I’ll preface this review by saying that Always Remember Me isn’t what I would specifically call a visual novel, but rather a dating sim with visual novel elements mixed in. The story bits are scattered throughout Always Remember Me, tucked away in random locations that you stumble into at specific points in the game, and you’ll spend more time trying to woo the boy of your choice than reading about your feelings or what’s going on story-wise. So if you’re looking for a pure visual novel, look elsewhere.
Always Remember Me starts out with our protagonist Amarantha (thankfully shortened to Amy by most) and her current boyfriend Aaron talking about how much Aaron’s dad hates Amy for simply existing. The two decide to go for ice cream on Aaron’s motorcycle, sans helmets or protective gear. They make it as far as a traffic light before a car plows into them and understandably sends both of them straight to the hospital. Through the miracle of plot armor what should have been a fatal accident manages only to injure Amy and Aaron; Amy hasjust sustained minor bruises, but Aaron now suffers from a tragic case of amnesia that has erased his memories specifically from the last few years, including everything he knows about Amy (gasp). Amy now has to try and help Aaron slowly regain his memories so that he can remember her, and they can live happily ever after. She only has until the end of the summer to do so, however, for reasons the game never adequately explains.
A game focused on trying to rebuild a relationship with an amnesiac boyfriend would have made for a great story all on its own, with the game exploring all the ways one could try and fail to start the relationship over from square one. But that’s not what Winter Wolves decided to do, and instead went down a path that honestly made me question my morals as a human being. Amy has another choice, other than helping Aaron recall lost memories, you see. Rather than sticking with Aaron to try and rebuild their several years old relationship while he’s trapped in the hospital, she can abandon him to the clutches of his crazy ex-girlfriend and date one of three other boys in town to find true love in just under three months. There’s Lawrence the sensitive coworker, Hugh the wise-cracking artist, and Eddy the young doctor who is treating Aaron at the hospital. After the first week or so in-game, Amy can essentially just ignore Aaron for the remainder of the playthrough without any sign of remorse from her (which I was quite happy to do, and only felt slightly guilty about).
Regardless of which boy you pick, all pursuits are the same. Winter Wolves’ games typically have an affection meter for each character to show how strong or weak your relationship is with them, and Always Remember Me is no exception. Every boy starts out with 5 out of 100 points of affection towards you. Successfully talking to a boy will gain you 1 point, and failing to talk will result in no points gained or lost. However, every once in a while you will encounter special events that will ask you what to do with a character in a certain scenario. Usually the answer you need to pick is pretty straightforward, and picking the right answer will net you 5 points (except for the final encounter, which gets you 10), but picking the wrong answer will lose those points. The goal is to pick one boy and get his affection meter all the way up to 100.
At the same time that you’re trying to earn a boy’s affection, you also need to work on honing specific traits. Each boy has one trait (culture, creativity, romance, or discipline) that he particularly likes, so which boy you pursue should also dictate which trait you pursue as well. For some reason the traits max out at 99 instead of 100, and these points can be frustratingly difficult to earn. We’ll talk more about that later.
There are 9 possible endings to Always Remember Me: 4 regular endings earned by maxing out the affection meter for each boy (usually involving you and the guy of your dreams at an ice cream parlor), 4 special endings earned by maxing out both the affection meter and the trait he has an affinity for (usually you landing a job that complements your man’s career), and 1 ending earned by not maxing out anyone’s affection meter which results in Amy ending her summer alone. Earning 1 of the 8 good endings gets you a special ending scene, but getting the bad ending will allow you to restart the game with some of your trait points carried over to increase your chances of winning the second time around. Not a bad mechanic to have, particularly for first time players.
Some dating sims or visual novels will try to steer you towards only interacting with one boy after a certain point at the risk of losing points with him or getting a bad ending if you talk to other boys, because heaven knows talking to more than one guy makes you an unlovable slut.
Another nice mechanic of this game is not having to worry about interactions with one boy affecting your relationship with another. Some dating sims or visual novels will try to steer you towards only interacting with one boy after a certain point at the risk of losing points with him or getting a bad ending if you talk to other boys, because heaven knows talking to more than one guy makes you an unlovable slut. Always Remember Me doesn’t care which boys you talk to or how often, though you’ll only get the special events for the boy you spend the most time with. However, time is very limited in the game; you only have from June 8 to September 6 to win someone’s heart, and that flies by much faster than you would think. Even though you can interact with the other boys, you simply do not have the time to focus on more than one of them unless you want to risk getting the bad ending.
With the exception of Aaron, you can only talk to each boy once per day (You can both talk to and read to Aaron each day). Sometimes these talks will succeed and earn you an affection point, and sometimes they will fail and earn you nothing but a loss of morale and energy. It’s completely random, so you need to try talking to the boy of your choice every day you can. When you’re not romancing the boys directly, you’re attempting to make yourself more appealing to them by doing activities that boost one or more of the four traits. Exercising at a gym boosts discipline, writing a poem boosts creativity and/or romance, etc. The game tells you what activities will boost which traits before you do them, and what the penalty is for failure (usually losing morale and energy). Going to different locations from your map at different times of day dictates what activities you can and cannot do. Be mindful that Always Remember Me divides the day into seven time periods, some activities are only available during the day or night, and some activities will only take 1 period of time while others need 2. The game doesn’t say how long these activities take, however, so you will have to try to remember on your own. Spend your time wisely, and you can net the boy of your dreams!
Spend your time wisely and you can net the boy of your dreams!
That’s the gist of how you play. So, how is Always Remember Me as a game?
