Update (09/21/13): A fan-made mod that changes one of the game’s endings has been released, more info over here. (Warning: spoilers!)
Click here for my review of the prequel, Analogue: A Hate Story
So here we are, almost a year and a half after the release of Analogue: A Hate Story, a tale about the hopelessly patriarchal generation ship Mugunghwa and the suffering of a young girl forced to live in its dystopia. Hate Plus, described as a game detailing *Mute’s backstory during the years preceding the draconian changes on the ship, was released a few days ago and admittedly, has quite the boots to fill, considering how much I liked the first game. Did it succeed? Let’s find out.
Hate Plus continues the story of the lonely space investigator pretty much where the first game ended. You rescued one of the two AIs on the ship (or both, if you unlocked the Harem ending) and are currently on your way back to Earth. Your virtual sidekick then suddenly informs you of the presence of a few encrypted log files related to the Mugunghwa, ones that talk about the years before the drastic changes happened. Seeing how you have 3 days of boring space travel too look forward to, you might as well kill some time by reading through them, right? And so begins the 3-day-long quest to solve the mystery of just why exactly the ship turned out the way it did, casting aside all modern principles and succumbing to a neo-medieval totalitarian regime.
Unlike in Analogue, where you had a fixed start that branched off later on, Hate Plus offers a variety of different routes right off the bat. You can either start your new investigation with *Hyun-ae, *Mute or both of them as part of your personal AI Harem. On the interface front, Hate Plus did get a new coat of paint – it looks a lot more visually appealing compared to the white abyss of its predecessor, and the two AI heroines also seem to be slightly more detailed in their designs, aside from receiving brand new costumes. However, the new interface, especially the message scrolling speed, is slow, cumbersome and far from being the model of user-friendliness. On the bright side, you now have access to photos of most of the ship’s key inhabitants, making it easier to keep track of them. Their names are also constantly hyperlinked in the logs you read, so the moment you feel uncertain about who a given person is, you can refresh your memory with one simple click.
Let’s actually talk a bit about the story now. Personally, and I know this probably goes against the “popular” choice of Analgoue players, I would highly recommend starting your new game with *Mute. The entirety of Hate Plus is basically designed to tell her backstory, to show what sort of a person she was and how she ended up as the obedient and somewhat chatty security program that you met in the first game. While the logs still contain a great amount of information about the personal lives and relationships of a number of Mugunghwa residents (complete with all the raunchy details you would expect), the focus of the story will concern the ship’s political climate, the key players of the ongoing power struggle, and society’s slow and gradual degradation into the dystopia presented in the first installment.
It’s all fairly exciting stuff to read through, from homosexual love affairs to the downfall of a seemingly unshakable woman and the tragic fate of the original *Mute. It didn’t quite have the same impact on me as the original Analogue, and some of the side stories weren’t super interesting, but overall I still very much enjoyed reading it. *Mute trying to cope with the differences between herself and Old *Mute led to a number of interesting conversations, and having her by my side, in light of certain revelations and a hard-hitting twist at the end, made the most sense in the context of the plot. The *Mute ending was bittersweet, but satisfying in a way: almost on par with the shocking conclusion of Analogue. While the original made you sympathize with *Hyun-ae’s predicament, Hate Plus instead gives a deeper look into *Mute’s circumstances, letting you understand her better.
*Hyun-ae’s route, by comparison, was somewhat on the lackluster side. While *Mute’s comments were all relevant and contextual, *Hyun-ae’s version of the game mostly just consisted of her being lovey-dovey with the protagonist, including a very silly sequence about cake baking. While I appreciate the effort to bring some more meta into the game, or the desire to lampoon the whole waifu concept (you are actually ordered to make a cake, and the game won’t let you progress until you’ve spent x minutes IRL doing it), it came off as more forced than anything, without any connection to the investigation at hand. I’m sure many will find it extremely charming, and I do admit that *Hyun-ae can be really adorable at times, but it didn’t quite work on me this time. Ultimately, her scenes have little to no baring on the actual plot when compared to *Mute’s route. Thankfully, you do gain access to some pretty important log files that are exclusive to *Hyun-ae’s route, so there’s that for a redeeming quality.
There’s not much to say about the AI Harem route. It’s amusing enough, but ultimately ends up recycling dialogue from the other two routes on several occasions. When it does have new dialogue, though, it can be pretty hilarious. Things take an… “interesting” turn on Day 3, though, so I’d say it’s worth a quick playthrough just for that.
One aspect of the game that will no doubt split the fanbase is the fact that you’re only allowed to read a limited number of text logs per day, after which your ship runs out of energy and requires 12 hours to recharge. 12 actual hours. In real life. I thought there would be a good reason for this – but there isn’t. After playing Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi and witnessing its chillingly effective (and deeply plot-relevant!) utilization of the meta aspects of the visual novel genre, Hate Plus’s attempts at creating “immersion” felt clumsy at best.
Thankfully, there are ways to skip the waiting period… only to be called a jerk by the author for doing so. I was surprised by this: it’s just that I wanted to get to the end while the events and feelings contained in previous logs were still fresh in my mind. I doubt this is an unreasonable request, and I firmly believe that each reader has their own pace at which they digest a story. Needless to say, this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story one bit, but I still felt it was a highly questionable design decision that serves no purpose other than artificially lengthening the game without any actual payoff (sure, there’s a Steam achievement for it, but come on).
So all in all, although it didn’t quite swipe me off my feet the same way its predecessor did, at the end of the day, Hate Plus is far from being a failure of a sequel. I found *Mute’s backstory sufficiently interesting, and her route and ending the most satisfying within the context of the entire plot. Overall, it’s still an enjoyable read that fans of the original will no doubt have fun exploring, and a decent way to bring some form of closure to the tragic events that transpired on the Mugunghwa. So long, space investigator.