STAFF REVIEW of Bright Memory (Xbox Series X)

Sunday, December 6, 2020.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Bright Memory Box art When the Xbox Series S|X consoles released, most of the talk centred upon their limited launch line-up. It was a list comprised almost entirely of third party offerings, with tent pole series like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed leading the way. However, little was said about some of the smaller experiences, of which Bright Memory is one.

Originally released onto Steam a year or more ago, Bright Memory is less of a game than it is an elongated demo of sorts. This is the most important thing that you should know before you spend several dollars on it, and it’s also why the price is so low. If you blindly purchase this thing expecting a lot of content you will likely come away disappointed. Developed by one man, this Japanese first-person shooter is a hint of what’s to come from 2021’s Bright Memory: Infinite, which was previously showcased during online trade events. Combining the fast-paced and arcade inspired action found in arena shooters with enemies, environments and cosmetic items found in games like Dark Souls, it’s an interesting but flawed experience. Still, despite its flaws and shortcomings, the brief campaign remains fun and replayable.

Bright Memory hints at more of a story than it presents. Things begin with an ominous voice over, which talks about two connected worlds and one needing to be sacrificed for the other’s survival, before it truly begins with a bang. It’s at that point where we enter into a futuristic office building, wherein a soldier slumps dead in an elevator. There, we find Shelia, an operative who’s under fire from armed guards who are attempting to stop her from getting into a server room of some sort.

What follows this inaugural, partially slow motion, shootout is a thirty odd minute-long campaign full of bullets, swordplay and monsters. What begins as if it’s going to be a typical, futuristic shooter between one rogue soldier and her former employers quickly changes course once Shelia is teleported out of danger and onto a floating island full of strange beasts.

It’s on this strange island, with its Avatar inspired floating mountains, where the majority of Bright Memory’s gameplay takes place. As Shelia comes to terms with her new surroundings, she begins to explore and finds that the local fauna aren’t pleased to have her around. This isn’t limited to a first meeting with two vicious wolves. No, most of the creatures found within this game are much more gruesome and dangerous than that. Some are lions with gills, who just so happen to shoot fire out of their mouths, while many others take the form of sword wielding zombies, some of whom have shields. When I met them for the first time, the Dark Souls inspiration became pretty obvious. It only strengthened as I continued to play through the ‘campaign,’ fought the first boss (who feels like he was ripped straight out of one of those games) and eventually came across a bonfire with a sword stuck into the middle of it.

The good news is that Bright Memory only pays homage to the Soulsborne genre. Thus, it’s not as difficult, frustrating or cumbersome as those titles happen to be. If it’s not clear, I’m far from being a fan of theirs.

You’ll start off with a pistol, but will quickly pick up a slightly futuristic take on an assault rifle, before also unlocking a shotgun for use. These three bullet-driven options won’t be your only forms of attack, though, because a Metal Gear Rising style sword is also made available almost from the start. By pressing a shoulder button, one can use the sword for limited bursts, and can pull off some pretty great amounts of damage with it. The effect is heightened whenever one chooses to press the D-Pad up or down to unleash special, sword-based attacks, although they can only be used once per bout of swordplay. As with every one of Shelia’s special abilities, the sword must regenerate before being used again.

The first special swordplay attack is a forward slash, which quickly deals a nice amount of damage to the closest enemy. On the other hand, pressing down on the D-Pad will let you slam the sword into the ground, which has an area of effect. Foes caught within its reach will be sent flying into the air, allowing you to shoot them while stunned and airborne.

If one so chooses, it’s possible to combine this sword slam with other abilities to prolong an airborne enemy’s suffering. Once you unlock the option to slow down time (around one particular enemy) and boost your attack damage, you’ll find that combining those two abilities with the sword slam can keep a foe aerial for a decent amount of time. This, of course, factors into an achievement that is said to reward players for juggling an enemy for 15 seconds but doesn’t work that way. If you care about achievements, which it seems some still do, know that it can take double that amount of time before that one will unlock. You may even have to try to glitch it, by getting the monster stuck in a tree, which still counts as it being in the air.

Some of Shelia’s other abilities – which must be purchased using experience earned from killing baddies – include a lightning area of effect, a barrier that damages any nearby enemies and upgrades to one’s health and running speed. You’ll quickly notice that these experience points aren’t just added to your total, but actually need to be picked up by walking over glowing yellow or red circles that remain once a monster has perished.

One important thing to know is that you won’t be able to unlock or use all of these skills and abilities during your first play through. This is one of the reasons why FYQD Studio suggests that you play through his game at least three times before considering yourself done. This is idea is promoted not only by the title’s achievements list, but also by the fact that you simply cannot unlock every ability during one playthrough. Plus, there’s the menu, which lets you continue (as in new game plus) or start an entirely new ‘campaign.’ Continuing lets you keep your powers and collectibles, of which there are several to find.

