I wasn't sure what to really expect from A Memoir Blue. It was first widely revealed during Annapurna's summer showcase last year, but without an accompanying developer interview like some of the other titles. Having played through it, I completely understand why.
The story begins with a swimming athlete, Miriam, reluctantly posing for the press with her winner's medal. As you hit a button to trigger more and more camera flashes, she begins to feel overwhelmed, keen to leave the growing swarm. Once she's in her apartment, she tries relaxing on the sofa, slouching her feelings into submission.
This is where the game's mechanics are communicated to the player. We start to manipulate and play with the ice cubes in the glass of water on the coaster-free table. Fish begin to swim inside the glass and water starts to leak from the bottom. This steady drip of strange, supernatural imagery continues when we get to mess around with an old portable radio, hitting switches and moving a dial, causing different visuals to appear on the large speaker at the front.
Because of my lack of prior knowledge of the game, I was unsure if it was heading towards Dark Water territory. Instead, a true sense of exploration occurs soon after the opening sequence, during a flooded subway ride. We're asked to peel paper on the advertising board inside the train, slowly revealing pictures of this character's life journey and the source of their malaise.
Further memories are fleshed out in beautifully animated flashbacks, like those wonderful and unusual films that are briefly mentioned each year during film awards ceremonies before the 'best animated film' title is inevitably given to Disney's latest thing. All of these moments in the game are accompanied by dreamy music that never feels overwhelming, which can so often be the case in these visual novels. My favourite sequence involves Miriam watching as jellyfish drift towards the surface, and it reminded me of the sea-space mashup sequence in Child of Eden.
The game touches on some complex issues that still seem rare for the medium, such as familial breakdown and parental relationships. And although Life is Strange 2 remains a gold standard for me on this front (in part because of its comparatively greater budget and duration), it's amazing how much is included in A Memoir Blue's compact run time of under two hours. It's even more of an achievement when you realise how nearly the entire story is conveyed not simply with, but through the absence of words.
This demonstrates just how much thought and care has been taken with each sequence in the game, whether you're messing around with ice cubes, moving folders back and forth in an office, or rearranging furniture. Such self-imposed restrictions have not only allowed for this, but it's also made creative lead Shelley Chen convey universal experiences and emotions with a warmth and respect that deserve your time. A Memoir Blue acts like a message passed between people whose only language are these experiences and emotions, blurring all boundaries.