Game Review: Brilliant Shadows: Book 1 of the Book of Gray Magic

Here is a list of things that I like:

  1. Fantasy fiction
  2. Queer representation
  3. Visual novels

I’ve played a bunch of visual novels, both Japanese and Western made, and while I can usually find ones that offer fantastical experiences or queer representation, few have rich fantasy worlds with a variety of queer characters. It should come as no surprise that Brilliant Shadows is a visual novel that has an interesting fantasy world and plenty of queer representation.

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Veronica “Ash” Ashmar is a recent graduate of the Mountain and a necromancer who specializes in plants. Tradition dictates that all new graduates undergo the pairing ritual, where necromancers and paladins bond, their lives and magic intertwining, symbolized by a matching mark on their dominant hands. When Ash unexpectedly finds herself with a mark but no partner, she sets out on a quest to find answers and solve this magical mystery.

Brilliant Shadows has a distinctive art style. It kind of reminds me of Tim Burton and uses plenty of bright colours. It’s not quite as pretty as Cinders, but the colours definitely stand out, even if the art is a bit cartoonish. It also has one of the most dramatic title themes I’ve heard, although I found the music to be more atmospheric than memorable. I was actually surprised by the amount of voice work in this title, every line of dialogue is voice acted, most of it was decent for an indy title, a couple of the voices were a bit grating, but tolerable.

Similarly, I found most of the characters likeable, even the characters that I didn’t like at first (like spoiled necromancer Belinda) grew on me by the end, particularly since they all get time in the spotlight to flesh out their characters a bit. Ash has some really great moments with her paladin friend Prude and, surprisingly, Belinda. It’s nice to see some strong friendships between female characters. Even Hektor, who I didn’t immediately warm up to due to him being slightly arrogant (while it isn’t openly stated in game, the devs have stated he is autistic and he himself states that he lacks empathy) ultimately my Ash was able to find common ground with him

There’s some pretty good representation in this, of the main cast, Ash is a lesbian and Aelfnod is gay, he also mentions two fathers, of which one is bisexual. Luciana and Zakaria, the Heads of each Order on the Mountain, are married. Aelfnod is also black, Belinda and Luciana are a bit more ambiguous but have darker skin than Ash or Hektor, a number of side characters are also black, saying anything else would be spoiling the story. There’s a good range of body types, Belinda is a woman of size while Aelfnod and Prude are more muscular (appropriate for paladins).

If I had one complaint about this game, it would be that the writing is somewhat awkward in places, particularly when transitioning between scenes. It often felt like I was missing something when the scene switched, like I’d walked in in the middle of a conversation. There were also a bunch of times where the words that were used didn’t make any sense in context or were clearly meant to be a different word that came out wrong somehow (“revulsed” instead of “repulsed”). The script definitely could have been better. I also thought the endings seemed kind of rushed and left me with more questions than answers, although given that this is only part one, it’s understandable that there are still some things left to discover. I should note, however, that book one stands on its own and doesn’t abruptly break off with a nasty cliffhanger.

In terms of potential triggers, the titular gray magic involves a bit of body horror (killing your pair and placing their organs in your own body). Some might be uncomfortable with the way Ash suspects Hektor (who is all but stated to be autistic) of wrongdoing, compounded by the fact that he has poor social skills and often seems confused about the appropriate way to act. There’s also a close up illustration of a man with boils breaking out on his face in one of the endings.

One last note about game length, Steam has me clocked at six hours, and that’s after getting all three endings (using the fast forward function). There are multiple ways to get each ending. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a little queerness in their fantasy fiction. .

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