Sunday, May 16, 2010

Aquanaut’s Holiday: Hidden Memories – a short PS3 review

Released only in Asian countries, Aquanaut’s Holiday received a rudimentary English translation, but not much Western coverage. Pity, since it is quite excellent. (oh, I also rant against my pet-hate: trophies)

When deciding whether to buy a PS3 or a 360, I wrote up a list of interesting system exclusives and the regions they were in, to help me choose. Aquanaut’s Holiday, along with Afrika, was on the PS3 – and furthermore, despite them at the time being Asian-only releases, they were in English and region free. The 360 had a lot of good exclusives I found, but they were strewn between US (English) and Japan exclusives, mostly region locked. In short: Aquanaut’s Holiday is one of the reasons I bought the hardware, and it didn’t disappoint. (That, and I really didn’t feel like paying Microsoft over a thousand dollars just to have three regions of hardware and free choice when playing – bugger that for a game of soldiers).
Hidden Memories is actually the latest in a series of Aquanaut games which first started on the PS1, none of which I’ve played. But I have played and thoroughly enjoyed Treasures of the Deep, Everblue 1 and 2, plus the 3D version of Ecco. So I’ve come to realise that I love almost any game set underwater, and Hidden Memories is the most technically advanced that I’ve seen (though gameplay is a little less involved than the above).
I bought both Aqua and Afrika at the same time, but started Afrika first, vowing to only start Aqua after completion. Both dealt with photographing creatures in their natural environment and I wanted to focus on just one at a time. Over a year after buying them I’ve now finished Aquanaut’s Holiday – 19 hours playtime, 91% of the photolibrary completed. Since purchase Afrika has seen a US release, while Aqua has not, which is a shame since it’s the vastly superior title of the two. Having said that, I still think both are essential to own by virtue of how different they are to everything else.
Whereas Afrika often features ropy looking environments and badly animated animals, Aqua’s depiction of the deep sea is never short of breathtaking. The draw distances are impressive and the texturing very detailed, unless you get stupidly up close to something. The creatures also swim convincingly and, unless you zoom right in using the photolibrary, look nicely realistic. What pushes Aqua ahead is how streamlined the gameplay is. In Afrika you had to camp in an area, wait for animals to get close, photograph them repeatedly, then head back to camp and email in what you hoped was the best photo for them to be registered. It’s laborious, time consuming, often boring and sometimes infuriating when the game arbitrarily gives you a D ranking for a photo – you’re also likely to spook the animals quite easily. In Aqua the fish ignore you, you’re an invisible voyeur almost, and there are hundreds more creatures to find. Documenting them simply involves clicking on them with your pointed, whereupon they’re registered at base camp and you instantly receive money. In half an hour you might discover 20 species of fish, keeping the pace in tune with how fast you want to play. Slow and easy or very fast – it’s your choice.
Aqua also excels in atmosphere. I’m almost pleased this wasn’t covered by the mainstream, because undoubtedly they wouldn’t understand it. There’s no scoring beyond money acquired for species documentation, and gameplay consists solely of pure exploration and a few “Simon Says” audio games with certain fish. The audio games are used to upgrade your submarine as you make progress, but are fairly easy and can be mostly ignored. So really, the sole point of this is to leisurely explore the sea, making notes of whales, slugs, wrecked ships, Stonehenge, and other interesting things. Discovering new species yields money, which is used to buy SONOBUOY batteries which increase your map’s cruising range, but you don’t need much to purchase a full compliment.
There’s a fun little story told through a sometimes hilarious Engrish translation, and towards the end Aqua almost turns into the film Abyss. If, like me, you regard the Abyss as one of the best films to come out of Hollywood, then you should love Aqua’s final sections. It’s extremely soothing to just sit back and cruise, playing in the dappled light of the shallows, or descending in the dark depths to discover giant squid and seemingly-extinct creatures. Even after completion you’re encouraged to go back and play, since a few side-missions unlock.
As a system exclusive which is now never likely to receive a US release (the English text just needs a little sub-editing to remove the Engrish), I would encourage everyone even remotely interested to import it (make sure you get the Asian release, with a mix of Chinese and English). Buy it to enjoy and relax with, especially on those lazy summer Sunday afternoons. There is very little else like it (except maybe on the Wii) and for me, it did everything I had hoped for.
About the only criticism I can raise against Aqua, is the inclusion of trophies. Prior to such things, I would have completed it with 91% and felt satisfied. Now though, myself and others checking my profile are forced to know that I’ve only completed ~30% of the trophies, some of which are so asinine that to collect them all without using a guide would probably require an additional 20 hours of random searching. I really have to question who these trophies are created for – who, honestly, has played through and done everything without using some form of guide? Is it even possible? There’s a Japanese Wikipedia page, but I’m reluctant to use it, since I feel the experience would ruin my happy views of this. Furthermore, the otherwise optional audio games with fish take an excruciatingly long time to play all of them and achieve the trophy for each species – working on the easiest fish in the game, I reached level 14 before deciding I really couldn’t be bothered trying for any of the trophies. How high do they go? I had hoped level 10 would be the top, but for all I know it could be level 100.

