Her Story Review – A Simple Dramatic Masterpiece
Full Motion Video (FMV) is a process of using pre-recorded video files and has been utilised as a visual device for video games since the advent of Laserdiscs in the 1970s.
While it once gained fleeting popularity as an early 90s’ fad of interactive movies, FMV, as a primary gameplay device, has never been able to produce a single competent gameplay experience in the entire existence of the medium.
Her Story is an FMV based mystery game that disproves this historical precedent and shows that FMVs can be used for something greater than a mere tool for interlacing pre-rendered cutscenes in-between unrelated gameplay.
At its essence; Her Story is a police procedural narrative told by allowing player to browse through a series of live action footage.
The game’s plot is a crime fiction mystery about a woman being interviewed by the police regarding her husband’s death. To say anything else would be doing disservice to a game that puts so much weight behind its narrative based gameplay.
Her Story’s gameplay premise is not that complex; it has the player character sit at an old computer, go through a clunky computerised police data base and try to examine an old murder by watching old videos from the mid-90s.
To investigate this murder mystery, the player essentially has to follow a trail of video clips that are housed within an old database software and can be browsed through a search engine.
The videos contain footage of testimonies and statements that have been separately tagged for submission to court. These clips are quite short; spanning from a couple of seconds to around a minute long, and have been very cleverly segmented.
Each video clip is time stamped, digitally stenographed and completely captioned, thus the players can utilise the database search field to match words and phrases with the content of the transcribed video interviews to display relevant clips.
While the system is able to share the number of videos whose content or tags match the searched word, this old police database is only able to display the 5 clips at a time.
This logic Database system is the game’s core mechanic and acts as an overarching puzzle device.
Players are able to watch any footage that is displayed from their search, write additional tags to each clip and add them to their session bar so that these clips can be retrieved anytime for later reference.
Since each clip provides some information or context, the player has to utilize the information given by the last video and try to deduce where the conversation went that can act as a lead to search for words used in other videos.
Through this process of unearthing footage, the player is able to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of the interrogation clips and recognise the clues behind the mystery.
It is a simple and intuitive game mechanic that can be understood and picked up by any person, no matter how experienced or inexperienced they are at playing video games.
However the video footages contain enough natural ambiguity to sustain its narrative mystery, and allow some logical challenge for the player to move forward with their investigation.
Her Story is a game that can be binged in a single sitting or be continuously played after long intervals that span days. It is an experience that can be enjoyed at any pace.
This makes the fragmented story unravel itself in a nonlinear fashion and the pacing of its twists and turns is totally dependent upon player’s interaction with its search engine.
While the game leaves the player to his/her own devices to piece together the story, the game does provide ‘an ending’ moment to signify its ‘completion’. However one could argue that ‘completion’ is not the point of Her Story.
Is the point of playing Her Story to watch all the videos, or to understand every nuance hidden in the story, or even to piece together the narrative in a linear timeline? The game is open ended enough for the players to develop their own meaning for what they want to accomplish from playing the game.
Her Story’s gameplay and narrative nuance is also reflected in the game’s visual and audial presentation.
Archived video footages provide enough dialogue and performance depth for players to be open to a range of interpretation; they can dive deep into analyses of each visual gesture and voice inflection or just take the every information provided by the interviewee at face value.
Game’s sole actress; Viva Seifert, does a fantastic job portraying her side of the interrogation in a fairly realistic manner. Lacking any overt campiness or overacting, her performance throughout the game is very convincing and very thematically appropriate to the narrative theme.
The overall presentation theme of Her Story is akin to found footage genre in movies, where every aspect of the game takes place from the point of view of a person looking at a CRT monitor of an old desktop.
To accomplish this, Her Story’s visuals have a deliberate dated quality to them and provide a seemingly authentic look into how computer screens looked during the mid-nineties.
The computer interface is a great analogue of Windows 95, the video clips have distinct colour saturation and scratches, giving them the feel of footage captured on VHS tapes and the display perfectly mimics a CRT monitor, complete with screen glare, background refection and horizontal scan lines.
This visual authenticity is beautifully complemented by the game’s sound design, which rounds the whole retro experience by including choppy clicks of a mechanical keyboard, hums and blips of an old time CPU, sound of a flickering tube light and capping it all with sparring use of light music.
Her Story’s presentation is what makes its gameplay and narrative come together in a complete and coherent package that engrosses players into its nonlinear story.
Aside from its most obvious mystery, for those that poke around its interface, Her Story houses a few additional narrative and gameplay surprises as well as a couple of codes upon its “completion”.
It is clear that there was a lot of thought put into all parts of the game; its narrative, its mechanics and its presentation. And perhaps it is due to this attention to detail why Her Story succeeds where almost every FMV game till date has failed.
Her Story is a beautifully unique game that revels in its simplicity. It is a simple game with a simple premise, telling a simple story with a simple game mechanic. Yet everything is so nuanced that it brings all the simple things together into a deep and engrossing experience.
It is a game that takes a novel approach to interactive storytelling that is definitely worth its asking price and offers a simple yet fresh gameplay mechanic that has the ability to hold the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike.