Was “Her Story” Really Deserving of All Its GOTY Accolades?

When Polygon named Her Story its Game of the Year for 2015, I wasn’t really surprised as I’d heard good things about it but I also didn’t know what kind of game it was. Several weeks ago I stumbled upon it in the App Store and was excited to see I could grab it for my iPad for just $4.99. I downloaded it and started it up and there was the sweet looking Windows 3.1-style interface I knew the game had but…well…I’ll get back this later I thought.

Several days ago, after finishing the very-much OMG Persona 4, I decided to give this game a go while I wait for Fire Emblem Fates to drop this week because I saw it was only a “few hours long” to play. That seems short. So, I start playing and…wait, what? What am I doing? What IS this game? 

It turns out that Her Story is a complete mystery of a game when you start. You don’t know who you are and you don’t know what it is you’re watching or doing. You have a very rudimentary interface for watching small clips of a set of police interviews with a woman who you quickly find out is named Hannah. (You also quickly realize this game is European so have fun getting used to their date format.) That’s it. The entire rest of the game is putting in search words to find various clips. There’s 7 days of VHS-style interviews (some longer than others) and you can only do a word search to find them. And you get a max of only 5 search results each time. You have no goal in the game. Really. Just…figure out what happened.

In fact, you don’t even have to tell the game what happened. It just asks you if you know…and when you answer yes, to the credits you go!

You can play the game however you wish. Dork around if you want. Search with random words or specific ones. Yes, searching on murder or kiss can be strategically accurate, but you’ll be doing a lot of generic searches such as “his her” to dig up clips you can’t find otherwise. Me personally, I decided that I wanted to track down EVERY GOD DAMN CLIP and put them in sequential order in the log. This is also very hard to do because sorting them is not an easy task. You literally have to move them one at a time…the drag and drop is very limited. (It may be better on the console version, but not so on iPad.) The longer I got into the game, the longer it took to sort the video clips. At one point I practically dreaded finding new clips that took place earlier in the timeline as it might take me 3-4 minutes to sort just one of those clips.

In the end, I re-watched just about every clip in the game (I think) and took notes a couple of times. The story is quite amazing. As I said before, whenever you’re satisfied that you know the whole story, you can stop. You’d think this offers little motivation to play, but you’d be wrong. Digging up clips became akin to putting together a puzzle. I simply couldn’t stop trying to find “just one more” to help piece together some new information I was searching for. I couldn’t put my iPad down. It’s hard to describe because there’s no other game like this…but you’ll know it if you play it.

Of course, after watching the final credits, you can keep playing, finding more clips, whatever. And boy did I. I consider my game “beaten,” but I have a feeling when I get a few bored moments I’ll come back to it and throw in some words and see if I can find the last remaining clips to fill in the few holes I have left. None of them will likely add any compelling information I didn’t know, but if I find more I’ll be pretty damn excited.

In the end, the iPad version has just a couple issues that, if remedied, would make it perfect. Identifying the clips that are not yet in your log would be nice. (Each clip has an indicator letting you know if you’ve seen it before, but they don’t indicate if it’s one in your log. That would be super handy.) Also, making it easier to sort and scroll through the log would be a godsend. Most people won’t try to find each clip and put them in order, but I bet there’s more like me and they may not be as patient. Simply allowing the user to drag and drop a clip to a point in the log and having it insert there would be fantastic! Other than this, though, it’s tremendously fun to piece together…her story

I very much recommend this to anyone who likes a story-based game or even the Phoenix Wright series. There’s no action involved or any semblance of twitch play, but for the right people it’s going to be an amazing experience to play. So…is it deserving of all the Game of the Year accolades it’s getting?  Well…while it is a great experience to play…its target audience is probably way too small to consider it the #1 game of 2015. Still, it’s an unforgettable experience and a breath of fresh air.

Give Her Story a try. You may hate it…but you may absolutely love and never forget it.

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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