I spent about three hours on the weekend playing the wonderful Her Story. As someone who grew up gaming in the 80/90s and lived through Night Trap and Mad Dog McCree, the negative reception FMV based games received then is still quite firm in my mind. It would be a disservice to lump Her Story in with FMV games that preceded it, group it with visual novels or “experience” games where you basically watch the plot unfold before you.
The one line spiel is you’re searching clips of a police interview with a woman around a 1994 crime. piecing together the series of events to solve the case. The core of the game is practically a database simulator, with the FMV existing to provide more clues for your next query as each clip has been transcribed, but there are also some hints provided by some subtle visual clues. The fragments of the interviews you unearth slowly shed light on what happened, but each one also raises new questions. The clips you watched 30 minutes ago now have a completely different meaning, and open up a new set of terms to query the database with.
Without spoiling too much, the more you uncover it becomes less about what actually happened and more about why. Which brings me to the refreshing part of Her Story – the plot is largely structured around how you interpret and piece together the video clips you uncover. I might have a different interpretation based on the clips I unlocked and the order I viewed them in.
The fact searching a database and watching some grainy FMV is so compelling is a testament to the brilliant editing – even the shortest clip could contain a clue that unlocks a new piece of information. I finished with around 90% of the interview clips unlocked, and still felt I hadn’t completely solved the crime but had a pretty good understanding of what happened and why. Even if I had swung back and forth between the most probable situations a number of times before I saw the credits.
It shies away from the obvious conclusion of actually giving firm closure, it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. Having sat through a few hours of investigations to form your own conclusion, and then be told your analysis was wrong would have been a horrible ending to a fantastic experience. Another instance of less being more, which is so rare in gaming today.