And for those who want to inform me that trophies are optional, I have to say this: no they are not.

If trophies were optional, I could disable them on my PS3 and would never again have my gaming ruined by the sound of “kerching” and a box stating that I’ve just unlocked something (this absolutely destroyed Flower for me). Furthermore, I would be able to disable them from my profile so that others would not be able to see them. But I can’t, I’m forced to be aware of their existence, so therefore they are not optional, they are most definitely mandatory. Sony has decreed that if you own a PS3, you absolutely must, without choice, be forced to know about trophies. Your trophies, other people’s trophies, other game’s trophies. You cannot not know about them.
I’m a proficient, veteran gamer, but I have about 20 trophy entries on my PSN profile, all hovering around 30% or less. What does this say to the world? If you’re the kind of person who needs regular little bagdes to feel vindicated for playing games, do it on your own time, without your system interfering with mine. Go join the scouts or something. I play games to play, not have a machine curtly point out that I’ve only “made the most” of 30% of an otherwise fantastic and essential game.

My only other wish now is: are we ever likely to see an Everblue 3 on the PS3? If so, no trophies please.


  1. Looks lovely :3

    Kinda like an hd version of Endless Ocean (both of them are on wii, I guess that's what you were refering to)

    There should be more games like this, just explore and awe... though the 3D echo game (done by the original developers, who also did that brilliantly terrible Jaws game on ps2) isin't as awe inspiring as it is aghh inspiring (why did it have to be so damn hard?)...

    Also it's a shame Echo 2 was never finished, would of been great (though it'd probs be on ps2 instead of dreamcast, that may of been why it was cancelled and replaced with the jaws game)

    What is your opinion on endless ocean anyway? Both of them that is.

  2. I'd absolutely love to try this game, I was an enormous fan of the original. However, all the websites that stocked the English version closed them out at some point and bargain-hungry types snapped them all up regardless of whether or not they had a real interest in the game. The $75 they seem to go for on eBay right now is steeper than I'm willing to pay, so I guess I'm gonna have to sit this one out. Very frustrating.

  3. I was really interested in this one too, but never got it, since it was only released in asian regions. I actually did think that Aqua was cancelled until playing and loving Enldess Ocean (not quite the same like Everblue 1 and 2 but aparently still the 3rd game in Arikas "Aquatic Series" Everblue is a part of, too - and released as Forever Blue in Japan) and researching that game again to find out it was silently released in Asia only with a title change to include it into the Aquanauts Holiday series.

  4. $75 seems a bit high. I was lucky and got it when it was reasonably priced. That's a realy pity - but keep an eye out, definitely! Otherwise either Everblue game is a fantastic alternative, if you don't mind PS2 visuals. Treasure's of the Deep is also pretty neat, with a bit more action. It's PS1, but still manages some decent atmosphere.

    As for Endless Ocean, that was what I was referring to, I just couldn't remember the name. I've not played either actually! From what I'd heard it seemed similar enough to AH:HM that I decided to play that instead (I also put on hold Everblue 2 to play it).

  5. Sketcz:"So I’ve come to realise that I love almost any game set underwater"

    Have you ever played JAWS UNLEASHED?

  6. No! I heard it was awful (despite being the Ecco guys), so avoided it.

  7. where to by if i may ask, im lokking all over the world

  8. English version is selling for over 90 USD on ebay...which is ridiculous, almost as bad as ICO on the PS2.

    Anyone know where I can get this at an affordable price?