BIGBITE @ PAX West 2016: Replica by Somi
There are few times when the story behind a game is as fascinating as the story in the game itself, but such is the case for Replica, a visual novel by one-man-development-team Somi.
In February this year, South Korean parliament was voting on an anti-terrorism bill. The bill would allow the national intelligence service access into citizen’s private affairs, including personal cellphone usage. In an attempted filibuster, one official read aloud a novel about a child fighting against a similar anti-terror program in San Francisco. Ultimately, the filibuster failed and the law went into effect. “And I was shocked,” says Somi, “not at the story … but that reality is worse.” Somi determined then that he would try to change reality for the better.
And thus he created Replica. The “interactive novel,” as he calls it, is part visual novel and part puzzle game. It is a grim look at a more-real-than-many-would-like-to-admit possibility — a warning about what could happen if privacy is taken away. Users progress through the story by delving into a young man’s personal life in a warrantless search for evidence of terrorism and then reporting their findings to an ever-watchful Homeland Security official. The puzzles are intellectual rather than visual and require players to think critically both about how to solve them and about whether invading the target’s privacy is the right thing to do. Much of the uncovered information feels innocuous, and Homeland Security’s constant presence creates tension and unease. And resistance, players will discover, can be a jarringly futile effort.
Replica’s highly-pixelated art style leads to lost realism, especially on larger monitors. Were it to use actual photos, updated fonts, and cleaner app logos while also being displayed on a smaller screen (say, on a smartphone, for instance) it would be a much smoother experience overall. Somi could see great acclaim if he ever ports Replica to mobile devices.
Replica’s most impressive feature, and one that would be another strength in the mobile market, is that it has been translated into twelve languages. With English and Italian being the exceptions, all work was done by volunteers who wanted to bring Replica to their home countries – a testament to the game’s social and political value. The English version is a little rough, although fortunately the game’s meaning is not lost in translation.
Replica is available now on Steam for $2.99 and has a “Very Positive” rating with nearly one thousand reviews.