Her Story is quite unlike anything I’ve ever played. It’s bursting with originality, unexplainable emotional attachment and a presentational simplicity that evokes an accessible, yet deeply relatable finish. A large majority of people will be drawn to the game by its implementation of full-motion video (FMV), a feature that’s commonly labeled as a gimmick–not so in this case. In its uniqueness, Her Story bravely ventures into somewhat unexplored territory. There’s no paint-by-number puzzle to solve, no combat to engage in, no choices to make; in fact, there’s very little traditional interactivity at all. It sounds uncharacteristic for a video game, but I assure you there’s something incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking to it.
At its core, Her Story is a mystery in which players are tasked with sifting through a library of old police interviews, trimmed down to short, bite-sized clips. The camera is focused on a woman answering questions, she’s shy, respectful, but somewhat uncomfortable. She’s being tested and doesn’t like it. The woman in the clips is under interrogation regarding her dead husband, and she’s a suspect. As the player, you’re given control of a database of videos containing footage of seven interviews with the woman. The whole game takes place on a computer, where various keyword inputs into the database’s search engine progresses the game and unveils more clues regarding the woman and why she’s under interrogation. There’s no bad guy to catch, no body to analyze and no crime scene to investigate. Her Story isn’t your everyday detective game, and it’s all the better for it. Scouring through the archives and drawing your own conclusions is intellectually demanding. Not necessarily the action of it, rather the compartmentalization of its contents. The shallow thrills that greet you, from putting two and two together in Her Story, are quickly surpassed when a much deeper, darker, and saddening situation reveals itself. It’s a game that encourages players to obsess over the small things, even if the trail eventually goes cold. Analyzing her body language, rushed tone, nervous pronunciation, and overly confident alibis play a crucial, yet subtle role in unlocking the next video clip.
Despite its forward focus on the woman and her words, Her Story is very much driven by the unpredictable and intellectual personal victories that come with connecting the dots. It stands as the game’s single most compelling and gratifying quality, in an otherwise slowly paced experience. Her Story takes dedication and rewards players’ cleverness with a deeper look into the narrative. The way the story unfolded during my three hour or so playthrough, will be entirely different from the next person who picks it up. The precise order in which I input words into the database progressed the story on my own terms, resulting in a somewhat incohesive narrative. Over the course of the game, this manifests to create an infectious contrast between peaks of reward and valleys of dissatisfaction.It’s untidiness is the very point of the game, which makes it harder to fault for leaving certain plot elements too open-ended, once the credits roll. The game’s compilation of videos range from huge story twists to useless clips with absolutely no contribution to the overarching story. It’s between these two extremes where Her Story will determine its fate for each player. If you’re the kind of person who moans over a game having too many cutscenes, Her Story likely isn’t for you. The game is solely made up of typing and watching videos, which can yield ambivalent feelings, from a total waste of time to moments that will give you chills. Cleverly so, there’s just enough monotonous filler content to make stumbling across an important clip feel like a true breakthrough. In Her Story, it’s the theories the player walks away with, that standout as the game’s definitive staying power.
From the start, there’s an inescapable sense of mystery and underlying heavy themes that permeate as the experience develops. The database’s videos go on to prove and disprove sneaking suspicions with great success, but there’s one glaring issue with the system. Imputing common words into the search, unveiled new, sometimes extremely important videos without much effort. Words like “he” and “she” revealed clips that led me down the correct path to followup on leads. Though I was just guessing, it almost felt like cheating. Not only did it simply break the feeling of immersion the game worked so hard to attain, but it went on to undermine the challenges of solving the remaining leads.Conclusion: If anything, Her Story is a testament to the variety and riskiness the medium so proudly encompasses. It’s the mind games you play with yourself, and the pages upon pages of notes you scribble, that make the title truly unique when compared to other adventure games. Her Story’s narrative is a platform to test player knowledge, and surprisingly, turns out to be quite the satisfying experiment, even if it may leave too much hanging. The strong script and lead performance cohesively work together to tackle mature themes in both a grounded and respectable manner. The intriguing story, coupled with creative uses of FMV and gameplay systems, make Her Story one of the year’s strongest indie titles; one that will seep back into your conscience long after the interview camera shuts off.
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