Availability: Free, Download
Format: Visual Novel
My Scores: (Art:3.5, Writing:3.5, Gameplay: 2) out of 5
Found at http://unbrokenhours.com/
A big Thank You to Anviel for suggesting this. :) Ray mentioned it too, though I didn't see that comment until after this post was written. Thanks anyway, Dude!
In Frozen Essence, you play a girl named Mina/InsertNameHere. You've spent the last 1,000 years sealed away, and during that time, you've completely forgotten who you are. Now somebody's broken you out, other people are chasing you, and you have no idea why any of this is happening.
I've been very ambivalent about what kind of score to give the writing, so take the number up there with a grain of salt. First of all, let me just say that I'm a sucker for original worlds. The drawback of such settings, however, is that they tend to require a ton of exposition, which the reader/player may not enjoy.
The story itself, while interesting, is hard to follow on the first run-through. You spend much of the game not knowing who anyone is, what's going on or why, and your character is in the same boat. So, points are given for immersion, I guess, but then taken away for the hinderance to comprehensibility. What makes it worse is the English. I'm guessing that the author is not a native English speaker, based on the strength of the substance but the weakness of the form. Like Requiem of the Abyss, imagine taking a good book; only this time, instead of running it through Babelfish, chop it up to make a nice salad. It makes an already mysterious story even harder to keep up with. After my first play-through, I was ready to give it a 2.
That said, the game becomes immensely more enjoyable on replay. The background is solid (minus a minor inconsistency about whether the East is the Earth region or the Air region), and there's a kind of thrill from catching a subtle reference that you missed or didn't understand the first time around. The more endings you get, the more you understand the world you're in, and the more satisfaction you get from the story.
Be forewarned, though, this story is long! It puts the "novel" in Visual Novel. One thing that annoyed me slightly about the game was the way the endings would seem to be drawing to a close...and then the story would continue. This cycle would repeat a few times until I was practically shouting "SOMEONE KILL HIM, ALREADY!"
Bonus points to the creator for composing music instead of just yanking something off the "free music" shelf. Not only is it a nice touch of effort, but it's one that paid off. It captures the story perfectly. When someone walked in while I was playing this and asked what tone of story it was, (Drama? Comedy?), I replied, "Just...listen to the music. It's exactly what the music sounds like."
The backgrounds and special pictures were very lovely. However, the effect was ruined as soon as I saw Rune. The characters, while not bad, are sometimes a little wonky. I almost feel bad saying that, though, since it's clear that a lot of effort was put in. The art is anime/manga style, as seems to be usual for Visual Novels, and it's worth mentioning how deceptively difficult that style actually is; though stylized, it still requires a firm basis in real human anatomy, and is far less forgiving than most western cartooning styles.
There are quite a number of poses and backgrounds, though occasionally, it's obvious that a backdrop has been recycled. All in all, I think the most egregious flaw in the art (and I use the broader definition of "art" in this review) is the "Thwap" sound effect. It often sounds like people are randomly hitting Mina, themselves, and each other. What's really hilarious is the way Oryon keeps slapping himself during battle, due to an unfortunate combination of the "thwap" and a hand-clutching-chest pose.
The game is easily divided into two parts. Part one has you choosing your suitor, and part two has you playing out that character's ending. Part two has a bit more of a Kinetic Novel feel than part one -- lots of reading, with very little interaction. However, the level of interaction in either part leaves something to be desired.
Much of the initial interaction basically boils down to dialogue trees, and you explore each branch in order to get the exposition I mentioned in the Writing section. For the other interactions, it tends to be immediately obvious when you've chosen a "wrong" answer (e.g., you make Rune leave in a huff), which causes me to simply reload and choose a different track instead of exploring to see how the story unfolds with that choice in effect. (On the other hand, this may be better than simply making a character "unwinnable" without telling you, so take that as you will.)
There's also a sense of "railroad tracks" in the game, which rather annoyed me. It's one thing to have a series of events that must always happen, but it's another thing to "override" the player's choices. I outright hated when my choosing "Tell The Truth" resulted in something to the effect of "Oops, Telling the Truth sucks. I'll lie instead!" If you were going to have her lie anyway, then why even ask me?!
To sum it all up, Frozen Essence has a number of strengths and weaknesses. It benefits immensly from Multiple play-throughs, and the Death ending is easily the most fun and cathartic after you've gotten the other endings and seen the crap these people put Mina through. It could definitely be much improved with a good proofreading by a native English speaker, though. All in all, I think this piece shows some excellent potential, and I look forward to any future works from this author. Also, the Water path definitely did not make me cry. Not even a little bit. ...I need a tissue.