Trace Memory is a puzzle solving point and click visual novel game for the Nintendo DS. It was developed by CING before they went bankrupt in 2010. It is also one of the earliest games for the Nintendo DS released in 2005. It is also one of the most obscure games I have reviewed so far as it was not wildly popular.
The gameplay is similar to a point and click adventure game. Its linear in design so you have to solve each puzzle in order to progress through the game. Trace Memory has you exploring Blood Edward Island and its mansion owned by the Edward Family.
Puzzle solving is for casual players but it’s still fun to solve. Clues aren’t going to be obvious so you have to find things out for yourself. Each puzzle is unique and it is never the same in this game.
Trace Memory has an interesting use of the controls and design scheme on the Nintendo DS. One puzzle has you closing the DS a couple of times in order for you to stamp the image to solve the puzzle. Another one requires the use of the DS mic to blow the dust off a portrait. There was one puzzle where you have to close the console half way in order to get the reflection of one of the items displayed in the puzzle, in order to find a certain key that will unlock a door. Some of the other puzzles require the use of touch, like rearranging the books to open a secret area of the mansion. One has you playing through the piano notes in a certain order quickly.
Ashley, the main protagonist, uses her “DTS”, which is very similar in design of an earlier model of the Nintendo DS, to help her solve the many puzzles on the island and in the mansion. You can find red and blue cards for your DTS that tells the backstories of the events of the island, as you progress through the game. Only Ashley can use her DTS as it has her biometrics within the data of the DTS.
I really like the hand drawn anime art style. The characters expressions and designs looked interesting and unique. The 3D backgrounds are nicely detailed. There are birds sometimes flying and you can even see the shadows of a tree which is another nice touch for an earlier DS game. Along with its use of 2D styled cutscenes that has its own distinct visual style for each type of cutscene such as brief flashbacks. Graphics wise it looks generally good.
Trace Memory has a bird’s eye view on the bottom screen where you move Ashley around the area with either the stylus or control pad. It allows you to use the stylus for solving puzzles. The top part focuses on a screen of each area you are in.
The storyline was really good. It’s a murder mystery and It takes place in a span of one day. You play as Ashley Robbins, a 13-year-old girl who goes to blood Edward Island with her Aunt Jessica to find her missing parents after she receives a letter from her supposedly deceased father. She received the letter a day before her 14th birthday. Events unfold in just one day and bit by bit, Ashley starts to learn the true reason for her father's disappearance, and what really happened to her mother.
Themes such as love, loss are very important and woven into the puzzles of the story as well. The characters were fairly believable and my favorite character in the entire game was Ashley. She is this very sensitive and very inquisitive girl who just wants to know the truth of what really happened when she was younger. She does have a few funny quips every now and then. You can feel sympathy for characters like Ashley for what she has to go through in the game. She is also pretty skeptical and she doesn’t take anything at face value until she gets to the truth. Which is why she Is in this situation in the first place so she can keep on going despite the things that happens to her.
While Ashley is adventuring, she meets a friendly ghost named “D” who like her, is also in the search of the truth. They both have many things in common despite their different backgrounds and both share a similar goal. They work together to solve the mysteries of the island. The ghost is quite helpful and he plays a very important part in the story.
The game has a mysterious and brooding atmosphere. You learn more about the background of the location you are in as you solve the puzzles and explore the island and the mansion. About who the Edward family was and you also help your ghostly sidekick “D” find out the mysterious circumstances behind his death. The story takes its time to unravel its events slowly one by one instead of revealing it all at once which is a nice touch for its pacing.
The user interface was easy to use and well designed. You can save anywhere at any time and you can go through the files of the items you have found and characters you encountered. It has a low key and somber sounding musical score which I found to be good and it matches the eerie nature of the game. Each location has its own unique soundtrack. The sound effects in the game were ambient, subtle and it felt nice to hear.
I found a couple of Easter eggs relating to other Nintendo made games like Fire Emblem and Legend Of Zelda, as names of books in the game. Fans of Nintendo would like these little gimmicks in the game. I also liked its use of both telling the story through its subtle visuals and its dialogue. At the end of each chapter there is a small mini quiz that relates to the story and puzzles you have solved. It focuses on remembering certain events or solutions. After solving the quiz, you can progress onto the next area of the game.
There are some amounts of replay value in the game. You can choose a few different endings and depending on how much information you have found in D ‘s past from the clues, he can either rest in peace or be still wandering the island looking for the truth. You can also find any leftover DTS cards just in case you might have missed anything, learn more stuff in the story through your second playthrough.
There are a couple of downsides to the game.
It’s a pretty short game which can take you about a 3-7 hours to finish in a single day. A little bit of back tracking is also in the game too. Another odd thing is that you cannot pick up some items until you are in a certain part of the story, where you have to solve another puzzle in the game instead of picking it up earlier. You lose time having to backtrack and it was a bit annoying. The puzzles were hit or miss. Many of them can be pretty easy to solve. The soundtrack was a bit repetitive.
Trace Memory is aimed at a younger demographic but I still liked it. It was certainly a simple but fun game. Newcomers to the puzzle genre would enjoy it immensely. It gets 4 stars.
As a side note, there was even a sequel to the game but it’s for the Nintendo Wii and released in Europe and Japan only. I would be definitely be doing a review of the sequel if it ever was ported over here in North America on the 3DS. If you can find a copy and you enjoy puzzle games then you can try this game out. This is my favourite puzzle game on the Nintendo 3DS I am really lucky to have found it.