Her Story is a game that belongs to the visual novel genre; where the means of play is more about learning a story than it is about challenging gameplay. Previous attempts at playing these kinds of games have left me cold, but Her Story’s major differences managed to keep me invested way longer than most, and that is a small victory in of itself.
(Because this is a Visual Novel style game, it means that any talk about the plot can lead to spoilers which make it hard to critique. I won’t go too far into the story and only talk about the first few minutes of plot)
Her Story opens up with you sitting in front of a computer from 1995 linked to a police database. You are reopening a case about the murder of a man by using all the interview recordings conducted by a detective talking to the wife.
The search functionality of the database limits you to typing in key words or phrases that will hopefully yield new videos to watch. You are also limited by the fact that the database will only pull five videos from a search; so if a term has 60 videos associated to it, you will need to narrow things down to watch the rest.
Just like with any other Visual Novel game, the entire focus of the game hinges on your ability to pay attention and slowly but surely dig up the story. But what separates Her Story from other titles in the genre, is the medium that the story is told on.
Her Story’s different take on the Visual Novel is the fact that it really is a visual novel. Instead of just reading text, you’re listening and watching the wife through the different interviews; picking up on tells, information, mood etc. The transcribed text is shown along the bottom to help if you miss anything, but there is something compelling to watching the wife talk.
It pulls you into the story with the fact that you have this actual person talking at you. This makes Her Story feel even more like an investigative game compared to other Visual Novels and helps to elevate what is commonly looked at as a simple genre.
With that said, this is going to be a short analysis, simply due to the genre itself.
There really isn’t anything that I can critique from a design perspective here, because Her Story is not a mechanic focused title. The search functionality is a bit limited and that was on purpose to make you really think about the terms to use. I would have liked an on screen notepad for recording useful information; I was never a fan of keeping physical records of games nearby and that would be a good quality of life feature.
I would love to see either someone else or the developer Sam Barlow take this concept further; such as doing a full investigation using FMVs and research data. Her Story so far, is the only Visual Novel game that I liked and again that says a lot. If you enjoy the genre, this is definitely a game to check out. For people who don’t like this genre, I can’t say if the differences here are enough to sway your opinion, but Her Story shows that there are still places for this genre to grow.