First Impressions: Solstice

So I just finished the preview build for Solstice, the latest game from MoaCube (who also brought us Cinders), and I’d just like to record my first impressions (not a review, the review will come later).

Solstice is a mystery/thriller visual novel that takes place in a mysterious domed city in the middle of a frozen wasteland and is inhabited by those who won’t–or can’t–leave the city for a season. When the local archaeologist goes missing, however, the city’s new physician and a mysterious woman who arrived with the last dog sleds start asking questions. What starts as a hunt for the missing archaeologist may end with the city being claimed by the frozen wastes.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. The visuals are absolutely breathtaking, and while the music is mostly placeholder music from Cinders, the music I did hear sounded fantastic. Then again, if you’ve played Cinders, this is old news to you. If you haven’t played Cinders–just go and play Cinders, it’s awesome.

Galen and Yani, the two main characters.

If you’re familiar with Cinders (or you’ve played visual novels before) you know the drill–read through text, click to read more text, occasionally make a choice that will impact the story. (Considering that Cinders had a bunch of variants for every ending, there’s no reason to believe Solstice won’t be more of the same).

There are a few marked differences from Cinders, however, the first and most obvious is that you make choices for two main characters: Galen and Yani. Galen has been called in to replace the city’s previous doctor, and Yani is a mysterious woman who was lucky enough to be found and brought to the city before she froze to death (saying more would kind of spoil things). You can play either of them in a couple different ways: I chose to go with a more understanding, compassionate Galen and a more assertive Yani, it remains to be seen how things will actually play out in the full game, however. There’s also a journal feature where your characters record information about the characters they meet, and the narration is also presented in the format of one of the main characters writing in a journal. Characters now gesture while speaking (these are a bit distracting) and there’s a bit of animation. Sound effects have also been added to the dialogue, especially to emphasize certain words or phrases.

The supporting cast is also very interesting. My favourite so far is Constance, who runs the bath house and knows a little something about everyone. Every character in Solstice has a secret, and some will more readily spill those secrets than others. There is definitely a sense that not all is as it seems (appropriate for a good mystery) and there is definitely something more sinister at play. Although I must admit I found some characters to be far more interesting than others (I don’t really like Sem, the misanthrope who only cares about dogs, but he did say some interesting things so I’m willing to give him a chance).

I’m also happy to report that MoaCube has given us a far more diverse game than they did with Cinders (which only had the one black woman). Both main characters are POCs (Gavin is black, Yani is Asian and from a culture that sounds like it might be inspired by China), there’s also Yakone (not to be confused with the character from The Legend of Korra) who is also Asian (I thought maybe Mongolian or the fantasy equivalent) Madame Ghede also makes a cameo appearance (although I’m not sure if it’s just for that one scene or not). There’s also a character who is struggling with mental illness.

Also, MoaCube decided to do a really great thing with regarding romance in the game. Since the game isn’t really focused on romance, Yani and Galen each get one love interest.

Now guess which one of them is queer?

Considering that MoaCube went from one possibly offensive portrayal of a black woman and no queer characters in sight to what I just described, I like the direction that Solstice is headed in, and I want to see more of this in general in games, (but again, I haven’t played the final game, so it remains to be seen). What I am a bit nervous about is how the game portrays mental illness and how it affects a person and their loved ones. Again, I haven’t played the full game, and I’m not really in a position to judge whether it’s a good portrayal or not. At this point, I’m not sure what to think, so I’ll wait for the full game.

The biggest issue I have with Solstice is that the dialogue and narrative parts can feel very unnatural at times (understandable since the devs are Polish). This is a problem that Cinders had as well, and it doesn’t make the game unreadable by any means. In fact, Cinders is easily one of my favourite visual novels ever. However, if you’re going into Solstice having never played Cinders, this is just a heads up.

Overall, Solstice looks to be cut from the same cloth as Cinders, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. I also really appreciate the fact that MoaCube is going for a bit more diversity with its cast, especially considering that Cinders was noticeably lacking in diversity.

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