Steam has grown into one of the biggest repositories of visual novels anywhere.
The genre, defined as choose-your-own-adventure novels with art (and sometimes) gameplay attached, has been the realm of mainly anime-centric romance games but is growing into a more diverse and less x-rated genre thanks to the efforts of smaller studios who see the low-budget means of telling great stories as the perfect medium for their ideas.
"Arcadia Fallen" is a crowdfunded visual novel from Galdra Studios.
It provides all the elements you'd expect of the genre — multiple choices, romance options, and branching paths depending on these decisions — but throws in a unique puzzle aspect for combat and crafting.
At the start, you get to create your character from a limited selection of options then are thrust into a fantasy world where you take the reigns as an alchemist's apprentice. In a world suspicious of mages and magic, you're not treated exceptionally well by fellow townsfolk.
And after your soul gets bound to that of a pink-haired demon, things only get crazier as our little villager becomes wrapped up in a battle against demons.
As far as the story and characters go, they both rely heavily on tropes of anime and Hero's Journey style fantasy.
The idea is that you get to make the choices that affect who these characters are to you and where the story goes. "Arcadia Fallen," as opposed to competitors, is very forgiving in the choices you make, and there is no "Bad End" — the ominous finale that lurks in plenty of visual novels and can ruin a 30-hour investment in a story.
On top of the endings not faulting the player for making the "wrong" choices, the game actively announces when a significant decision is afoot and how it can affect your relationships.
Many may find these big, bold warnings to be immersion-breaking hand-holding. Still, I appreciated the accessibility, mainly because the more I played this, the more I thought "Arcadia Fallen" was the perfect entry-point visual novel for a teenager or a fan of Young Adult Fantasy.
Another point in that favor is the inclusivity, which the game developers proudly point to. In a genre dominated by male-centric dating fantasies, it's nice to see a game that allows anyone to insert themself into the story regardless of gender or race.
And regardless of your chosen gender, you can have a romantic moment with any of the characters who are a romance option. Thankfully, these are tastefully done and cuter than anything else.
The story is wrapped up in a nice-looking package that reminded me of the animation of current young adult cartoon favorites like Netflix's "She-Ra."
I invested more in the puzzle segments than the actual story and pined for them through longer dialogue sections. The early puzzles slowly ease you into what increasingly become more and more complex challenges.
It's all based around a trio of circles that connect as a central circle.
You have to spin the four circles to create patterns or match colors. I appreciate the simplicity of the idea and how well it's executed.
If you're in the mood for a character-centric and inoffensive slice of feel-good fantasy gaming, "Arcadia Fallen" won't disappoint.
The ample choices, the familiar but enjoyable story, the character interactions, and of course, the puzzles all come together to make a unique and infinitely replayable experience. Though I will admit that I wasn't wholly invested in the entirety of the 9-ish hour first run of the story, I can easily see this appealing to fans of modern YA.
The publisher provided a copy for review. Currently available on Steam, soon available for Nintendo Switch.
Sean Newgent at KGUN first reported this story.