When I first heard that this was a feminist visual novel, I was quite skeptical – my mind was immediately filled with ideas of the typical misandrist mindset that seems to permeate contemporary feminism. Spending money on something that would merely lead to irritation did not seem very appealing.
Color me surprised that this turned out to be one of my favorite visual novels.
To put it kindly, I have had mixed luck with original English language visual novels in the past. On one hand, Go! Go! Nippon! delivered a light and fun story of particular relevance to my interests (and no, I am not
just referring to Makoto’s features). On the other hand, Sakura Spirit, Katawa Shoujo, and several others that have escaped my memory failed to deliver anything substantially enjoyable. Because of this, Analogue was not only a breath of fresh air, but surprisingly satisfying for reasons that I don’t normally enjoy this type of thing.
The story follows a person tasked with recovering information from the Mugunghwa, a 25th century generation ship from Korea that had all of its inhabitants inexplicably die out hundreds of years beforehand. The protagonist’s task is to recover logs from the ship that explain what happened to the inhabitants, and they need to gain help from the ship’s two artificial intelligences (AI) to do so.
In many ways, this is not a standard visual novel. Immediately after starting a new game, the player will be greeted by a command-line interface (referred to as the “Override Terminal”), where they will need to input specific commands to accomplish certain tasks, such as enabling or disabling each AI. Fortunately, this is a fairly intuitive system, so while it may seem worrying at first for many people, it is easy enough to manipulate.
Later on in the game, there is a sequence where the player needs to manage the ship’s resources and avoid a meltdown of the reactor, all through the command-line console. While there are 20 minutes allotted to this section, the player needs to use advice from the AIs and the various commands available to them to not only power on a backup battery and shut off the reactor, but to manage that limited power and ultimately decide which AI to leave online, with the other set to degrade within 24 hours.
After trying out various methods and toggling things on and off repeatedly, this took about 12 minutes, leaving me plenty of room for comfort. While this section seems out of place at first glance, it fits in well with the other elements of immersion within the visual novel – I’ll delve into that a bit more later.
After leaving the command console and meeting the first AI, *Hyun-ae, the player begins working through the meat of the visual novel – the user logs and letters. Rather than the story progressing through a chronological retelling, the player needs to sift through logs on the ship, reconstructing the complicated history through various documents. The details are presented in a very non-linear manner, with character interactions weaving in and out and every writer being an unreliable narrator who doesn’t have a full understanding of the situation.
While reading the documents, some can be presented to the accompanying AI, which can result in vastly different dialogue. *Hyun-ae, whose history on the ship is revealed as the story progresses, has more contemporary and open-minded thinking, finding the old-fashioned customs of the ship’s inhabitants to be ridiculous. *Mute, on the other hand, does not quite support the patriarchal customs of the ship-dwellers, but accepts it as normal. When first talking to her, she asks a fairly standard question with peculiar repercussions – what is the protagonist’s gender?
If the player chooses male, *Mute will show them a bit more respect, but if they choose female, she will frequently patronize them, especially during the reactor incident. While her ingrained patriarchal mindset seems unusual, it falls in line with the former ship passengers, which is evidenced through the majority of the ship logs.
Through the logs and interaction with *Hyun-ae, the player quickly learns that society on the ship receded from more liberal 25th century customs, where women had equal societal footing as men, to 16th century Korean traditions, with the heaviest toll paid by the women, who were stripped of all powers and reduced to baby-bearing wives and concubines.
The different logs and letters from the former passengers focus on a few specific families and generally center around the “Pale Bride,” a young girl with a terminal illness who was cryogenically frozen hundreds of years before the societal regression. Much to her dismay, she was awakened not by people with technology advanced enough to save her, but those who had an even slimmer understanding of the world around them than in the past, focusing on politics and social structure more than science and humanism. Along with her decaying health, she was forced to abide by the ship’s customs, which heavily clash with her former lifestyle.
These various logs all touch upon important topics, with some relevant to contemporary times and others clearly old-fashioned. Whereas concubines being sold to a man of high-standing and arranged marriages are generally obsolete, things such as how homosexual couples are treated will remain relevant for years to come. For example, both *Mute and Sang-min made negative comments about a lesbian couple, the former saying it was “depraved” and “gross,” and the latter mockingly suggesting that they were physically “missing something” in their relationship.
Later on, there is mention of brother-sister incest, and while there is evidence to back up the claim, *Mute says that the woman claiming that incest is the reason the reproduction rate dropped for the entire ship should not make such frivolous claims. However, this isn’t because she finds it to be a ridiculous thing to suggest, but because that would imply that the woman’s husband/brother knowingly took part in something as impure as incest.
