＜/reality＞ Review – Visual Novel Mastery?
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Fancy Fish Games
Release: 18th April 2017
Disclaimer: Review Key provided by Fancy Fish Games
Visual Novels are maybe one of the hardest genre to make, they rise and fall with only a few aspects. So, what happens if an indie developer tries to write a philosophical story about reality and online worlds, while also featuring an unique artstyle and a wide array of choices? ＜/reality＞ and it´s damn great.
＜/reality＞ is set in a futuristic world, where the borders between reality and virtual reality seem to slowly fade away. More and more people escape into the wonderful worlds of VR MMORPGs, spending day and night in their fantastic fantasy worlds. Lilya, our protagonist, is one of them, symbolizing the “perfect” NEET with social anxiety, perferring the MMO world and her guild friends than her real life, that she abandoned long ago. One day Lilya gets chosen to be one of the first beta testers of the new Penta device, promising to be more real than reality itself. Of course Lilya can´t denie that offer and soon after we find ourselves in the wonderful world of Vitalia, along with Ben another fellow beta tester. However, when Ben refuses to leave the simulation a chain of events is started, chaping the lives of all parties involved.
During its story ＜/reality＞ will often question our world and how it´s getting influenced by the virtual one. Especially the characters contribute a lot to the believability of the story. With Lilya, we see the world and development from the perspective of a person, who struggles in this world and escaped to the virtual one but was never really happy with the result. The way her dialogues and monologues are written just make her loveable in an instant. Throughout the game she will question the world, like the player, combined with her personality and great writing Lilya quickly becomes a very relateable character. On the other hand, we have Jacob, the other perspective character, who gets introduced as a very cold, unlikeable and unrelatable character, at least for me. Yet, both characters can have quite a big character development, depending on the choices you make and at the end you may feel more attracted to Jacob than to Lilya.
As said, ＜/reality＞ offers a huge array of choices during the whole story. Often you´ll be able to decide the answers or reactions of Lilya or Jacob to whole conversations and events. Instead of Telltale-like decisions, that seem to affect certain events but lead to the same conclusion anyway, ＜/reality＞ offers a mix of both. On the one hand certain conversations won´t be that influenced by your choices and carry on regardless, luckily these are often “side-dialogues”, without serving a greater purpose than some additional insights or characterisation. On the other hand, key events, the end and even character relations and personalities are often getting influenced by your decisions, letting you decide how the story revolves and leading to a bunch of possible outcomes. Not only do they add a huge replay value to the game but also offer a wide range of options to influence the personalities to your liking, since you will decide a lot of their answers.
The created freedom is especially important, if you consider the core of ＜/reality＞´s story, the virtual world and if it can replace the real one. By giving you the tools and characters, to see both sides and form your decisions, which then influence the outcome, lets you decide the “answer” the game will provide. Personally, the story really got me involved, because it understood the approach such topics needed. It never slaps you the problems of the world in your face but lets you ask and discover them, by observing Lilya and Jacob interacting with the world and the virtual reality. Everything seems organic and not written, to lead you to a certain conclusion or result. After I finished ＜/reality＞ I still thought about the end and the answers it provided, since you won´t recieve a solution for everything on a silver tablet and sometimes have to make up your own result, which shows how good ＜/reality＞ ´s story truly is.
It also features a really unique and beautiful artstyle, since it didn´t try to copy the typical anime-stlye most Visual Novels try to imitate. Additionally it makes use of little CG backgrounds and scenes, to imitate an MMO, and replacing the text boxes with a chat box, creating a welcomed change to the same way of story-telling. Artistic-wise ＜/reality＞ brings a lot new to the table, that create a style personalised to this game. This remarkable style is prefectly underlined by the Soundtrack, to create the desired atmosphere and feelings, enhancing the different events and dialogues.
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed ＜/reality＞ and everything new it adds to the regular Visual Novel “formula”. It achieves to tell a story, that requires you to think, through great writing and the right approach to story-telling. Combined with the fitting characters, a story that´s worthy, of this important problem and the consequences technical progress, is being told.
The remarkable Artstyle and presentation underline this exceptional indie Visual Novel, making it a truly unique and memorable experience. Indeed,＜/reality＞ is one of the best indie Visual Novels I played so far.