Innovation has been paramount with the DS since its inception back in 2004, but while there have been many triumphs, unfortunately there have been quite a few gimmicks too. Again is a game that uses the DS in a book fashion as its predecessor, Hotel Dusk, originally did. It created a whole new way to look at playing games on the DS. However, the thing with a story based games is that they ride a fine line between gimmick and innovation. With Hotel Dusk, this definitely seemed to be an interesting new format, but happening for the second time, can Again hold that same interest, or does the idea begin to wear thin?
Again is developed by Cing, the developers behind Hotel Dusk, and is published by Tecmo Koei. It uses the same book-style of play, but features a visual style that involves images of real people displayed in a series of images as opposed to animated characters. The story follows FBI agent Jonathan 'J' Weaver and his partner, Kate Hathaway, as they attempt to solve a string of serial killings which have resurfaced after the case had gone cold 19 years earlier.
One major thing to take into account when playing Again is that it's not a traditional game, but more of an interactive story or novel. With that being said, Again is a much slower paced game with storytelling being the real key element of the game. The story itself is a murder mystery that has plenty of twists and unsuspecting turns to hold interest, but unfortunately, it takes about three to four hours to start going anywhere and there isn't really any big hook to get the game rolling. This can make for a tiresome start that is almost frustrating to work through, since characters needlessly repeat parts of the story over and over to drill it into the players head. The other problem with the story is that it takes the player's intelligence for granted at times, since for certain parts it very slowly reveals surprises that most people would already have figured out.
The visuals can also hamper the gameplay from time to time. It's not to say that the visuals are necessarily bad, they are actually quite decent in a lot of cases. But the art direction just seems poor a lot of the time. For example, all the backgrounds of scenes where characters interact just seem like really boring stock photography. The 3D environments that players interact in are not too bad, it looks a lot like rooms a player would encounter in a first-person shooter on the N64. The interactive areas aren't overly fancy looking, but it makes sense for the game since it makes finding clues a little more obvious.
The interactive crime scenes are actually where the game part of Again comes into play. Jonathan has a sort of psychic ability that lets him see the present in one eye, and the past of when the crime took place in his other eye. For these scenes, the bottom screen shows the present, where the top screen shows a sepia-toned past. The player must find clues to match up with the past images in order to display a bit of the crime taking place. This is actually a pretty fun mode where the player can do a bit of exploration to advance the plot of the game. There is one problem that hampers this mode though, and that's a health bar that deteriorates if a player tries to focus on something that isn't a clue. Although this does add a little suspense having a life or death scenario, but all death results in is a game over screen that lets a player load from the last save. As long as a player saves very frequently, there isn't too big problem. The other downside to this part of the game is that there are too few moments like this, and the time between them seems like forever.
Another downside to the game that makes time seem to slow down is the slow, droning audio that plays in the background. The music is always very slow and eerie, seeming to want to give a feeling of suspense when talking with characters. Unfortunately, the only thing the music really does is make the player bored and tired. On multiple occasions a person may find themselves drifting off while playing a long, drawn out sequence of story. The only thing seeming to break up this slow music is a trill that plays when someone responds in shock or amazement. This is nothing but annoying. Having a couple more upbeat tunes, or a varying audio track could have done wonders for making the game at least a little more grabbing.
Overall, Again is an interesting enough game that gives players a newer way to play their DS that they may not have tried before. For fans of mystery novels looking for something a little more interactive, it is a pretty good catch. The only real problem is that for being around ten hours to complete, it seems to take longer than it really needs to. A better hook to catch players would have done wonders for Again, especially since once the story does pick up, it gets genuinely interesting. Again is a decent game, it's just hard to get into and takes more dedication than most people probably want to put into a handheld game before starting to reap any reward from it.