Games can offer unusual opportunities to cover more mature themes in inventive ways. They can let developers tell stories about serious concepts, in a relaxed and approachable way. Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories can often feel like a slice-of-life, relaxed adventure game about getting caught up in a small town mystery, yet it still deals with serious topics like illegal activities and political corruption. It’s interesting, to be sure, but often feels like it’s a little too surface-level an experience.
Honeydew and Cantaloupe are childhood friends who both find themselves living and working at Eglantine Industries at a melon processing plant. It seems like a fairly typical corporate job working on sodas. However, when Cantaloupe leaves work with a suitcase one day and tells Honeydew to meet him at Hog Town, things go awry. Once there, he’s disappeared, and the peaceful, melon-banning town is in the midst of an election that could see Kitten King taking charge. While everything seems bright and cheerful, there’s an ominous overtone, and Honeydew will need to find out the truth behind Eglantine and Kitten King.
It’s best to consider Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories as an interactive story with some light adventure elements. You’ll primarily be following NPCs as you notice them head to different places or collecting rather obvious items to drive the story forward. Dialogue choices don’t really make much of a difference. You’ll eventually get access to every area. Obvious side quests will open up in later chapters after things happen or time passes.
To its credit, Froach Club attempts to set up ambiance in the game. Characters can be personable and quirky. While lines from characters may be short, they aren’t without their charm. It can take some time to realize which NPCs will eventually end up mattering, though a good rule of thumb is someone with a name that you talk to more than three times is going to probably be a big deal. An NPC may essentially break the fourth wall about the title’s Game Boy color scheme.
There are times when it feels like it expects a sense of familiarity with the people around you and the original Melon Journey. I wouldn’t say the context is essential, as it is accessible and enjoyable enough going in without that added support. But there were moments when it felt like maybe I was supposed to care more about two characters declaring their love or another finding lost family members.
Perhaps the greatest instance of this involves the main characters themselves. Honeydew spends much of the early game searching for Cantaloupe, a friend who also works and lives at the same melon soda factory as you. However, it doesn’t exactly do a great job of establishing why you’d care enough to do so. When certain plot points happened, I supposed I was supposed to feel something about it. But because I knew so little and relationships weren’t established, it fell flat. Perhaps it was supposed to carry more weight because you could name the two main characters after yourself and a friend?
But what really got to me about Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is that I couldn’t trust it. It kept crashing on my Switch. Even after a patch 1.0.1, it would suddenly crash in the middle of a conversation or when I was traveling between areas. It got to the point that I actually uninstalled, then reinstalled it, in the event there was an issue on my part. But no, it just didn’t care for my Switch OLED. Given there’s no auto-save, I at one point lost about an hour of progress because I didn’t realize this would be an issue.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories feels a bit like a slice-of-life mystery with a hidden seedy side. There’s darkness afoot, and players can make a difference. However, it often feels like it attempts to imply a familiarity with the characters and world that may not be there. While sometimes charming and pleasant enough, it can feel like a very surface-level adventure. There’s nothing wrong with that, though it might be a good idea to wait for a patch or two before heading to Hog Town before catching up with this crew.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC on April 6, 2023.