Review: Hate Plus tries to wrap up a story that already ended
Hate Plus, Christine Love’s new visual novel, started life as downloadable content for her last big game, Analogue: A Hate Story, and it shows. This game is an epilogue. Not even an epilogue, actually; more of an appendix. And no, I don’t mean the little annex on your intestine that doctors are baffled by.
I’m talking about that weird section at the back of an enormous fantasy novel, when the main story’s already finished but there are still 100 pieces of paper left to go through and they’re all filled with family trees and maps and tangents and maybe a grocery list the author made or whatever.
Sitting in my tin can
Enjoying Hate Plus practically requires you to play its progenitor. I didn’t expect or want Christine Love to recap the first game, but let this serve as a warning: if you haven’t played Analogue: A Hate Story, you might as well stop reading this review and go play that first—Analogue is a visual novel that tells a fantastic, heart-rending story.
Done? Good. Analogue [small spoilers ahead] tasked you with uncovering the fate of the derelict spaceship Mugunghwa by interacting with two artificial intelligences, *Hyun-Ae and *Mute, and poring through the ship’s stored log files, a collection of short snippets of writing from the Mugunghwa’s crew. Reading through dozens of logs like a 25th century archaeologist you piece together the complete story of the ship’s downfall and the mysterious Pale Bride, before escaping with one of the two AIs.
Hate Plus picks up where Analogue left off, as you make your way back to Earth with your AI companion. Once again you will read through numerous log entries, occasionally pausing as *Mute or *Hyun-Ae provides input.
If you played Analogue you can import your saved game and continue the story. If you didn’t play Analogue and bought Hate Plus as a standalone game…you’re going to be confused. The game asks you to answer four different questions to mock up a save, but you’re essentially choosing at random since you don’t know the backstories of either *Hyun-Ae or *Mute.
And therein lies the problem. Hate Plus is beautifully written, but it’s of interest only to people who experienced Analogue. Even ignoring the simple question of which AI to choose, there’s too much context you’re expected to know within minutes of launching the game for any newcomer to parse. It’s like if you jumped into Breaking Bad in its fifth season.
What’s more problematic is that I’m just not enthralled with Hate Plus as an add-on to Analogue. As I said, it feels more like an appendix than a full-fledged sequel. Analogue told a challenging, high-concept story that leaned into the worst aspects of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty for inspiration alongside a smaller, deeper, personal story about the Pale Bride—a girl unstuck from time, a stranger in a strange land and all the terrible things that happened to her as a result.
After Analogue, Hate Plus feels small. Safer, even.
Hate Plus is beautifully written, as expected. Love has a way of turning small, personal stories into compelling, overarching narratives. Reading about, for instance, an actress’s fall from grace and then watching Love tie it in to her larger tale is always fascinating.
The game suffers from occasional bouts of prequel disease, though. We already know where the tale is going, and while it’s a tale well-told, there’s nothing to really shock anyone who played Analogue because we’ve already seen much worse. Hate Plus tells the story of a society slowly falling into ruin, while Analogue showed the society already at rock bottom. As such, the sins in Hate Plus are lesser evils. Small betrayals, slides into madness. Hate Plus is Berlin, 1960, not Berlin in 1975. It’s the last days of the Roman Republic, not the heavy shadow of Caligula.
Hate Plus also loses something by sticking you with a single AI. In Analogue, the constant push-pull between *Mute and *Hyun-Ae kept the story dynamic, whereas here you’re stuck listening to one AI for the whole game. It doesn't help that *Mute is particularly aggravating, as her brand of ingrained misogyny and constant need for male approval quickly wears on you.
Hate Plus is a fine addition to people who played Analogue, and its tale of political machinations and a crumbling society is fascinating—a great look at slippery slopes, how small changes over time can effect larger shifts later, and how little it takes to undermine ideals.
When compared to its predecessor, however, Hate Plus is the game equivalent of those family trees in the back of the book: of interest to fans who really want to dig into the lore, but not nearly as emotionally effective.
The story in Hate Plus, like every visual novel Love writes, plays out inside a virtual retro-futuristic PC, as if you were interacting with the actual computer onboard your ship.
The best change to Hate Plus is a new system that highlights names in the text (such as Councillor Kim or “my granddaughter”); these names function like links, bringing you to a page with the person’s name, picture, and whatever you’ve read about them so far. Since names in Hate Plus follow Korean standards (like Analogue) I found it really helpful to keep the fairly large cast of characters straight.
The game is broken into three days of real-time. Each day you’re allowed to download a certain number of log entries before your ship runs out of power and needs to recharge. While “recharging”, you’re kicked back to the main menu and told to wait twelve hours. While you could bypass the wait, I recommend playing along. I’ll just quote what Love told me when I asked her whether I should skip ahead or not: “It will be much more effective if you go along with the restrictions!” I agree with her.
Other parts of Hate Plus’s interface are less impressive, though. In what I can only guess was an effort to streamline the game, Love removed the command line interface of Analogue that you could use to (for story reasons) disable the active AI or download files. While it’s certainly more accessible to present those as GUI options, it lacks some of the intentionally-obtuse and retro charm of Love’s previous games.
I also take issue with scrolling text in the game. Since paging through long pieces of text is the primary mechanic in Hate Plus, it’s frustrating that scrolling through that text is such a chore. My standard method of scrolling long articles is to grab the bar and just pull it up and down, but trying that in Hate Plus kicks you out of the log you were reading. You’re limited to either rapidly clicking the down arrow (if you just hold it down you’ll probably be dead of old age before the game scrolls enough for you to keep reading) or spinning the scroll wheel, which is marginally better but still not ideal.
The bottom line
The most damning criticism I can leverage against Hate Plus it that it feels like an expansion pack, not a full game. There’s a lot of content here—a lot of well-written content, for that matter—but the story told is nowhere near as critical as Analogue’s. I kept waiting for that moment, the revelation that would leave me heartbroken the way Analogue did, but it never happened. I felt fascinated by these people, but it was the distant, removed fascination of an archivist or historian. Even *Mute implied several times that certain events didn’t matter because the past was the past.
Love is a fantastic writer, but she wrote herself into a corner with Hate Plus by revisiting a story that already attained closure. I can’t wait to leave the Mugunghwa behind me for real next time; let those ghosts stay ghosts.