Cyberpunk Realism – Read Only Memories Review

I’m a huge fan of the show Game Center CX, localized once upon a time as Retro Game Master, where I watch Shinya Arino struggle with difficult old games that I never plan to put my hands on, ever. While watching him, though, I’ve seen episodes where he’s wrangled with games that I’d never heard of; adventure and mystery games that were either rare or completely unavailable in North America. Watching Arino-san play The Portopia Serial Murderer Incident and the Jake Hunter series has left this nerd girl particularly hungry for more point-and-click mystery games neck-deep in story. I want game makers to give me more Hotel Dusk, Ace Attorney and even L.A. Noire.

Read Only Memories tapped right into that desire with such pointed direction, it’s as if MidBoss read my mind. Or maybe there was a demand out there from more people than just me. Not only did they make a story-rich mystery adventure game, they made a cyberpunk story-rich mystery adventure game, inspired by games like Kojima’s long-lost Snatcher. While I’m still waiting for more can-you-solve-the-mystery games, I enjoyed every minute of Read Only Memories and I humbly require no less than a hundred sequels.

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The story starts with you, an investigative journalist living in squalor in Neo-San Francisco. After writing a review for the low low earnings of “exposure”, a small robot shows up at your house in the night. Turing is the first autonomous AI, and his creator – your friend, Hayden – has been kidnapped. Turing enlists your help because he knows you’re poor, bored, and a super sleuth. Together, you navigate Neo-San Francisco on the hunt for clues.

Read Only Memories brings forth a refreshing new brand of cyberpunk that isn’t based in the cynicism of the 90s like Snatcher or Shadowrun. ROM takes place in 2064, where heroes and villains are at work through greed, goodness or revenge in equal measure. The purest hearts have prickly exteriors, and the warm and forthcoming may have ulterior motives, and each character is a well-thought-out artefact of the world that they grew out of. The vibe of ROM is more realistic than a lot of science fiction I’ve encountered in some time, and I cannot praise the writers highly enough for that.

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As an LGBT+ creator myself I also feel the need to point out to others the levels of inclusion that exists in ROM. Early in the game Turing creates a login system for you, where you identify your name, pronouns of choice, and diet preferences. There are many pronoun options, including one where you can put in custom ones not listed. Detective Lexi Rivers is your sister’s ex-girlfriend, and the two burly male bartenders are in love. One of your main contacts, Tomcat, is explicitly non-binary. Gender and sexuality are a non-issue fifty years from now, but other problems of discrimination have arisen thanks to the times. Hybrids who have adopted animal genes often to remedy disabilities are discriminated against, along with people who augment their lost sight with cyborg eyes and so forth. These things are valuable in an earth-based science fiction story for two reasons:

  1. Disabled people and LGBTQA are featured as window-dressing, which is entirely how we prefer to be featured. Our existences by this story’s 2064 has been so normalized that it is no longer an issue and is barely worth being mentioned in the narrative, except that it is there. This is smart world building as well as a responsible storytelling technique that has been executed with amazing tact.
  2. This is a perfect example of something I mentioned earlier about cyberpunk realism as opposed to cynicism: while we have won several battles, several more lie before us. There will always be struggles in life, but progress has been made. It is not a dystopia, and it is not a utopia. It’s realistic.

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I don’t want to spoil too much about the fascinating measures of worldbuilding that takes place in Read Only Memories. I just have to implore you to play it for yourself, especially if you’re like me and value story in a game above all else. The point-and-click setup of an adventure game is tried and true, and you can take your time to make choices and digest all of the optional dialogue about VR Drama developers in Japan, and Turing’s favorite types of trees, or not. Make yourself a classy drink, curl up in bed with your laptop, and enjoy Read Only Memories like a good book.

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