Amnesia and video games go together like tea and biscuits, sausage and mash, and Paul and Barry Chuckle. If we counted the number of games that start with a protagonist that can't remember a thing on our fingers, we'd very quickly run out of hands. There's Disney-themed role-playing game Kingdom Hearts, a fair few Final Fantasy games, Pokemon-themed dungeon crawler Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - in fact, so many games fall victim to having a protagonist with amnesia, it's become something of a meme in its own right, ending up being a running gag in the dating sim/farming/dungeon crawling hybrid, Rune Factory. No prizes for guessing what the heroine of recent PS Vita title Amnesia: Memories is suffering from then!
As you may be able to infer from the title, Amnesia: Memories puts you in the shoes of a heroine who's forgotten all her memories, and is suffering from a fairly severe case of amnesia - and it's up to you to help her recover what's she's lost. A romantic visual novel where you play a heroine, known as an "otome", you aren't alone in your quest to regain your memories, however, as a friendly spirit named Orion comes along for the ride. At around the same time as your memory got wiped, Orion took up residence in your head, finding himself trapped in the spot where your memories used to live. Not wanting to leave a memory-less and potentially naive and gullible you all on your lonesome, Orion cheers you on from the sidelines as you work on recovering your memories across whichever of the five paths you chose to walk down. Providing a friend to confide in, and some often needed moral guidance, there's something in it for Orion too - because as your memories return, Orion will be gradually bumped out of your brain, freeing him to return to the spirit world.
A visual novel with romantic tendencies, you'll spend most of your time with Amnesia: Memories reading text, watching the story unfold, and occasionally picking a conversation option here or there to help move things along. The decisions you make will affect how the story unfolds, letting you increase your affection levels with your chosen guy, head down a branch towards a specific ending, or simply fish for more information about your current situation, hopefully without arousing too much suspicion in the process. You see, Amnesia: Memories is a little bit different to most dating games, as instead of playing the field a bit and deciding on your favourite guy as you go along, it locks you into a specific man from the outset.
When you first start playing, you'll find yourself in a weird kind of limbo, in a world that's far away from our own. After being introduced to your new friendly head inhabitant Orion, you'll discover there's some kind of multiverse thing going on in Amnesia: Memories, which means poor old Orion doesn't know which world he should be taking you back to. Presented with a list of worlds to choose from, each of the paths corresponds to a different 'parallel world', where your life, friends and circumstances are all different too - as well as your current boyfriend (or what you believe to be your boyfriend at any rate, as your amnesia prevents you from knowing for sure). Unlike some other 'otome' romantic visual novels we've played over the years (like Hakuoki), each route is totally different from the outset, instead of branching midway through a single overarching story, which makes Amnesia: Memories feel like a much longer game, with each unique route taking around five or six hours to complete, from start to finish - potentially longer if you want to go back and find all the endings, good, normal and bad, and fill in all the gallery pictures, which are unlocked by picking certain conversational routes through each story.
Of course, being a game so heavily focussed on story, it wouldn't be much good if the bachelors didn't really make the cut - and thankfully, each of the five romanceable blokes is likeable enough, and has their own unique tale to tell. There's childhood friends Shin and Toma - the former a reserved, mysterious guy who's sometimes a little harsh with you, having been framed for pushing you off a cliff, the latter more of an older brother figure; a relationship that makes your dating more than a little difficult - but not nearly as difficult as the mysterious 'accidents' that keep happening around you. Mathematician Kent, meanwhile, is the very meaning of the word awkward - a man whose idea of a romantic stroll is a silent power walk around town, and whose make up gifts consist of maths workbooks. Ikkyu meanwhile is a bit of a playboy, and has an unusual gift that makes any girl fall in love with him at first sight - but can you be the one to make a faithful boyfriend out of him, whilst dodging the jealous actions of his psycho harem fan club? The final route, which unlocks upon completing all the others, follows the green-haired Ukyo, a photographer with an unusual split personality in a potentially dangerous world…
Whether you're enlisting the help of a trustworthy lover or trying your damnedest to keep your amnesiac status hidden from all involved, the stories soon become hard to put down as you play. Watching logical, restrained maths researchers struggle with their new-found emotions as they get all worked up about holding hands can be adorably funny, whilst running through a darkened forest for your life can get the adrenaline pumping too, and niggling doubts start to get to you as you try to work out whether you can really trust Shin. We didn't appreciate Kent springing all those maths problems on us though - we're not too hot on percentages and stuff normally, let alone while kind of sleepy, curled up in bed at 1am...
Outside of the main story, Amnesia: Memories has a few bits and pieces to keep you occupied between playthroughs, too - even if they're not especially substantial. Mini-games of Rock, Paper, Scissors and Air Hockey can be played against your chosen guy, whilst the 'Memories' of each character give you a bit more insight into certain scenes of the story, such as talking with Ikkyu about feelings and memories from various dates you've been on. While nothing to really write home about, they are still nice little distractions that give you a bit more insight into each of the characters - and let you take out some of that pent-up maths-problem-related frustration over a game of air hockey.
While the colossal amount of reading and zero action may not be everybody's cup of tea, for those that prefer a slower, more story-driven approach, you can't really go wrong with Amnesia: Memories. Its colourful cast of characters, each with their own separate story and multiple endings, makes for a surprisingly lengthy and varied game - and for fans of otome-style romantic visual novels, it's well worth the investment. It's a genre you unfortunately don't see very often, and while £24.99 may seem a touch on the pricey side for a digital download, you are getting a fully-fledged retail-sized game, of a genre we want to support as much as we can. Even if it does mean doing the dreaded PS Vita memory card shuffle first.