Read Only Memories: Neurodiver review: Existential Bubblegum Crises

Many years in the making, Neurodiver looks at the Read Only Memories world from a new angle.

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Read Only Memories: Neurodiver is a long-awaited sequel to 2015’s 2064: Read Only Memories, announced all the way back in 2019. It’s a visual novel with a colorful style, combining shades of nostalgic “vaporwave” coloring with the UI and structure of visual novels and dating sims from Japanese PC-8800 computers. It’s like a mix between the likes of Snatcher and Bubblegum Crisis, but with a distinctly contemporary cadence. And much like a classic anime OVA of the era being invoked here, the story can be devoured in an afternoon or two. I loved it!

Oh I get it, ES88 sounds like that computer thing

ES88 using the Neurodiver
Source: Chorus Worldwide

ES88 is an Esper, a human born with psychic powers. She works for MINERVA, a corporation that works with Espers to both help them control their powers and use them for unmatchable information technology services. ES88 is a big deal because she’s paired up with the Neurodiver, the world’s first synthetic Esper. This little, tentacled creature is carried around in a portable aquarium, makes adorable “blorp” noises, and amplifies ES88’s powers so much she can dive into and tangibly interact with people’s memories.

This experimental and ethically dubious technology is quickly put to the test when it’s discovered a criminal Esper called Golden Butterfly is on the loose, inhabiting civilian minds and corrupting their memories in the process. ES88 draws Golden’s ire as she’s helping a victim, effectively drawing a big target on her own back. Of course it’s way more complicated than that, and as the story develops we learn how personal the conflict truly is.

Ultimately, this review is gonna be my take on this story. And at the end of the day the story is quite simple, and in some ways disappointing. But it’s only disappointing as a side effect of the overall quality of Neurodiver’s writing. What a tangle! The game’s biggest strengths are in its world and characters, both of which are full of life, personality, and intriguing minutia. I definitely want to go back to 2064 to see where the foundation is laid, because even without prior context I had a great time meeting a bunch of weirdos and diving through their memories. An excellent voice acting cast and well-animated and expressive character dialogue portraits go the extra mile in making ROM a compelling world to explore.

Too much potential?

A dialogue choice screen in Neurodiver
Source: Chorus Worldwide

The problem is the plot itself felt fairly shallow. There were threads and ideas and hints at more interesting parts of this world spread throughout the story that ultimately never served a stronger purpose than background noise. I was actually surprised when Neurodiver wrapped up because it felt like things were still being set up, before the “A Plot” escalated and resolved pretty much within the same chapter. I left feeling unsatisfied and wanting a lot more, which I guess would make news of another sequel pretty welcome! But more meat on this particular bone would’ve gone a long way.

Not long ago, I previewed Neurodiver for Shacknews, having the chance to play a substantial chunk of the game ahead of the review period. I was able to pick up right where I left off, and in the end many of my initial thoughts carry all the way through. In short, I appreciate how streamlined Neurodiver is as an experience.

It doesn’t feel ashamed to be a visual novel, having plenty of confidence in its story and characters without dumping arbitrary puzzles all over the place just to be a “real” video game. If anything, the light puzzle elements that are in place are the worst part of the game.

Did we really need the puzzles though?

A corrupted memory in Neurodiver
Source: Chorus Worldwide

I mentioned two issues in the preview, and one of them (pixel hunting) thankfully didn’t persist. It was a literal one-time bump in the road, and it was nice to not run into a second time. The other issue did pop up a bit more, and at one point was actually quite frustrating.

When puzzles do show up, it’s when ES88 has to repair a corrupted memory. Clues you gather previously are slotted into a corruption and if you pick the right ones, mission accomplished. But if you pick the wrong ones you get a simple “whoops, try again” sort of prompt and that’s it! Normally it’s not a problem but occasionally you have way more clues than slots, and unless I’m the most oblivious fool on the planet there’s no further feedback or even helpful context to narrow down the options. It’s super trial and error and grinds the story to a halt unless you magically pick the right answers the first time. Ultimately this isn’t even that big of a deal, but Neurodiver is so breezy otherwise it makes these moments stand out more than they may have in another context.

Despite the snags I’ve mentioned, I’m still thinking about Read Only Memories: Neurodiver well after I finished the story. It’s such a pitch-perfect execution on its premise, mixing the worlds of modern cyberpunk with ancient PC technology and western anime fandom. I had a blast spending several hours with these characters and the world they inhabit, and would gladly have spent several hours more. A little more narrative depth and some puzzle guardrails and we’d have a true all-timer on our hands. But as it is, Neurodiver still stands out as a dope slice of niche gaming in a month stupidly crowded with that kind of thing.


Read Only Memories: Neurodiver is available on May 16, 2024 for the Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5. A PC code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

Pros
  • Compelling world and lovable characters
  • Nails its aesthetic mix of homage and distinct personality
  • Visual novel that sticks to its guns as a medium
Cons
  • Story ends a little early and doesn't utilize all its interesting ideas
  • Annoying puzzle structure rears its head a couple times
From The Chatty
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