The Starship Damrey Review
The Starship Damrey is the third visual novel based on Alien that I've played, but it's the first to have been professionally localized.
(That is, if you consider a visual novel to be an adventure game with easy, simple puzzles. I've never been solid on that definition.)
Not to say that Damrey is literally based on Ridley Scott's film, but it does share basic narrative elements. Confused and alone on a derelict space ship, you'll follow the trail of a dangerous non-human entity in the wake of its destruction.
Damrey opens with a view of your legs tucked under a comfy blue blanket inside a metallic sarcophagus. It's a capsule for storing your body in a sub-sleep state to be revived at some later date, but relics of the living world (photos, for instance) are pasted to the inside walls for you to behold. In other words, I mean sarcophagus when I say it; life after death plays a prominent role in the story. I'd say more, but that risks spoiling it--suffice it to say, Damrey is equal parts sci-fi thriller and allegory.
Stuck inside of a metal box, your only way of interacting with the outside world is a remote-controlled assistance robot known as AR-7. It serves its job well enough, scooting down the Starship Damrey's dark, claustrophobic hallways and toting an item when the need arises. As you control it, you can view out of a camera mounted on its head.
But its mechanisms are rudimentary. Movement is unnatural, since the thing can only turn in 90 degree angles. When a room is large and spacious, navigating it is a matter of jerky turns rather than simply facing your destination and rolling straight to it.
And in order to examine your environment, you'll have to come to a complete stop. The AR-7 can view all of its surroundings, but in order to tilt its head up or down or focus on an object, you'll need to halt it.
With this lies the central conceit of The Starship Damrey. The world would be much easier to navigate if you could just interact with it directly, but you can't—you're trapped inside your personal box. Sending a piece of machinery in your stead, your interactions with the outside world are awkward, inefficient and ambiguous. You can't just say or do what you want; you need to find some way for the AR-7 to do it. The game's general lack of music mirrors your cold, emotionless interface with the outside world.
It's like talking to someone in a different language using a book of translated phrases. You know the literal meaning of the sounds emitted by your mouth because of what the book tells you, but you have no sense of social understanding. Any art in speaking is lost. In Damrey, you'll communicate through the AR-7 the way you'd communicate through a phrase book; they're both barriers that eliminate any intuitive communication.
And ultimately, communication is the foremost concern of The Starship Damrey. You'll operate your machine and come across other machines. It's your job to work that into a meaningful relay, whether it be with the heat plate or the AR-8. Rarely will you see another living being from the viewscope of the AR-7.
You'll also learn about the crew of the Damrey and how they communicated amongst each other.
This gives the game some room for meta commentary, as well. Here you are, playing a game in English, while it was originally written in Japanese: another indirect communication (or miscommunication) aided by technology. If you play the game laying down, the protagonist's legs on the bottom screen will lay right above your own legs stretched out before you. You're attempting to understand Damrey designers Kazuya Asano and Takemaru Abiko through a piece of 3DS software in the same way that Damrey's protagonist tries to understand the outside world through the AR-7.
The cutscenes marred this to a limited extent. At key points in the experience, you'll see AR-7 from a third person perspective as it encounters a new or exciting situation. In these scenes, the robot emotes more than it does under your command, cowering at the sight of danger or rounding corners with slick, natural movements. They allowed me to empathize with AR-7. In so doing, the robot's role is thrown out of the window, even if only for the duration of the scene.
The Starship Damrey creates a mystery using figurative elements that science fiction fans will find familiar; events in a far-flung and fantastic future become the basis for a metaphoric reflection on contemporary times. Damrey's success lies in its ability to tie gameplay into well-worn science fiction conventions.
+ Moody atmosphere
+ Utilizes gameplay to aid its storytelling
+ Has a grasp on science fiction conventions and what gives sci-fi stories meaning
- Can be misleading; the game presents itself as a hardcore adventure game, while it's more an interactive science fiction tale
- Some puzzle solutions can be annoying to sort out simply because you need to be meticulous in searching rooms with the AR-7; it can be easy to miss something necessary
- There's a mountain of exposition once you reach the end, providing an overwrought ending to a game that mostly succeeds at indirect communication
If you crave science fiction or any sort of allegorical tale (think The Twilight Zone), I can recommend The Starship Damrey. It's not cryptic stuff, and it leads to shallow, one-note characters, but it should give you some pause for thought. All in all, don't come here for challenges, come here for a story.