocean desperately looking for something new, and not finding it. Well, you have to head back to the surface and talk to the scientists, which signal’s the game that you’re read for something different – and only then do the underwater scenes change.
Now, that part I didn’t have a problem with. Underwater sandbox games like these need some kind of signal to start releasing new events for the player. What I didn’t like was the ocean base scenes themselves. It’s just a photograph. Even the two scientists are composed of talking pictures, which alternate between 3 different expressions, much in the style of the Japanese “novel games.” And are you actually listening to them? Nope. Reading lots and lots of text.
The Playstation 3 is a seventh generation gaming console. Seventh! Why are we still reading text? Even most Japanese “novel games” use voice actors. This is a personal pet-peeve of mine, and I had the same issue with Yakuza 4. After awhile, reading all that text gets boring because you just want to play, so you start skipping through it, then realize you’ve missed something important.
And that was another minor issue I had with the base scenes. In the beginning, both Jessica and Robert give you useful advice, such as how to operate the NaSu or install the batteries into the sonar navigation buoys. But after a point, their “text-talk” becomes useless, other than maybe establishing character or mood. Jessica tells you ghost stories, while Robert prattles on about his hopeful promotion. Is this necessary? And again, why is it in text?
While the base scenes are dry and a bit boring, thankfully that’s not the main part of the game. The underwater scenes are great, and make you feel like you’re underwater as much as a video game could. Aquanaut’s Holliday: Hidden Memories is a fun undersea adventure, both relaxing and even educational at times, and all with an intriguing story to back it up.
It’s unfortuante this game was never released in the West, as it’s a title I would recommend to anyone who needs a break from shooting aliens and chopping heads off of zombies. For the most part, games are fun – but sometimes they can be pretty frustrating, raising your stress level. Hidden Memories is a stress reliever with its aquatic calming effect. If you’re interested in playing, you could try importing the Asian version through the internet, which does contain Engrish subtitles. I don’t know how bad they are (I played this in Japanese) though I’m sure it’s enough to get through the game.
And no, you can’t shoot the fish to score points. I tried.