I appreciate where Memories of East Coast is coming from. I’ll always admire the DIY spirit it takes to just get stuck in as a solo developer, and I welcome, on principle, any effort to earnestly explore questions of guilt and grief. But actually delivering is another challenge entirely, and for all its good intentions, Roomah Gaming’s debut falls short: underdeveloped, tonally inconsistent, and in desperate need of a good proofread.
A game attempting a serious psychological exploration probably shouldn’t sound like it was written by Tommy Wiseau. Grammatical errors, inconsistencies with tense and perspective, bizarre shifts in tone, and a weird fascination with using hyphens as full stops make for a jarring read. The script constantly flips between past and present tense, mid-sentence: “Lisa smiled as she stood still and watch you walks away back to your car…”. Mismatched plurals and disjointed verb forms pop up frequently, and while it’s generally never so bad that you can’t make sense of what’s going on, you sometimes have to cut through some real nonsense to get there.
Far be it for me to criticise anyone else’s use of em dashes—lord knows I abuse them myself—but they’re more common here than any other type of punctuation, and often placed where they don’t make sense. A dash isn’t a substitute for a full stop! Used well, an em dash can be a powerful tool for lending impact to the words around it, but an out-of-place one is just a distraction, and Memories of East Coast overflows with the latter.
To be fair, as I understand, this is a game written in English by someone for whom that’s not their first language. But that’s all the more reason to hire a good editor to go through and tidy everything up, and make it sound natural. Better yet, write in your native tongue and get it professionally translated. At the very least, get a proofreader to weed out those disruptive inconsistencies.
There are games where poor writing can almost become a novelty in itself; Zero Wing comes to mind as the most obvious example. But in a visual novel, where text is the most central part of the experience, and in a game that, in the developer’s own words, seeks to blend “a heartfelt narrative with psychological commentary”, everything rides on the quality of the script. Without that, Memories of East Coast stumbles from the get-go and never manages to find its footing.
It’s also hindered by a plot that, somehow, feels both overly ambitious and too constrained. At the centre is Sam, a 20-something police officer with a traumatic past, who decides on a whim to visit the East Coast—a place he used to visit as a kid, before a tragic accident changed his life forever. Inevitably, this means facing the ghosts of his childhood, and a chance encounter with a girl who’s got her own share of tragedy, and whose past is closely intertwined with Sam’s, sets wheels in motion for exactly the kind of “psychological commentary” that’s advertised.
Except… it never really does anything with that. The psychological exploration is superficial at best, with a story that moves haphazardly between beats played more for surprise drama than any sort of introspection. Even then, what should be shocking, emotional moments fall flat without any proper build-up and writing that’s awkward and stilted even before you get to the grammatical woes. And then it all ends, abruptly and unsatisfactorily—I’m rarely one to complain about a game being too short, but Memories of East Coast desperately needs space for its ideas to breathe and develop. It reads like a Cliff’s Notes version of another, better game.
To make things worse, bizarre, shoehorned-in attempts at humour derail the game’s attempts at a serious tone. I can’t think of many cases where randomly including the “My Heart Will Go On” bad recorder meme would be a good decision, but certainly not in what’s meant to be a thoughtful, introspective game. Every now and then, the narrator jokingly breaks the fourth wall to refer directly to the player, but in a way that’s neither pointed nor funny. In one scene, the narrator gets confused about whether the “you” they’re talking to is the player or the protagonist, in a way that almost seems like it’s building up to some big twist about Sam’s psyche—except that never arrives. It’s just a bit, thrown in for no apparent reason that falls flat as a result.
I don’t think seriousness and frivolity are mutually exclusive by any stretch—in fact, being able to straddle the line between them can be a powerful tool. But that’s not the case here; rather, it’s just bad jokes injected seemingly at random, further hindering a story that already struggles to make its point.
The one place Memories of East Coast does succeed is in its use of art and music to build atmosphere. The backgrounds are drawn in a rough, sketchy style with a watercolour finish, creating a suitably nostalgic mood for each scene. There’s no character art, “intentionally done to boost your creativity and imagination”—while I suspect it’s probably more to do with budget and a lone developer’s artistic capacity, the absence of visible characters does enhance the dreamlike mood in a surprising way. The lo-fi, mellow soundtrack rounds everything out, setting the scene for what should be a moody, engrossing experience.
It’s a shame the writing can’t live up to that. The idea at the heart of Memories of East Coast—a solemn reflection on guilt and grief, told through the eyes of someone reconnecting with their tragic past—is a sound one, but it’s too underdeveloped and riddled with grammatical errors to come close to delivering on its potential. I admire the effort that goes into a solo project like this, but shelling out even for just a professional proofread, if not a full edit, would have gone a long way.
Memories of East Coast
Developer: Roomah Games, Ratalaika Games
Genre: Visual novel
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.