Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories – PS5 Review

I often wonder with gaming narratives how to truly judge them. There are entirely story-driven games where the focus shifts from gameplay which ultimately diminishes the interactive element of the medium. Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories by Froach Club is another one of these games. With the gameplay reduced, I often wonder what terms to meet the game on. Should I treat this closer to other mediums like film and literature? Does that give the game an impossible standard to meet? Whatever the case, titles like this obviously dig their trench somewhere between and, whilst I don’t always like them, they can be interesting to mull over.

Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories‘ story begins quietly enough. Honeydew works in marketing for Eglantine Industries. This soft-drink manufacturer has a new product in the works. It’s melon-based but the nearby town of Ham Town has outlawed the fruit. It’s seen as an elicit substance but the company is pressing on regardless. Her friend Cantaloupe also works there but they quickly go missing. A mystery quickly ensues as you discover where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing and where they plan to go next.

The writing keeps things largely jolly with a heavy emphasis on puns. It’s laid on thick and I initially considered it a turn-off. Once I learned to accept it, the story did a decent job of plotting out a simple crime story. There’s a few moving parts but there’s ample time to build characters and relationships which is arguably the strongest aspect of the narrative.

The legality of melons plays into the story fairly well and doesn’t feel like a shoehorned gimmick. In fact, these subplots keep the world feeling fairly dynamic and interesting. The mayoral election, protests against the town’s monarch and even petty criminals all have time to feature. It’s encompassed by decent pacing with the acts not feeling bloated with extra activities.

There’s a lot of charm to the dialogue and the side-quests really help build camaraderie between the diverse cast. For a relatively quick tale, it’s packed with moments that make most of the town’s inhabitants feel more than one-dimensional. They don’t feel static either, advancing as the main plot does to help convey the passage of time.

Gameplay is basic with Honeydew able to wander into environments and examine points of interest. A lot of this is for colour and an excuse to get melon or hamster-based puns out of the system but this does help flesh out the quirky animal world. Dialogue trees are present although the majority of them felt fairly binary. Some felt more like adding colour to your response. It is certainly not aiming for any branching narrative with the main thread resolving fairly unchanged.

As such, the game can be powered through in quick order. Sidequests do allow you to diverge a little. These stories tend to involve a supporting character trying to resolve a key issue. It does a good job of developing members of the cast although none of them truly seem to get wild with gameplay or setting. I enjoyed digging into them and none of them felt long enough to dilute the urgency of the main plot. Success at these secondary objectives can lead to other characters joining your party. It doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things but collecting a posse does make dialogue appear more lively and jovial. Above all else, there’s an adorable theme of friendship and runs through the spine of the narrative. Bringing those characters together brings a good sense of progression.

Visually, the retro, monochrome aesthetic is something my eyes had to adjust to. Some scenes can be densely packed with details. There’s a surprising amount of effort that’s gone into crafting these environments. They look lively and there’s some flourishes that are added as the game rolls on. The overhead, 2D perspective had me initially wondering if a classic RPG was on the menu. I think it shares a tone in keeping with something like Earthbound but the geometry of each area and the green pastures do not deliver anything beyond an homage.

The music is largely cheery and steps away from the usual chiptune soundtrack to deliver something a little more sophisticated. There’s fun had with it. Frog belches sometimes make an appearance and the there’s an energetic jaunt to the score which maintains a light touch. There’s a consistent motif to it all but the latter stages take the opportunity to flex their presentational muscles. Music gets darker, visuals more abstract and it feels far removed from the more humble beginnings.

Whilst I don’t think Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is breaking any new ground, there’s a lot of detail to the game’s world and narrative. The main story seems like a basic crime tale but the stuff on the periphery really help contextualise proceedings. The themes of friendship are handled well, even if the writing can be a little twee, at times. The presentation does well to make the town feel lively and there’s plenty of effort and care on display. It’s grown on me, even if the green palette takes some getting used to.  I also would’ve liked a way to check what my current objective was.  It’s not a game to really get lost in but I did lose track of where I was supposed to be going, once or twice.

Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories
7 Overall
+ Very detailed art.
+ Charming characters that are smartly written.
+ Enjoyably, jaunty soundtrack.
+ Decent story that is well paced.
- The Gameboy palette can really wear on the eyes.
- Writing is heavy on puns.
- You have options in dialogue but there's few opportunities for this to really matter.
- No way to view or reiterate your current objective.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories presents and interesting plot that is accompanied by some smart and clever visuals. Whilst it does pay homages to old RPGs of the past, the strictly narrative experience helps keep focus on the charming characters and themes. It's a lovely, well-paced effort that manages to feel cohesive and complete. The writing can be pun-heavy and the aesthetic might be tough to adjust to but I warmed to the tale.

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Mike gets all the racing games because he understands that stuff even though he doesn't drive.

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