Don’t Forget Me Review
For all its emphasis on text-based puzzles and clever expositions about the meaning of memories, the puzzle adventure game, Don’t Forget Me, surprisingly doesn’t seem to say much at all. The game tellingly begins with a figurative question mark: yourself, an amnesiac who has absent-mindedly stumbled towards the doorway of a clinic. It is there that you crumple to the ground, just as its owner opened the door. When you come to, he explains he had to rummage through your memory chip, embedded somewhere inside your noggins, to make sure that you aren’t a government operative. He also asks for your name—it’s Fran.
And that’s all you can remember from your past.
Dredging up more questions than answers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it’s simply that Don’t Forget Me is more keen to incite discussions than suggest tidy resolutions. And it’s this spirit, too, that is closely aligned to its cyberpunk setting and the theme of asking big, provocative questions about our parasitic relationship with technology.
Not as cyberpunk
That said, Don’t Forget Me seems modest about these aspirations, as if it’s almost reluctant to yell about its cyberpunk roots. Instead of relying on the typical signifiers of cyberpunk—the neon, gaudy radiance of a billboard-filled city—the bulk of Don’t Forget Me takes place indoors, with hints of the megalopolis only visible through the windows at inconspicuous corners of the rooms. In other words, Don’t Forget Me isn’t about going full-blown Cyberpunk 2077 with the giggling geishas, neon samurai swords, and nonsensical kanjis splashed across any empty surfaces. Most of its characters are regular folks who don’t walk around with cybernetic implants or mechanical limbs emblazoned on their bodies. The restraint is deeply admirable.
Bernard, the kindly old man who you first meet at the clinic, is also somewhat of an enigma. Referring to himself as a copyist—someone who delivers the clandestine and highly illegal service of copying and extracting memories—Bernard rebuffs most attempts to know him better. He gradually opens up over time, but there is a persistent feeling he’s not all he seems. What he also does, however, is to graciously offer you a place to bunk over till you recover your memories—that is, to share a couch with his grouchy cat.
Digging up memories
In return, you are helping him out with the logistics of memory mining at his clinic. This entails playing some sort of word association game via a dashboard, where you will dive deep into the recesses of the residents’ thoughts to reach the crucial memory—the very one that would be uploaded into an external hard drive. The instructions feel a bit hefty at the start, but it’s more straightforward than it sounds: type a specific word associated with the initial memory to go to the next, as prompted by Bernard, who would describe to you what’s going on—with the end result being in a constellation of interconnected memories.
If it all sounds somewhat surgical, that’s because this process can come off as that sometimes. One issue is that derivatives of the same word, even if it’s the right answer, cannot be used in the program. In one instance, the word to key into the software is “shadow”, but entries such as “shadows”, “Shadows”, or “shadowing” will not be recognised. This has led to some minor frustrations, but I soon learned that it’s one that’s easy enough to overcome (pro-tip: just use the singular, most rudimentary form of the word if you’re ever stuck). What struck me about this memory mining exercise is that it comes off as an abridged version of the database program in the police procedural game, Her Story—one of Don’t Forget Me’s influences—as you uncover the circumstances behind each memory by inputting keywords. Yet, it’s also slightly less remarkable as the process is much more linear—a little like the straightforward practice of connect-the-dots, rather than the less sequential sleuthing of Her Story.
More questions than answers
Nonetheless, this journey of discovery is still a fascinating one to delve into, and Don’t Forget Me would have felt tedious, if it had chosen to fixate on this mechanic alone. Later chapters have you exploring memories in a more spatial sense; you’ll be transported to other rooms—still set within your clients’ memories—to unearth memory anchors, such as a family portrait to a phonebook. It’s not particularly novel; in fact, it’s reminiscent of the classic point-and-click style of rummaging through objects and gleaming meaning out of them, but it’s a welcome change of pace from the text-based puzzles.
Perhaps the biggest twist to Don’t Forget Me—and this is not a spoiler—is that despite all the chatter about memories, the game isn’t explicitly about them. Instead, it’s a tale centered around navigating the ambiguities of being human. Moral quandaries abound, and while you do get to decide how Fran responds to specific situations, they don’t detract from the largely linear tale in any way. In fact, Don’t Forget Me grants you the freedom to rewind to these forks in the road and make a different moral choice, if you like. While these are an invitation to learn more about characters, it ultimately raises more questions about their motives, than answer any burning questions–a thread that further feeds into the atmosphere of profound ambiguity in Don’t Forget Me.
At the beginning of the game, Bernard compares what he does as a copyist to the process of cryogenic preservation. In a way, the process of freezing bodies to be revitalised decades later represents a longing to unravel the various mysteries behind death. But even in the futuristic universe of Don’t Forget Me, no one has ever been revived from a cryogenic sleep before. In the same vein, accessing the memories, once they’re extracted from the brain, is also as unfathomable at the moment; there’s no way to perform it yet. Preserving these memories for their loved ones, or even descendants centuries later, also represents an unfulfilled promise to be remembered as individuals and their legacies–a right that’s rapidly dwindling in Don’t Forget Me. That’s why it’s the ambiguity of these operations—as well as the complex, unknowable conundrums of free will and morality—is the pulsating heart of the game. It isn’t here to draw lines on the spectrum of morality, but illustrate the importance of asking the right questions, which is just as crucial as seeking answers that may never be found.