You know how television shows sometimes come up with bottle episodes, relegating all of the action to a single, restrictive location with a limited number of characters so that they can save money for other, more expansive (and expensive) episodes? That’s what Don’t Forget Me feels like. As the amnesiac Fran, players are thrust into the confines of a memory clinic, the rainy neon Blade Runner-esque future visible only through window. Fran’s lack of memories, coupled with her lack of mobility in most scenes, result in a narrow-lens game that, ironically, removes agency from a character who is attempting to prevent a megacorporation from removing the population’s agency (a plot that seems ripped out of Brave New World).
There’s a story to tell here, but The Moon Pirates not only can’t decide how best to tell it from scene to scene but, given the rushed ending, seem to have forgotten to resolve anything. The majority of the game plays out as a visual novel, with players given dialogue choices that, sadly, carry no real ethical weight. Occasionally, the game dabbles in a light text-based adventure, in which Bernard, the clinic’s operator, describes the data he’s sifting through, and asks you to assist him by typing out words that can connect one memory node to another. And then in a few instances, the game allows Fran to literally snoop inside a person’s mind, interacting with objects to get a sense of what they did before choosing how to handle that memory and to potentially punish the client.
None of these elements have anything to do with the actual sense of forgetting or even remembering, most notably because Fran remains an amnesiac throughout. The gameplay is entirely at odds with the design, a bit like playing a linear, on-rails version of Her Story where instead of getting lost in a series of confessions where you have to take notes and logically piece together an out-of-sequence narrative, you’re simply looking for the right key word in a paragraph of text (hint: it’s often the last word). Memories rarely connect in such obvious ways, unless you’re talking about rote, mundane things–which shouldn’t be the case in a so-called “jazz-punk” adventure. Where’s the riffing or the improvisation? Where’s the rebelliousness?
As a first draft, however, Don’t Forget Me shows promise. A timeline of events that’s unlocked at the end of the game shows the limited choices and narrative web, which is to say that it can only be built upon. As opposed to relying upon Bernard’s third-person shorthand, a future installment might allow players to fully explore and investigate locations of their own accord, like 2064: Read Only Memories, and use the things they directly observed to help them work through a longer-term memory node. Instead of having your moral choices relegated to patients that you never see again, imagine if your ethics actually impacted what you could (or couldn’t) see while traveling through someone else’s mind, thereby commenting on the fluidity and delusion of memory.
Here’s hoping that The Moon Pirates can revisit and refine this concept, so that the memories get bigger and the traversal and interaction with them gets weirder. There’s so much promise to being a mind detective, whether it’s to tug on the emotional heartstrings as in To the Moon or to play with how you interpret your own actions as in Remember Me. But the memory has to fit the crime, and Don’t Forget Me just isn’t there yet.