In Mindhack, you can literally change the minds of criminals. But should you?

Mindhack, an upcoming visual novel adventure, opens in a prison cell, as a criminal named Unid is brought before you by a pair of armed security guards. Your reputation precedes you: before the accused can even sit down, they call out your uncanny ability to hack into people’s heads to “patch” their flaws, turning their nefarious intentions into fields of flowers. But that’s okay, isn’t it? After all, the person in front of you has committed a crime and needs to be rehabilitated; reckless driving, hit-and-run and arson.

So you come to work. Talking to Unid allows you to build rapport and understand their motivations. You learn about their past. They talk about their difficult childhoods, pets, lack of support – broken systems that abandoned them and set them on their current path. It does not matter. You have a job to do. And now, with that bit of knowledge, you’ve found the “bug” in their programming. After initiating a hack on their brain, you eradicate this flaw, powerfully transforming their mind into a paradise of purity. Unid will never commit another crime again. Have you done the right thing?

Mindhack is the first game from Japanese creative collective Vodkademo, bringing their storytelling expertise in manga and short novels into the world of video games. The group’s work has been published online for free, in Japanese, over on their website, showing a web of stories that deal with the essence of humanity with anthropomorphized characters, and they clearly show the roots of what has culminated in Mindhack. While Vodkademo’s stories touch on what it means to be human, rarely will a character be described or designed to look like a human in the traditional sense, forcing the reader to grapple with this concept and its various connotations directly.

It is an approach the team has taken to playing. Mindhack is mostly a visual novel, but your writing skills are weapons to “chop” the bugs out of criminals. You yourself deal with the lack of memories, and how you came to harness a power that can change the fate of others. Even during a short demo, available in both English and Japanese, the potential of this concept becomes abundantly clear through a sample topic that introduces you to many of the game’s core concepts.

The most striking visual points are the distinct character designs and the fluidly animated hands that represent the player. This turns the story into one told from a first-person perspective, giving you a lasting presence on screen as you use the writing hands of fate. Interrogations, like the one taking place in the short demo, task us with trying to understand why these criminals have committed the crimes they have, before using our laser-fast typing skills to erase their criminal intent – whether or not this is true thing.

This active role in this fascinating moral dilemma is precisely what makes these interrogations so interesting. According to designer Ami Nakazawa, this caused challenges when trying to bring the game into other languages ​​such as English, as the task of typing to hack into the criminal mind is a central part of the game, but plays out very differently across language barriers. To effectively communicate these ideas through the English translation, the team has been in close contact with the localizers to ensure that the mechanic works as intended no matter what language you play in.

The main character in Mindhack holds a yellow flower in his gloved hands

The result is an effective and engrossing visual novel that stands as one of the most exciting variants of the genre in recent years. The game presents ideas that linger long after your time with the demo is over. If you had the power to end all crime by erasing the desire to commit crime, would you do it? Should you do it? Wrapped in a bold visual style and flourishing imagery that literally contrasts the grays and blacks of evil with the rich colors of nature, this philosophical debate is key to the game’s appeal.

Following its first ever public preview at the recent Bitsummit event in Kyoto, Mindhack is the game that should be on everyone’s radar before its late 2022 launch.

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