In terms of how feminism is concerned, *Mute and *Hyun-ae are polar opposites in how they approach women’s status on the Mugunghwa. At one point, *Mute says that the reason she is a female AI is because she is “fundamentally irrational” like a woman. *Hyun-ae regularly asks the player what they think of certain topics, and if the player chooses the option that supports gender equality, she will relax and speak further on what she thinks of the topic.
Their contradictions extend beyond their thoughts on how women should be treated, as their clothing, speech, and even opinions of each other are also wildly different. While *Hyun-ae, the more open-minded of the two, has a softer character design with contemporary clothing and a focus on light blue, *Mute, who speaks more casually and commonly curses, wears extravagant traditional clothing marked with a harsher red and sharper angles. *Hyun-ae also acknowledges that she has no opinion of *Mute because she barely knew anything about her, whereas *Mute hates *Hyun-ae for reasons revealed through the story.
Among the ship logs, most of the gender-related topics connect to how marriages were treated on the ship. Besides the focus on marriage age – that girls should be married around the age of 16 – all mentioned marriages are arranged for political favor. The entire reason that the Pale Bride was pulled from her cryogenic stasis was to become the bride of the ship’s “emperor.”
It is also made very clear by many characters that a woman’s only worth is in giving birth to boys and carrying on the lineage. Women who speak out of turn or simply draw attention to themselves are unfavorable, women who can’t give birth are useless, and women are what cause men to grow old, wither, and die. Logic along these lines is omnipresent in the ship logs, even reinforced by most of the women. The only significant contradictor is the Pale Bride, and only because of her upbringing in a freer time.
While the treatment of women in this distorted society is far different than what most of the world deals with in this day and age, the important message remains – attempting to change the opinions of individuals will not accomplish anything worthwhile. Instead, what needs to change is society as a whole. Without a universal acknowledgement of equality, nothing will change and people will suffer for pointless reasons, whether because of their gender, race, or other arbitrary denomination.
On the lighter side of things, one of my favorite things about this visual novel is the protagonist – rather than being a generic self-insert character, they are for all intents and purposes the player himself/herself. The player is the one reading the various entries to figure out what happened, the player is the one communicating with the AIs, and the player is the one manipulating the command console to accomplish specific tasks. The sterile white backgrounds with a smooth moderate sci-fi design also contribute to the immersion factor, reinforcing that the protagonist is communicating with the Mugunghwa via computer interface, just as the player is.
There are some very nice additions to the VN that help to ease a rather uncomfortable mood as well. Since she’s interested in cosplay, the player will be able to pick out different outfits for *Hyun-ae after a certain plot point, including a hanbok, detective outfit, scientist garb, and French maid outfit. Interestingly, she will react negatively to one of the costume choices, with the reason revealed as the story progresses. After completing the story, different bonuses become available, such as concept art, historical notes, and access to all previously read messages.
And now that all of that is out of the way, it’s time to get to the most important detail – there is an achievement called “Mai Waifu,” which you achieve for choosing (mutual) 2D love! Best visual novel of all time. There is also a harem ending, but I think that was more awkward than rewarding.
Play/read time – About 6-7 hours for 100% completion and all 5 endings, or just 4 hours for a single route
Price – $10 on Steam, or you can get this, the sequel (Hate Plus), and the soundtracks in a bundle for $20
Recommendation – If you’re interested in a visual novel that does things differently from the norm, both in storytelling and themes, give this one a try.
Analogue: A Hate Story is a visual novel that is clearly feminist without proudly proclaiming it or hiding it behind thinly-veiled misandry, instead using archaic logic and customs as an analogy of modern society’s flaws with regards to how women are treated. But beyond that, it addresses many facets of humanity, extending to topics such as the perception of homosexual couples and even cosplay.
But above all else, it makes its point through an enjoyable epistolary presentation and unique utilization of the user interface. It all coalesces into a memorable story with important themes, and I definitely think it’s worth the investment.
It’s a bit odd that my two favorite visual novels (this and Song of Saya) are pretty short. But at least this one didn’t make me physically uncomfortable. Or emotionally uncomfortable. Or mentally uncomfortable.
Unless it really doesn’t have much worth talking about, I think you can expect a post on the sequel, Hate Plus. I’ll get to it soon.
I was originally going to write some type of satirical post on misogyny, but then I read this VN. So be grateful that my original plan didn’t come to fruition.