Landing somewhere between visual novel and point and click adventure, Analogue: A Hate Story was always going to be an acquired taste. No action as such, no interaction outside of conversations and reading letters, and the only visible characters are semi-static, manga-esque drawings of computer AIs adopting the appearance of young women.
Yet it's precisely because Analogue leaves so much to the imagination and relies heavily on the written word that it achieves its power. Nominally, it's a science-fictional tale set aboard a 25th century spaceship en route to founding the first interplanetary human colony. The ship's vast population is all dead as the result of a mysterious accident, and it's your job to find out what happened, recover any logs and get out.
Except, as it transpires, that's really just a framing structure for a harrowing peer into the real-life past - specifically of a centuries-old Korean dynasty that revolved around nobility and reputation, and treated women as little more than slaves. Somehow, these attitudes re-established themselves on the ship, and so you'll find yourself reading the diary entries of the women who suffered and the men who made them suffer.
Their tragic, horrific stories are slowly revealed, told both through their eyes and through those of onlookers, and ultimately they lead up to what befell the ship.
Rather than a straight-up presentation of text, instead you have a non-linear delve through archives, unlocking new, out-of-order information and having your sympathies tugged in different directions by two rivalrous AI entities who were witness to the dark events.
Based on the information you collect, and based on where your sympathies end up lying, you'll make decisions about who's really to blame and what to do with the two lonely AIs. That's the key to analogue, really - that while there is obviously a finite amount of information in there, and while the broader aspects of the narrative do happen in very specific order, it's so guided by your emotional responses to what you discover that you feel you're constructing a very personal outcome.
Not that it's without frustrations. The choice of slightly jarring (compared to the clean, white environments and pitch-black backstory), bright and breezy manga art will prove a turn-off to many, while having your conversation interactions distilled to two pre-written, click-button options limits how the degree to which your choices can reflect your own sentiments. Plus, well, it's exclusively about reading - and that may well disappoint those who came for the sci-fi mystery but discovered a harrowing exploration of a dark chapter of Korean history.
Nonetheless, Analogue is a deft yet detailed and well-written detective story that pulls the much-debated visual novel genre - so popular in Japan, especially on handheld consoles - into something with far broader appeal and more ambitious mechanics.