Budget Gamer: Her Story Is Not Your Typical Narrative Game

 
 
 
her story

Her Story is a difficult game to explain to people. It’s a narrative game, but not in the sense of a Twine game or a visual novel where you’re generally sorting through a lot of text. Her Story is a narrative game in the sense that the narrative is the sole driving force of the game, not the mechanics, though it does so in a very unique way. Players write in keywords into a police database, and then watch the relevant video clips that come up in order to uncover more of the story. What order the story comes in, what you see, what revelations happen, are completely up to the player, not the author. This is incredibly unique even for games – even the most open world of games still has story beats that are uncovered in a certain order. With Her Story, there’s none of that. The result is an interesting and engrossing game that manages to create an extremely satisfying narrative experience in a very limited way. It’s really like nothing you’ve ever played before.

Her Story, is at the outset, a murder mystery game. The goal is to find out what happened to Hannah’s missing husband through the video clips of her seven interviews with the police. These clips are real life clips, not animations, with a real actress. The live action aspect of the game was quite notalgic for me – there was a time period in the mid-to-late nineties when computer games were going for realism in the form of using real people in their games, and not photorealistic animations, and I played a lot of games like thisa s a kid. I think that the choice to use live action clips was a good one for a lot of reasons: I think it made sense for the 1990s time period the game takes place in, and I think it makes it a lot more compelling as a mystery. It needed the subtlety that a real person’s face and body language could give it, and the woman playing Hannah, the woman who is being interviewed, does a very good job with this. There are other games that have tried to use this “tell if they’re lying by their face!” mechanic *cough L.A. Noire cough*, but it doesn’t work that well because even the most photorealistic of animated faces can’t really pull off the subtle clues that we need to read them. So much of Her Story relies on the player not just listening to the words, but taking in the performance as a whole to figure out what’s going on, through body language, facial cues, even what Hannah is wearing. It really wouldn’t have worked any other way.

Her-Story-Screenshot-Desktop-BHer Story’s in-game interface. Yes, those icons in the background are clickable and there’s even an old school minigame in there, which is a nice touch.

A lot of people are describing Her Story as a true crime or a murder mystery game, and while it certainly draws on a lot of tropes from the true crime genre, it eventually becomes a much more personal story. It’s ultimately a game about love, about identity, and the whodunit aspect quickly becomes pretty secondary. I personally figured out what was going on pretty early in the game, completely by accident, but you still find yourselve wanting to see every last clip. Her Story is really quite great in terms of how it’s written and structured – I mean, it’s not easy to structure a game that can be played in any order and have it work. But Her Story does, because the team was clever enough to have each clip give you just enough: just enough to move the plot, just enough to signal to the player what they might want to try to look into next. I’m currently only at like 75% complete, meaning I’ve found 75% of all the clips, and I’m still finding out a lot more little details that are filling in the larger picture I already know about.

Of course, I didn’t love every aspect of the game. There’s some pretty schlocky symbolism that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at (however this is partly because I already knew what was going on; for someone who hasn’t figured it out yet, it’s probably a pretty good hint). While it’s pretty groundbreaking that this game is entirely centred around a woman and is literally just a woman talking (even the police officers on the other side of the camera are never seen or heard), it is still centered on a man and on a woman’s relationship to him for the bulk of the game. And I feel like, while some of the game’s twists are quite shocking, it’s almost to the point of being silly. There are some other things I can’t really get into specifics on because of spoilers, but it definitely deals with subject matter that could have benefited from a female perspective. Like Gone Home, Her Story also plays with some horror game tropes, and like Gone Home, I’m not entirely sure they worked for me. But overall, these are pretty minor issues. Her Story breaks the mold in so many other ways that it’s still worth your time, and it may even be one of the best games I’ll play this year.

Her Story is out now, on Steam, GOG.com, and the App Store.

Disclosure: This review was written using a review copy of the game provided by the developer. The views within this review reflect solely those of the author, not the publisher or developer.

Writer, editor, and founding member of Paper Droids. RPG-lover, baby game maker, owned by corgi. Spends way too much time on Twitter @mk_patter. To reach by email: sciandtech@paperdroids.com