Co-Developed by Digixart and Aardman Animations, and Published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, 11-11: Memories Retold is a story about humanity, loss, tragedy and perspective, crafted to commemorate the 100 years passed since the Great War. So, is Memories Retold more of the same, or perhaps something a title more unique?
The name "Aardman Animations" may not mean much to you, but if I were to tell you they're one of the top stop-motion animation studios out there, best known for creating Morph, Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and Chicken Run, you would at least be familiar with their work. In short, they're an incredibly creative bunch of individuals with a huge amount of experience behind them.
So naturally I jumped at the chance when I was recently invited to the Imperial War Museum in London to attend an exclusive Press event, where we were shown what went into making this game, the many hurdles the team faced (and later conquered) and what the team had set out to achieve in the creation of this new IP. We were even graced with a live choir who performed some of the beautifully powerful songs produced by the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Additionally, we were shown a number of presentations, one of which was a pre-recorded interview with Elijah Wood (who voices Harry - One of two leading characters within the game). Seeing his thoughts and feelings of what he had experienced working on this game was incredibly interesting, and having now finished the story for myself, I can say firsthand just how great his voice work is. Elijah was sadly unable to attend the event in person, but we did have the opportunity to ask Sebastian Koch (the voice of Kurt and the second leading character) several questions. Having no knowledge of the man myself, I had no questions to ask, but I can say his voice acting was spectacular and truly brought his character (Kurt) to life.
Something else I'd like to touch upon before going into the details of the game is the visual aesthetic. The visuals are undeniably unique and comparable to that of a water colour painting. This was actually explained during the event and the idea behind the art style is they wanted to have things kept a little obscure, but detailed enough so you could still see what was going on. They liked the idea of the gameplay looking like it was constantly being repainted, and so they went with what's known as a Painterly effect. To accomplish this in real life you would need to paint a scene, then constantly repaint the scene over and over again while the paint is still wet, to create an animation. I feel Aardman and Digixart managed to replicate this effect incredibly well and though you could argue it's a little gimmicky, it's also something that hasn't really been done before and I think it really works for this game.
Due to the visual aesthetic, the graphics aren't by any stretch the greatest, but they don't need to be. The visual representation of Memories Retold gives off a very dreamy feeling, almost as if you're experiencing the fading memories of each character for yourself. This is why I can really enjoy a number of indie titles - They're never afraid to be different and in many cases that's their selling point. The story-telling techniques of AAA titles have become quite stale and samey to me of late, so it's nice to be able to experience something different every once in a while, and Memories Retold successfully pulls that off.
As for the score, I won't talk too much about it as I think it'd be better if you listened to the attached song below, but the tracks always fit the mood and scenes of the game, and at times can be ever so endearing. I was also fortunate enough to be given a beautifully presented sleeve containing an impressive artbook and two Vinyl Records containing the OST in its entirety. It's unlikely I'll ever be able to play them, but owning something relevant to the era of World War 1 is a pretty cool and clever idea.
The plot is fairly interesting - Neither of the two main characters were enlisted for war. Instead, they both have their own personal reasons for signing up. Harry (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a young Canadian Photographer who wishes he could be with Julia - The girl he currently lives and works with. So when a Commanding Officer by the name of Barrett turns up at the photographic shop and invites Harry to be his personal Photographer in the war, the young man jumps at the chance, in the hopes that his photos and newly acquired uniform will land him the girl of his dreams.
Then, on the German side we have Kurt (voiced by Sebastian Koch) - A man who decides to enlist and head to the front, in search of his missing son Max.
As the story progresses, both of these characters will cross paths and even become reliant upon each other at certain points, and just as they're getting to know each other and learning of one anothers lives outside of the war, so too are we, as the players experiencing the story. These are two very different people and yet, even with a harsh language barrier, both find ways to help one another and communicate when it counts the most. You may find yourselves drawn to Harry's cause more, what with his happy-go-lucky attitude, passion, enthusiasm and the excitement he has for the war going in, or perhaps some of you will find Kurt's darker and more serious story that much more relatable, but either way, both characters are very likable and you can truly see things from their perspective. You likely won't even question their actions, because they manage to remain true to their personalities from start to finish.
11-11: Memories Retold is a very charming game and you could argue that although it's set within World War 1, isn't really about the war at all. It's a game about compassion, love, friendship, camaraderie, humanity and the determination that goes with it. Harry doesn't care about the war and neither does Kurt. They're fighting on opposite sides, but that doesn't innately mean they're enemies. It's all about perspective. From the perspective a Canadian Soldier who's lost his family to the Germans, any Canadian being friendly with a German deserves to be shot, but from somebody who doesn't care about the war and has no reason to be invested in it, the opposite side is just another group of people finding to survive. In war, it's hard to say who the enemies are when half of the people shooting at you are only fighting because they've been forced to and are just as afraid as you are. At the end of the day it's all about survival and in war nobody wins. It's simply a case of those who get to go home at the end of it, and those who do not.
War can turn even the most well intended people into killers, and Memories Retold portrays this extremely well. Though simplistic in its execution, the storytelling techniques here are incredibly effective, and perhaps to help you invest further into the characters, you're given the choice of who to play next at each turning point of the story. I quickly grew to like both characters equally and so I just went with whatever I felt like at the time, but this made things harder for me much later down the line, when you realise there is no real black and white happy ending and once you feel for these characters, you really just want them both to go home safe and sound at the end of the day.
There are even a couple of segments where you get to play as a cat and pigeon. This breaks up the harshness of war with a little lightheartedness and helps to distract you from what's really going on.
There are eight endings in total, but seven of these are unlocked through one of the two branching paths right at the end of the game. None are particular positive and interestingly enough, the only ending you're not considered a coward is the one where you flee and leave the war behind you. I guess it's true - There are no winners in war.
The game is roughly seven hours in length and if you're wanting to collect every hidden document scattered throughout each chapter, you're looking at about another 2-3 hours on top of that. You could achieve a Platinum trophy in about 14 hours and it's not the hardest of games to accomplish this either. It's definitely worth replaying and what I found to be most interesting is the fact the collectibles you pick up are of real life documented evidence from World War 1. This includes photographs, documents and even notes on the equipment used within World War 1. It's incredibly educational.
If you'd like to get even more out of this, you can purchase the War Child DLC for just £2.99, where 100% of the profits will be donated by Bandai Namco to War Child UK, to help and support the young people effected by war all around the world. The DLC inclides a number of moving letters, drawings and photographs found throughout the narrative adventure and tells the story of Jack and Eva - Two naive and innocent children, drawn into the dramatic events of World War 1. You can find out more about War Child here.
Overall, the acting and execution of such a simplistic and easy to play game is superb. Add to that a brilliant soundtrack and an even more enjoyable story and you have yourself a great (and at times emotional) indie game from one of the most loved animation studios out there. 11-11: Memories Retold is well worth your time and a great experience for all.
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