Her Story Review: A Truly Wasted Three Hours
I'm looking at my computer. In a long series of mismatched videos, there is woman staring back at me telling me her life story. I deduce that her husband has been murdered, and from the videos I surmise that she is the prime suspect. For some undisclosed reason, I can't watch these videos chronologically and must piece her story together using a series of search terms collected from interviews with her.
Novel gameplay is not enough to carry Her Story.
This is main mechanic used in Her Story. The game consists of a series of police interviews taking place in 1994. Using keywords from these interviews the player searches the database to find new videos in order to bring her story to light.
I admit that this is an interesting and fun game design. Though unlike other reviewers, I don't think this design is anything special or new. Analogue: A Hate Story had a similar feature. The database design is a callback to text-based games, though Her Story adds a visual and auditory component. Though sadly, I have to say Her Story may have been more effective as simply a text game because the acting was dull at best.
A story drenched in tropes and schmaltz
As the name of the game implies, Her Story hinges on its story. However, the story is intentionally confusing and similar to something you might find in '90s soap operas. Without giving away the main aspects of the game, the story is filled with soap opera tropes like pregnancy drama, secret affairs, sibling rivalry, and sex always has consequences. Despite the dramatic events of the story, the voice actress' emotional state never seems to change. It makes it difficult to become invested in her story if she's as uninterested as I am.
Keep in mind that I think melodrama can work if it's over the top. However, Her Story never crosses that line into being humorous. It seems to take itself too seriously, and it is simply a boring, mishmash of a story. I would say that the story is derivative, however, to be derivative one must first recognize what works in a narrative.
I don't want to give you too many specifics because the game becomes unplayable even if I slip in a few keywords here and there. Even the character's name is something you must discover on your own. Whether or not you wish to make the discovery is solely up to you.
Poorly executed characters make for an overall disappointing experience.
For Her Story to work, the player has to care about the characters in the game. To put it simply, I have never been so detached from a character in any of my gaming experiences. Without giving too many spoilers, I will say that despite there being more than one character in the game, there is only one actress, Viva Seifert. I'm not at all implying that her job is easy, in fact the opposite. She is the game's lifeline. She's the only person the player sees or hears, and thus she makes the biggest impact on the player. That being said, she did not effectively sell this story me. I never found her performance believable or compelling.
Imagine someone telling you a story about how they once tried to drown their sibling. You'd expect some emotion behind a story like this; however they are completely uninterested in what they're saying and not in a devious dead-eyed kind of way that could make the performance interesting. This is what it's like listening to Her Story. It just sounds like she is reading a script she's been given for the first time.
After playing Her Story, I can assuredly say that at no point did I ever once care about what happened to these characters in their wholly uninteresting and depressing lives. Her Story is implausible, which makes the intended emotional impact of the game impossible to experience because none of it is believable.
It should be made clear that the interface of the game is fine. Searching the database seems a bit arbitrary, though it gets the job done. The problem rests mainly in the story and its delivery. The same game design could be used to tell a different story and become a much better game. Sadly, Her Story is what we were given. It lacks the originality and maturity of good storytelling.
You can purchase Her Story for $5.99 though I suggest you spend your money elsewhere.