Annapurna Interactive is one of those developers that not only handles more traditional games, but ones that could be described as artistic experiences. There are interactive elements, but they are situations in which developers are using the medium to tell a story in a specific way. It might even involve the person engaging with it to take on a more passive role, letting the title itself guide them through its story. A Memoir Blue is one of those games.
Miriam is an award-winning swimmer. Coming into A Memoir Blue, she achieved a major accomplishment. But it seems like reaching that goal left her feeling awry. She never says how she feels. Actions speak louder than words. Context is critical. As she sits alone in her home, with her gym bag beside her, a call she’s ignoring keeps trying to come through. It is then that she goes through the channels on the radio, and hearing a song triggers memories of how she got to this point.
A Memoir Blue is the sort of experience that carries the viewer along for the ride. You’re largely watching, listening, and learning. Along the way, a player occasionally engages in activities to help propel the story forward. Rather than minigames, they are brief themed experiences. When the heroine wins an Olympic medal, you control the overwhelming flashes from cameras and bring mics closer. You go through the channels on a radio, searching through the songs to find the one that makes her remember. Before boarding a train, you buy, collect, and stamp tickets.
These are never taxing. They aren’t high stakes, win or lose situations. Each one is about building ambiance. Instead of just watching the memories, you set up and occasionally take part in them. In so doing, it might even help the person playing better understand the context. I felt more for the Miriam and her situation when I saw how she reacted to each photo I took. There was a better sense of what it was like to go out on that old boat, when I needed to be the one to place the boards for the dilapidated rock, buy the ticket from someone who, based on their actions, seemed curt, and start the engine.
Each segment is about being in the moment. Which is what A Memoir Blue is general about. It’s a series of vignettes showing how someone got to a point in her life. How a relationship with her mother helped her get there. What they both went through along the way to reach a goal. How their bond changed as time passed.
The downside is because of A Memoir Blue’s length and presentation, there were times I didn’t feel it was effective enough at properly conveying things. I’m hesitant to offer examples, since it is only about an hour and a half long and it would spoil things. But sometimes I wanted more to see more from the interactions between Miriam and her mother. I would have liked more context or some additional scenes to increase my understanding further. It might also have made certain interactions feel a bit less rushed. What is there can be quite effective. But additional insights are always great for providing evidence.
Though considering how A Memoir Blue is presented, it being as effective as it is happens to be something of a triumph. Miriam never says a word. All text involves vague, unreadable symbols. Which is especially fun when messing around with her phone in the introduction. There’s an art to creating something that anyone, anywhere can understand. Cloisters Interactive nailed it. Especially since the visual direction, design choices for Miriam’s memories and the world around her, and even hints of magical realism and symbolism as she works things out come together.
Of course, it also helps that there is an incredible soundtrack to help get the A Memoir Blue’s point across. Joel Corelitz, e.hillman, and IMOGEN put together some absolutely incredible songs for the game. It is stunning. Sometimes, I felt like the music could be better at making me feel things than what I was seeing on screen. As-is, it pairs perfectly with everything someone experiences.
A Memoir Blue is a peek into someone else’s life. We don’t know Miriam. We don’t speak her language. But by the end of the game, the player will know exactly what she went through. It is touching and accomplishes a lot, in part thanks to its visual direction and soundtrack. Just know going in that it is more of an experience than anything else, and a brief one at that.
A Memoir Blue is available for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.