A different kind of love story.
Digital: A Love Story is the fourth visual novel from Christine Love (and first widely known) that takes some of what you knew about visual novels, and presents it in a new (old?) light. Instead of a typical anime/manga setting, you are dropped in the futuristic world of 1988(!), and are given an Amiga 500-based computer from your father (assumably). You then boot it up, join the digital frontier, and then practically immediately start doing illegal shtuff (I know it's not a word) to solve a mystery and save the interwebs. Now let's get to the review before I spoil anything.
The Overall Atmosphere
I feel this should be addressed first because it is what stands out the absolute most in this game. Simply put, it is, PERFECT. Everything just comes together so well: the calm or threatening music that queues in at the right times, the nerve-grating dialing tone, the retro-styled visuals - Love certainly knew what she was doing here.
Everything Is Recorded
Phone numbers, c0dez (I'll explain them later), and passwords are all recorded in your notepad app that you receive rather early, making it so you don't have to the dirty work yourself. (It still is a help to have a notepad around though.) Just be sure to actually download the application and open it before you call anywhere, as you can only work from one window at a time.
Down the Deep End
Da fuq do i do?
If you are tired of games holding your hand, this is for you, otherwise this may be tough for you.
At the start of the game you are dropped right into the Amie OS and not told what to do. It's up to you to explore the BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) and make sense of what's going on around you. This means that if you download a message, open it, and barely read it, you are probably have trouble later on trying to figure out what the heck you're supposed to do next. Also, due to this game being based on an OS where copy/paste did not exist (to my knowledge), you will do quite a bit of typing and retyping.
Even with all this hair-pulling trouble, I feel that this was the best way for the game to play out, because otherwise it would feel like you are playing a game, not exploring this small little world that Love has crafted.
A New Point of View
As you can see in the pictures below, every time you open a message from someone, there is a button at the top right that says "Reply" hitting it makes you send a message to the person in question who may send another back (you can also PM BBS users). However, you never see your side of the reply, making the game set in some strange form or another of third-person that doesn't really exist. This is slightly off-putting because this makes it so you are given no choices whatsoever. (Game Mechanics Spoiler!) An other thing is that there is no wrong reply that will end your game. Once you realize that, it kind of takes away from the atmosphere. (Spoiler end)
This shit will do nothing but expire on you. Because videogame logic.
Honestly, if you know what you are doing, this shouldn't be too much of a problem, but if not, well, you're going to eat through these things like chocolate.
C0dez are stolen long distance calling card codes that let you connect to further out BBSs, and are killed after a number of uses. This poses a problem because you first have to call the local number to use the c0de, and you never know if one is dead until you use it, and once you're out, you'll have to go back to The Matrix (no, not that one, this one is basicly The Pirate Bay BBS) and get new c0dez. Once you get those (anywhere from 1-5) there's a chance that they've already been killed, and you just have to keep doing this until you find out what to do.
The Second Half of the Title
No. I can't. But then again, I don't really care.
This is where the game pretty much falls on its face. Due to the nature of the game, it is rather hard to become attached to your love interest *Emilia. Sure, she's written well like every other character in this game, but the lack of a character model, or emoticons even, make it difficult to have the same kind of love for her that she has for you. (Before anyone states otherwise, I understand what * stand for in this game, so don't spoil it.) But that stated, this is highly subjective, so a softer soul than mine might feel differently.
Hacking the Gibson
It's a joke.
Digital: A Love Story is a neat little divergent from traditional Virtual Novels that may, or not may be worth your time depending on your need for a fresh virtual experience, patience levels, and willingness to type and retype stuff over and over again. All the things I've said about this game can rather subjective, so don't expect to feel the same way as I did while playing (and please don't let my experience taint yours). The game is 100% free though, so the only thing you'll have to lose is ~3 hours of your day hinging on your ability to read thoroughly and remember what is needed to be done once you complete a task.
It can be found here for free.