Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Crossroads

Author: Seraphinite
Availability: Free, Download
Format: Visual Novel
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: Teen

Found at seraphinite.itch.io

My Scores (Out of 5):

Writing: 3
Art: 4
Gameplay: 3
Romance:  2.5  (“Simple fare, but not bad.”)

Summary

In The Crossroads, you are Tiana/Insert-Name-Here.  When your life starts crumbling around you, you suddenly get an opportunity to make a little money by house-sitting a mansion in the middle of nowhere.  Apparently, the mansion's ownership is in dispute, and this fact seems to have the mansion's only two staff members – the gardener and the steward – on edge.  But, what does any of it have to do with you or your presence here?”

Review

The Writing

One thing that sticks out about the writing is its use of sensory details.  While the prose in What's Your Name? tries to do the art's job for it by describing visuals, the writing in The Crossroads complements its art by describing things like taste, smell, or feel: things that the art can't really convey.  The result is a fuller, more rounded experience.

The story itself is simple and straight-forward: while the nature of the house and servants is concealed from the main character until the end, I wouldn't call its revelation a twist.  There are also no clear stakes until that revelation, and even then, whether those stakes seem high or low just depends on how you feel about the men's situation.  It's about as low-tension as Nacira, and whether this makes it calm and relaxing or dull and boring depends entirely on the player and their mood.

My only real complaint about the writing is that even though the guys have clearly defined and differing personalities, some sections of dialog are obviously copied and pasted from one character to the other.  This is most glaring at the end, when the PC's chosen suitor gives her the exposition.  Even their actions, before and after, are mirrored with no variation.  While I wouldn't describe either of them as being out of character in those moments, it still feels unfair to have them suddenly become interchangeable; a little flourish or two to remind us of their personalities would have made it better, and having the events unfold completely differently for each would have been best, I think.

The Art

It's wonderful to see hand-drawn backgrounds again, and both the backgrounds and the characters are beautifully done.  The art style here is more naturalistic, which is also pleasantly surprising.  I don't dislike the more anime/manga style that most of these games have, mind you; but after so many of them, it's good to be reminded that other art styles exist.

The music and sound effects were nice, but there were many points where all the sounds just ended, leaving dead air. It was a bit off-putting.  Also, the game uses an instrumental version the song “Donna Nobis Pacem” (literally “Give Us Peace”) quite a bit.  The first time I heard it, it seemed thematically appropriate for the conversation being had; by the fifth time I heard it, I realized it was just “pretty harp music” for the game's score.  Ah, well.

The Gameplay

The Crossroads lets you customize your character's appearance a bit, with choices of skin tone, eye color, hair color, and freckles.  These choices show up in the CGs as well as your sprite, although the art gallery only displays the default version.

There is some shaping of the PC's personality, too, throughout the game.  Most of the choices seem to be about establishing your character's inner thoughts, which in turn affect how certain conversations unfold and how the suitors describe you.  While there are some obvious decisions on who to spend time with and whether to leave, I suspect the subtler ones are only for flavor and have little or no impact on the ending: you can be praised just as much for being optimistic as for being blunt and straight-forward.  Overall, this game seems to be more about the journey than the destination.

TL;DR:

The Crossroads is a nice little story with a very relaxed feel to it.  The art is lovely, though it doesn't indulge in any grand vistas, and the gameplay is satisfying with a lot of room for customizing the experience.  The experience is sweet, cozy, and doesn't overstay its welcome.

As usual, this is only my opinion: you may think this game is worth being cooped up in a house all day, or you might want to leave it and never look back.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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