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Official Review Read Only Memories: Neurodiver Review

So many parts of Read Only Memories: Neurodiver make me happy: the sound the Neurodiver makes plus its cute little tentacles, a purple heroine, spunky personalities, and a good mystery make the game easy to pick up and enjoy.
 
 

Official Review

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My impatience for, well, anything is well-documented at this point. Waiting five years for a game seemed completely unfeasible but I have done it! I have waited half a decade for Read Only Memories: Neurodiver (ROM: Neurodiver), the sequel to 2015's 2064: Read Only Memories. When I was offered a chance to preview the game for PC last month, I jumped at the chance. The build I played made it clear that what was about to launch was special. Colourful and happy on the surface, but when you did a little deeper you uncover the difficult contemporary technological/ethical/moral topics being debated. After playing the launch version of ROM: Neurodiver, I am happy to report that it was well worth the wait!

Development of Read Only Memories: Neurodiver clearly hasn't been easy based on the numerous launch delays. In 2019, it was announced for a PC/Mac launch in 2020. A comic was released to bridge the years between the first and second titles in the series. The sequel was was pushed back to early 2021… then early 2022… then mid-2023. Along the way, console versions were announced here and there. The game is set to launch this week, in mid-2024, nearly a full five years after its announcement. That is an awful lot of time for hype to build up.

Read Only Memories first launched in 2015, with the title being updated to 2064: Read Only Memories a couple of years later to coincide with its PlayStation 4 release. Set in Neo-San Francisco during the year 2064, it follows a journalist trying to help a ROM (Relationship and Organizational Manager) who claims it is sentient and that its creator has gone missing. There are a few character crossovers between the first and second games, but honestly you probably don't need to play 2064: Read Only Memories to pick up Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. I mean, you should. But you don't need to in order to enjoy the game.

Set in the cyberpunk world of Neo-San Francisco several years post-Read Only Memories (we begin in 2068 then jump to 2070), ROM: Neurodiver follows an esper named Luna. Espers are psychic, and prior to this story beginning Luna had to undergo some sort of transformation to become her current persona of Esper8801 – ES88 for short. She works for a company called Minerva and is the only person able to work using an artificially-created organic life form that also has psychic abilities: the Neurodiver. ES88 can use the (very, very cute) Neurodiver as a link between herself and a human life form, enhancing her ability to read the host's memories.



But why would her abilities need to be enhanced? Sometimes people's memories get fragmented, kind of like a computer file being partially corrupt. Fragmentation can exist in the host's memory due to neurological disease, physical trauma, psychological trauma… or psychic trauma. Yep, ES88 can use her psychic abilities (with the help of the Neurodiver) to fix someone else using theirs. She soon learns of a rogue esper who hides in memories and creates powerful fragments: Golden Butterfly. ES88, along with the Neurodiver and with some help from others at Minerva, needs to find Golden Butterfly before something bad happens. She needs to stop them but she also has to learn their motive(s).

I adore Luna. It certainly helps that she is my favorite colors combined but she's also bubbly, a tad anxious, and expressive. You can clearly see this through the animations and hear it through her voice. Lots of winking and awkward laughter. It seems like she may be dealing with a bit of imposter syndrome as she often surprises herself when she does something correctly. Luna is escorted around every day by the Neurodiver's security detail, GATE. GATE is quite opposite of Luna, rather quiet and self-assured. The pair seem like opposites, but Luna can really get through GATE's tough exterior. Watching their friendship (or more?) grow is really satisfactory. I found myself rooting for them.

One of the first few people ES88 mind-dives into is Lexi, a former police officer turned private eye. She is a returning character from the first game and the comic I mentioned earlier is about her story from being a cop to become a PI. With the mind-diving, there are different layers of characters at play. There are the "real" world people that ES88 knows and interacts with as herself. Then there are the people she meets when she's diving: she's basically puppeteering the host within the confines of the memory and is acting as them. Sometimes it's easy to forget who is who, but the graphics make it obvious who is talking. Thank you, color-coding!

A screenshot from Read Only Memories: Neurodiver (Nintendo Switch).


ROM: Neurodiver's gameplay is part point-and-click adventure, part visual novel. Both parts are pretty self-explanatory and involve lots of clicking. The world can be explored by moving around in scenes, clicking people and objects to drive the game forward. Sometimes you can "zoom" on a section of the scene – for example, you can look closer at the bartender in the bar. You're generally where you need to be so there's no getting lost. Defragment memories by collecting clues and putting the right clues with the right fragmented memory. It is basically solving a puzzle. As the game progresses, this becomes more complex with more clues to find and options to piece together.

The game's artwork has progressed an impressive amount since the 2019 announcement of ROM: Neurodiver. It is more colourful and detailed now, which to me makes things much more visually interesting and eye-catching. The screen layout has also been tweaked. Looking back, it's night and day from announcement to launch – and I mean that in the best way. The chiptune soundtrack is composed by coda (AKA Scarlet Moon's Ken Snyder) and sounds funky yet relevant. The entire package has that retro feel that the nostalgic part of me lives for.

With the Nintendo Switch version of ROM: Neurodiver, you have the option of touch controls as well as using the joy-cons or a controller. I've played some point-and-click adventures that hold your hand a little bit more than this one when you're using a controller because clickables are cycled through. For me, cursors and consoles aren't such a great fit, especially when there's not an in-game option to control its sensitivity.

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The lack of a cursor sensitivity option is a sign of the accessibility options (or lack thereof) to come. You can toggle master, music, ambience, SFX, and voice sound channels. You can change the language. You can turn voiceovers on and off. That's about it. There are no options to change text type, size, or color. In a game where words are everything, it's sad to see no text options to make the game more legible to more players. Oh, and there's no pausing or saving when you're conversing with someone – and it's not always possible to just put the platform to sleep and open the game at the same spot later on. Auto-save works, but not during interactions.

In my preview, I specifically mentioned the hint button. I complained that it's not so much a "hint" than it is a mission log. In the version of the game I played for review, this button is now labelled as "quest log." Which is great, except when my brain is completely melted because I've missed one small thing and I've been looking for an hour. The ability to trigger all clickable objects to glow or some way to be shown what is needed to process would have been really helpful. I need real hints!

So many parts of Read Only Memories: Neurodiver make me happy: the sound the Neurodiver makes plus its cute little tentacles, a purple heroine, spunky personalities, and a good mystery make the game easy to pick up and enjoy. Players can add a layer of philosophy to the game by digging into the moral questions posed through the narrative, or stay at the surface level. Either way is good. The learning curve is more than reasonable. A lack of accessibility options (including text and control settings) is a bummer, and not something to be overlooked. Still, Read Only Memories: Neurodiver is a phenomenal psychic mystery game. It's one I plan on returning to soon.

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