Trace Memory - A look back on this DS Classic
NettoSaito wrote this review on .
In 2005 (just a little under a year after the DS launched in North America) a DS game by Cing was released, and it decided to go down a different route. While other companies were focusing on coming up with different gimmicks for their upcoming DS games, Cing decided to use a well known gaming formula, and introduce it to the handheld world. This game was a little game called Trace Memory, and it was a graphic adventure game; something that up until this point could only really work well on a PC. Using full advantage of the DS's touch screen, they were able to craft a unique handheld experience, and pave the way for the future of the genre's handheld life.
The Story of Trace Memory:
Trace Memory is in fact a graphic adventure game, but it also blends its adventure with that of a visual novel. The game has a strong focus on its story, and tells it in many different ways. While character's talk to each other with still images (which is quite common for visual novels), other aspects of the story are actually told by searching every nook and cranny of the world.
The story begins with 13 year old Ashley Robbins heading to Blood Edward Island with her aunt Jessica. Just a few days ago Ashley received a package from her dead father, and it contained some shocking news. In the package was a letter telling Ashley that he would be waiting for her on the island, and a small machine (which resembles a Nintendo DS). After hearing the news, and after being shocked to find out her father was alive, Ashley gets on the boat with her aunt, and she sets out for the island. Despite her anger towards her aunt for never telling her the truth about her father, she decides to put her feelings aside and confront her dad herself; however after arriving on the island, things don't quite go as planned.
Not too long after docking, Jessica goes missing, and Ashley sets out on her own to find both her father and her aunt; however she finds neither. Alone on the island, Ashley slowly makes her way toward the old mansion, and that is when it happens.... A ghostly figure appears before Ashley, and before she knew it, both of their worlds were changed. The ghost was a young boy around Ashley's age, however he had no memory of his past. The only thing he could remember was that his name was "D," and that he apparently had some connection to the island. Although she can't believe her eyes at first, Ashley slowly comes to accept D, and in the end she decides to team up with him. With D's mysterious past, and Ashley's mysterious family history, the two decide its best to work together to finally get the answers they both long for.
Although the story of Trace Memory does start out a bit childish with a young teenage girl and a ghost, things soon take a turn for the dark side. As Ashley and D explore the island and mansion on it, they slowly begin to uncover the truth of what happened there. The dark past of the island begins to surface, and Ashley must come to terms with what really happened to her parents.
Trace Memory was one of the first adventure styled games to be released on the Nintendo DS, and it is also the game that had the largest impact on Japan. The truth is, if it wasn't for Trace Memory (Another Code: Two Memories), we most likely wouldn't even have a lot of the adventure games we see today; however because of that, Trace Memory's gameplay is a bit lacking in a few areas. To be fair it is in fact an early game, but looking back on the game in 2013, some people may not be able to be so forgiving of its shortcomings.
Really the gameplay in Trace Memory is quite simple. The game is a 3D game but the camera is fixed at a sort of top view angle. By tapping on the touch screen you can move Ashley in whatever direction you want to make her walk in, and also by tapping on different sections of a room you can examine the objects around you. Basically the game is a point and click game where you navigate through an old mansion, search objects around the different rooms, and hopefully find a way to advance on. Sometimes you have to find a few items to use to solve a puzzle, while other times you simply just need to find a key to advance. The gameplay is very basic, but it is also very easy to overlook small pieces of detail hidden throughout the house.
As you search through the different rooms in the mansion you will also uncover articles and other messages from the past. Sometimes these articles will be news papers from many years ago, but sometimes you'll also find letters written by the people who used to live in the house. These types of items provide background history, and are the key to help solving the mysteries of the island. Really searching the rooms, and uncovering their history is the main gameplay aspect of Trace Memory, and the reason you will want to keep playing. Sure there really isn't much more to the gameplay other than clicking on objects with the stylus, but over time you will come to care about just what happened in that old mansion. You will want to keep searching, and no matter how challenging the puzzles may become for you, you will always want to keep pushing yourself to finding the key to solving them. Trace Memory isn't a game you can lose in, but that doesn't mean you won't have fun playing it.
After you finish the game you can actually go back through it again with some changes being made to the puzzles, and story. This gives you a reason to keep on playing, but it really isn't required to enjoy the game in general.
The Good and Bad:
Looking back on it now, eight years later, Trace Memory was sort of a hidden gem for the DS. Sure it had its core fan base, but it was one of them games that never really made it big in the West. Sure if it wasn't for Trace Memory we most likely wouldn't have seen other adventure games come to the DS, but that's just one small detail a lot of people tend to overlook. The thing is, although Trace Memory was able to bring over the adventure style of games to a handheld, and make it so everyone could enjoy it, it didn't really do anything that different; it didn't do anything to make it stand out above the rest.
Now sure, Trace Memory's story was really nice, the game looked great for its time, the puzzles were nice and challenging, and the game had some nice character's and writing, but it just wasn't that big of a game. Sadly the game could be beaten in around five hours (or less if you know what you're doing), and a lot of the options were pretty limited. The game really didn't contain as much text as you might have expected from a game of this type, and in some ways the story felt a little bit rushed. The game's opening sped by, Jessica vanished right away, Ashley met D right off the bat, and D even begins to remember his past a lot faster than you might expect. Really, this is where the game falls short, and when I say short, I mean that it is in fact SHORT.
Really there's nothing wrong with the game in general, but when it was brand new, its content really didn't justify its price. $30 for a game that might only last you a few hours is pretty expensive, but thankfully that is no longer the case. I personally was able to find a copy of this "hidden gem" for $7.99, and I feel that it was worth every penny! The game's story is in fact really nice, once again the puzzles were pretty challenging, and playing the game never felt like a chore. I was able to sit down, play through the game in a few settings, and I was able to enjoy every moment of it. Sure by today's standards it may feel a bit dated, but it is very understandable. After Trace Memory was released Cing went on to create some amazing games such as Hotel Dusk (and it's sequel Last Window: The Secret of Cape West), as well as an amazing sequel to Trace Memory called "Another Code: R – A Journey into Lost Memories." Sadly both Last Window and Another Code never made it to the US, and they never will. Cing went under in 2010 leaving behind their legacy....
In the end, with all things considered, Trace Memory is a pretty nice game; short, but nice. If you ever come across this game I strongly recommend picking it up if you enjoy these types of games, but if not then you might as well stay away from it. Either way its a game I had a lot of fun playing, and I'm glad I picked it up. Overall I give Trace Memory for the Nintendo DS, a solid 8/10. It's a game well worth your time!