I’ll start out with the positives, but even these have negatives of their own. I really did like the art in this game. The the sprites had beautiful facial expressions and body language whether they were joyful or miserable, and it was very colorful yet tasteful. The background art was also lovely, but the map artwork should have been redone to make certain locations much more obvious to the player’s eyes. There’s nothing to make the buildings that you can visit stand out from the ones that are just on the map for decoration. It took me until my third playthrough to discover that there was a nightclub you could visit, and I only found it because one of the boys invited me there for a date.
The writing is ok. Some of the characters are better developed than others, though none were particularly memorable for me. At least Amy came across as likeable; nothing is worse than a dating sim with a protagonist that you hope ends up alone and miserable. Aaron especially fell flat to me; I played through both his routes and still cannot tell you a single thing about that boy as a person except that he likes books and cats, not unlike Amy’s dear old Aunt Gwen. I’m not sure if his character was handicapped to allow for the appearance of his father and ex-girlfriend in his storyline, or if they were added later because he was so weak as a character. Bottom line, I had no interest in the boy who was supposed to be the love of my life and quickly abandoned him for better prospects.
Bottom line, I had no interest in he boy who was supposed to be the love of my life and quickly abandoned him for better prospects.
There’s not much to say about the music either. I was hoping that such a pretty game could afford decent music, but I could only hear 5 distinct tracks throughout the entire game, only 1 of which was an actual song instead of a soundbyte on a loop. It’s not awful music by any stretch of the imagination, but it got old quickly. If you’re wondering about voice acting, the only voice is Amy’s which either cheers or whines when you succeed or fail at a task. Personally I found it rather annoying and muted it from my second playthrough onwards.
The music and writing could both be forgiven if the gameplay was incredibly fun, but it wasn’t. Honestly, I found Always Remember Me to be pretty boring and monotonous after a while. You start out every weekday at your job at the ice cream parlor for two turns, then you are free to do as you please. This usually involves visiting your desired boy followed by doing an activity to boost a trait, maybe writing or jogging or cooking or blogging. Sounds fun, right?
Remember how I said you start out with 5 points with each boy and need to get that up to 100? Well each encounter only gets you 1 point if successful. You click “talk to [name]” and see whether it was a success or failure. No actual dialogue takes place. Either you had a nice chat or they were too busy/distracted to see you. And you have to do that again, and again, and again, watching as your affection meter creeps up towards 100 at a painfully slow pace. It got really old really fast.
Meanwhile, you also have to get your boy’s favorite trait up to 99 if you want the best ending for him. It’s the same mechanic as talking: you click “practice writing” to boost culture or creativity, and hope for a success pop-up notice. If you fail, no points. But even if you succeed, you might only get 1 or 2 points for just a single trait, not both. I once spent 4 turns on a Saturday practicing my writing and only came away with 1 point for creativity but 3 for culture. The only time you’re guaranteed to get points is if you take a writing or art class, and you have to pay for those with money you might need to buy gym memberships or buffs at the mall. There’s no time to try activities that won’t get you the points you need, but why would you want to try them anyway if the only thing you get is a success/failure message with a different chibi sprite beneath it? Oh, and occasionally there were bugs in the activities. I remember going to a nightclub to boost energy and morale but got a random creativity point too (but just once). In another event that was supposed to boost my romance, I instead got a culture bonus that wasn’t even listed as a possibility. So even if you do the right activities and succeed at them, you still won’t get the right points all the time.
So that’s how you spend your days in Always Remember Me. Click to earn money, find boy, click to talk, find activity, click to do, go to bed and see a screen pop up to show your changes in stats. There’s no variety at all except for when special events occur with a boy, and we get a bit of actual dialogue with choices to make. I lived for those parts of the game, but sadly they were few and far-between (probably because you get such nice affection bonuses from them). Mostly it was just clicking and glancing at the game’s calendar to make sure I wouldn’t fail and have to do a whole summer all over again.
Ideally, a good dating sim should revolve around the main character’s story and struggles as she attempts to date someone, so that the relationship is part of a bigger story.
Overall, this is just a very weak dating sim. Ideally, a good dating sim should revolve around the main character’s story and struggles as she attempts to date someone, so that the relationship is part of a bigger story. Always Remember Me forgoes any part of Amy’s story that isn’t directly connected to the boy she’s currently pursuing in favor of having you run around town to buff skills or hit the conversation button. And none of the boys are really interesting enough to hold up a story with just their dates with Amy. If more playing time could have been sacrificed in favor of talking about Amy’s hopes or dreams, I would’ve been ecstatic. But apparently the developers couldn’t risk plot getting in the way of game mechanics, regardless of how boring those mechanics may get after the first hour of playing.
Getting all 9 endings took me about 4 and half hours, but I read a little faster than most so let’s round the play time up to 5 hours. Did I want to play the game until I got all of those endings? Yes. Do I have any desire to go back and play it again? No. Would I recommend it to people? That depends. It’s a nice enough dating sim to get people into the genre with reasonably friendly mechanics, but I’d still try to find something a little more entertaining first. I definitely wouldn’t recommend paying the requested $18 for this, particularly since I’ve been able to find much longer and better developed dating sims for free. If you can get it on sale for cheap, it’s not the worst thing to pick up. But it’s definitely far from the best.
Always Remember Me is one of those dating sims you play when you’re just starting to dip your toes into the visual novel genre and want to play something simple and accessible. I certainly liked it once upon a time, so perhaps other players new to dating sims will like it as well. Amy is cute, shopping for skill buffs was fun, and you certainly felt a sense of accomplishment when getting each ending. The problem is that I’m not a beginner anymore, and I’ve played so many better dating sims than this (some of them actually made by the Winter Wolves company). No cute protagonist or pretty ending cutscene is enough to save Always Remember Me from a difficult map, boring boys, bland music and writing, and incredibly boring game mechanics. I’m glad I played this game again, but can’t see myself picking this back up anytime soon. Final recommendation: get it on sale if you’re new to the genre. Otherwise, find something else.