Just in case you weren’t in the know, a visual novel is a narrative adventure that plays out very much like a book with pictures, as you follow a series of characters from their different perspectives. The gameplay is normally very minimal, as the story is the key element of what unfolds. It’s fair to say that most of the visual novels currently available on console come from Japan, with them starting as far back as 1983 in their birth. The new player in this market is games developer SoftColors who – with the help of Ratalaika Games – have now introduced Aquadine. How does this compare to the wealth of other games in the genre? Let us turn the page and find out.
There are certain games that allow you the chance to appreciate the quality of the story and concept, even if you are not necessarily part of the target audience it is aimed at. You see, I am a middle-aged man, and a tale about teenagers and their relationships in a magical city is a bit hard for me to relate to. But that doesn’t mean what is delivered in Aquadine isn’t good.
The whole location for this ten-hour or so story is the fictional city of Aquadine. This is a special place with a magical connection to an ancient city and civilisation that lived here, along with the existence of mermaids that used to dwell. Now, this modern city is a bit like Venice with its water canals, beaches, and gondoliers, whilst the main characters include a seventeen-year-old called Robin who has a double persona. Robin is a shy bookwormish kid who keeps to his books and his closest friends. But when he takes his glasses off and becomes Ciel – a grand gondolier and tour guide for the city – he takes over duties from his sick mother who can’t do the job anymore because of a strange illness.
Other major characters in this group of teenage friends are Anya, a shy girl who holds a secret; the brash Diana who is forthright, at times pushy but is a sensitive soul at heart. Cameron is a good friend of Robin’s and knows exactly what she is doing in life, loving the martial arts. The last of the major friends is a new arrival to the school and city – Elisabeth. She is a famous young singer from another city and soon settles into the group.
There are a whole host of other minor characters that come and go throughout the story found in Aquadine and all the characters are nicely written, full of fun, and well-rounded. They come with their own little sub-stories and objectives, alongside the main narrative that unfolds.
As well as the main story, we find Robin discovering and entering the oldest city by swimming in it with a mermaid, discovering what has happened there and how it affects them. There is also a huge focus on teenage relationships and the tricky dynamics between friends and possible romantic connections. It’s a fun, clean, and wholesome story that will appeal to certain age groups, especially if those groups are already fans of a visual novel. The gameplay elements are pretty basic – as you would expect – pretty much just a case of reading and following certain characters’ narrative arcs.
Aquadine’s lovely graphical style is almost as important as the story. Here the game doesn’t disappoint, with some great animation and beautifully drawn locations and characters. The colour scheme used in the visuals is, frankly, amazing, pinging off the screen. The slight bits of animation work well too. You can then include a great soundtrack that fits nicely with the tale that is being told; at times, it is all very appealing. There are a couple of original songs that work perfectly and whilst we have limited voice work for the characters, it’s not fully voiced – the little snippets of exclamations can get a bit annoying after a while.
Aquadine is an original visual novel that plays with a unique and absorbing story. It comes with some good writing, likeable characters, beautiful visuals and a great soundtrack. You may not personally be able to relate to it, unless you’re fully immersed in teenage storylines, but that doesn’t take away from the absorbing story that fans of the genre will love.
Aquadine is available on the Xbox Store from Aug 26th