Here we go with the first week of our beloved Steam’s winter sale! Winter is the perfect time to play some visual novels, right? Not to mention a bit of meditation after a big Christmas lunch. Read on while I explain to you what I’ve been playing between a cup of tea and a Pepparkakor.
EXT. DESERT — DAY
A lone figure wanders among the dunes, scanning the horizon, apparently searching for something. After hours of wandering, he reaches what seems like an oasis. He pauses for a moment, unsure if it’s a mirage.
It’s real, as the camel placidly resting in the cool shadow of the twin palm trees.
The figure gets close to the animal, as close as he can get.
I had a dream…
He says in a slurred voice.
I dreamt there was this Metal Slug clone. Only it wasn’t exactly that, there was a whole slew of other design choices on top and they all looked unnecessarily complicated.
He rests a hand on the camel’s back, continues while looking at his feet deep in the sand.
It was… like a case study of how, sometimes, simplicity is just better, you know? No matter how much 16bit aestethics you try to cram into a single game, there’s no denying that in the end, it’s the gameplay that matters. Metal Slug was fun, Mercenary Kings is a challenge to see how much modern a game like that can get. And the answer is none! None! Unfortunately!
The camel slowly turns its head to look at him.
Spits on the ground, quietly gets up and trots away, leaving the figure alone.
He screams at the camel from afar.
Mercenary Kings is 20$ which seems 10$ too much if you ask meeeee!
But no one was asking.
FAR FROM NOISE
Sometimes it feels good to take a break from all the blood and puzzles. Sit down and just let go. Take your car for a drive, let it edge on a cliff for a good twenty hours while you converse with a deer about what you’ve accomplished in your life.
Yes, that’s the gist of Far From Noise, an indie game that looks like a visual novel with very “visual” and “novel”, but that’s the whole point. It’s almost an exercise in meditation, along with a couple of almost guided breathing exercises. If this all sounds boring to you, well, I guess it’s not meant for your tastes.
I was immersed in the game’s philosophy and liked it well enough. Too bad the design wasn’t a bit more ambitious, instead of relying on visual novels’ tropes of branching answers and multiple endings.
Soundtrack by Geoff Lentin is sparse and subtly relaxing without being boring, even though it wasn’t reason enough for me to embark on a second playthrough. A single run will take you an hour and a half, more or less.
Full price is 7$ (winter sale 60% off), which is a tad too much for what it offers. Wait for a sale, if that sounds like your cup of relaxing herb tea, I’d recommend taking a sip.
A fantasy visual novel? Well sir Damien, you surely are spoiling us!
Solstice is about a bunch of characters trapped in a futuristic city about to collapse and a fantasy vibe about it, at times almost like a Baldur’s Gate fanfic, along with full racial representation. It is pretty well written and the story works well enough for what it is, even though I wasn’t really engaged at all in the romance sequences. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues appreciating romance options in VN, especially cause it’s become an almost mandatory design choice for the genre. In Solstice, though, the “romantic” dialogue choices are obvious as soon as you meet the “chosen” characters for you and the whole experience sounds a little phoned in.
Visual style is pretty lavish and ideal for the fantasy setting, even though at times I was almost afraid the game would ask me to look for hidden objects in a room.
A single playthough will take you up to 3 hours; of course Solstice encourages you to replay it to see all endings, but that is not well designed unfortunately. Not only there’s no way to fast forward to any checkpoint, but sometimes it doesn’t even skip what you’ve already read.
18$ is a pretty steep asking price for it (winter sale 70% off), unless you’re a VN aficionado, in that case I recommend it.