It was only the day before yesterday that I covered the K’NOSSOS demo and Kickstarter project and it seems that this article has resonated quite well despite my reservations about unfinished games being previewed. Svarun Entertainment mentioned my writing and addressed some of the problems I had with the game in their recent Kickstarter feedback post, and soon after I was contacted by Far-off Daydreams‘s creative director Leonid Pilchin to have a look at his project and the free demo available on Steam and Google Play.
The game is about attorney Sam Nichols who doesn’t only have to deal with a case against a multinational corporation that seems to be the only way to help his friend Harry Kline’s law firm back on track, but he also suffers from nightmares and slowly loses a grip on reality. The free demo only hints at all these plotlines and shows that there is a bad version of Sam commenting on his actions, while it also introduces a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young diner waitress’ relative. If this all sounds intriguing, it’s all the more saddening that the prologue playable in the demo doesn’t explain much or resolve anything.
Being a visual novel, there’s a lot of text to read. The quality of the writing is quite good, but as is the case with the genre, descriptions of every action can become a bit tedious and some of the wise-cracking lines can feel forced. Still, as far as real-life conversations go, the script of the dialogue is a nice imitation of real people talking, making them easy to relate to. The most interesting but also most problematic aspect of it is that one can shape the outcome of these dialogues by choosing different emotional responses. While this is certainly nothing new and has already been done in psychological visual novel horror adventure Tokyo Dark, it’s nice to be given the choice and see how the story changes and characters react. Unfortunately, if one avoids talking to the waitress at some point, one never learns about her missing relative. For a game priding itself on mystery and especially in a demo that should attract potential buyers or Kickstarter backers, it’s certainly not a good idea to skip such an important part unintentionally. It’s commendable that decisions really matter, but these shouldn’t leave the player in the dark and deprive him or her of additional character or plot development and actual suspense which the demo doesn’t have much of except for the nightmare at the beginning.
Visual novels are always a mixed bag of puzzles. While the Professor Layton series relies heavily on logic puzzles and the Ace Attorney games on investigation, picking up items and combining them as in classic point-and-clickers has never been part of the equation. Broken Sword and Blackwell have been cited by Far-off Daydreams as inspiration, but it remains to be seen if this only attributes to the art design and storytelling, but also to puzzle design, because there are simply no conundrums to solve in the demo, making it again extremely difficult to predict how the final product turns out to be without any examples, especially since one can only interact on two screens without any exploration except for clicking on various background objects or unlocking a supplementary dialogue with a young boy who seems to be important to the overall story, but doesn’t really do anything in the prologue.
Despite the gameplay criticism, it’s clear to see that a lot of love has been put in the presentation. While the character designs aren’t as good as in the original Revolution Software titles Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars or Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror, they’re still well-drawn, with the backgrounds being particularly beautiful, making me remember Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure with its warm color palette. Special mention has to go to the sound design, with some surprisingly good voice acting, which isn’t typical for visual novels and small development studios. Even if there are some problems with the sound volume at times, the quality of the recordings is pretty professional. Speaking of professional, the music by Soundicate with orchestral set-pieces and some more subtle guitar solos is simply sublime.
All in all, A Near Dawn is a promising project with great art and sound design, supported by good dialogue writing, and an interesting decision-making mechanic. The free demo only hints at what is yet to come, while the Kickstarter campaign promises a lot that hasn’t been seen, either. I would still like to see the full game and I hope you’ll want to, so play the demo and head over to the Kickstarter page before the funding process ends on November 24 2017 at 5:00 AM CET.
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