Just a brief tangent about the menu: Although it doesn’t have many options, it’s stylishly presented just like everything else found in Bright Memory. This means that, instead of a static image, you’ll watch as Shelia’s character model is buffeted by wind on some sort of barren battlefield. The moving camera sometimes makes the text tough to read, as does the presence of extra bloom. None of what I mentioned above makes Bright Memory’s menu unforgettable, but a surprising effect of the wind did just that.

When I discovered that there was a second set of options located on the bottom right-hand side of the main menu, I decided to check them out. It was at this point that I was able to see what they did, which is change the main character’s costume. While she may start out in soldier style gear, the other three costume types are nowhere close to as businesslike. No, all three of the other outfits turn Shelia into a schoolgirl, complete with pigtails or ponytail and one of the shortest skirts imaginable. Why did this make the menu memorable? Well, it was only moments after making the change to schoolgirl chic that the camera angle changed, the wind picked up, and Shelia’s new short skirt fluttered up to show the underpants below.

After playing through Bright Memory three full times, I still don’t know a whole lot about its story, which I assume will be fleshed out in Bright Memory: Infinite. All I can really tell you about this game’s narrative is that it centres upon a young operative named Shelia who was given to some sort of futuristic tech organization when she was just twelve years old. After taking up arms against those who oppressed her, she’s used their technology against them, in order to escape danger. This has resulted in her being transported to the strange, floating island, which reuses environments that feel like they were ripped straight out of an RPG like Dark Souls or Might and Magic. Ancient ruins, that is, which feature stalwarts of those genres like runes, artifacts and strange symbols.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t talk about the core gameplay loop more, because it isn’t just about surviving against upwards of eight enemies at once. No, Bright Memory also features a scoring system that seems to go from B to SSS, just like what you’d find in Devil May Cry. There’s little incentive for one to really care about these rankings, outside of achievement hunters who will find that they must keep an SSS rank going for 30 seconds, but the feature is there. At least it is when it wants to be. For most of my three play throughs, the style counter was conspicuously absent. It would show up from time to time, but was supposed to be there during every combat encounter, of which there are quite a few including two big bosses. It was nowhere to be found, though, and would just appear out of the blue from time to time.

Put simply, Bright Memory is an action packed and somewhat enjoyable game, but it’s a very rough and buggy one too. Nothing about it truly stands out, but I still found myself having fun when it wasn’t frustrating me with its randomly increasing difficulty level, enemies who would be easy to kill one time and then be bullet sponges the next, and glitches. One checkpoint failed to load, the style counter almost never appeared, and other glitches marred my experience from time to time. However, it’s hard to really be harsh on these technical problems since this game was developed by just one man. I know damned well that I couldn’t make anything close to as competent as this, so I must say that I’m pretty impressed despite Bright Memory’s faults.

Very few of the games out there have been designed and developed by just one person. Even fewer of them feature visuals that aren’t rudimentary or stylized to be retro, with pixel based characters and chiptune music. Bright Memory may not succeed at being the incredible looking next-gen shooter it so wants to be, but I applaud the effort. The heavily stylized visuals feature lots of bloom and slowdown effects, but if you look closely you’ll notice some dated textures that really do not line up, such as uneven stair textures and things like that. The blood effect, which sometimes includes splatter on the player’s screen, is also neat but dated because the blood texture isn’t very modern looking.

It’s rare to see another human being’s face, because almost all of the people you’ll enter into firefights against are armored, with helmets covering their heads. Outside of Shelia, the only human face you’ll see belongs to a bad dude named Carter. His visage isn’t something you’ll want to see a lot of, either, because it’s very dated and lacks a lot of detail. His mouth moves when he talks, but little else does. It’s a bit creepy, to be honest, but it is what it is.

As far as audio goes, Bright Memory sounds as you’d expect. The sci-fi/fantasy/RPG inspired shooting takes place on ancient feeling grounds, but the hard rock soundtrack keeps your pulse pounding, as does the uneven difficulty. Shelia sometimes also speaks to herself, or others, and does so with voice acting that is certainly better than expected for such a game. Hell, while the overall voice work isn’t great, it’s still impressive for a game that was developed by just one talented man. Of course, most of what you’ll hear – outside of the music, that is – will be combat driven sound effects. The bullets are loud, the enemies are vicious, and the sword sounds decent when used. Don’t expect triple A sound design, though.

At the end of the day, Bright Memory is a bit of a tough one to score. I went in not knowing much of anything about it, and would be lying if I said that I didn’t end up having some fun with it despite its faults. Still, regardless of how impressed I am by the fact that only one man developed this thing, there’s not a lot to it that stands out. It’s dated, it’s buggy and it’s beyond short. Still, it can be pretty fun if you temper your expectations and understand that you’re not going to get a lot for your money.

**Bright Memory was reviewed on an Xbox Series S**

Overall: 5.6 / 10
Gameplay: 5.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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