Release Date: June 27, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Visual Novel
Visual novels and adventure games are mixed mediums that have a prime potential for taking their narrative to its storytelling limit. Look at something like Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, The Beginner’s Guide, Necrobarista, or Adios.
They’re all significantly different, but they use their mediums as a stage to set up and convey particular emotions and feelings that are so difficult to capture in other types of games. Now I want to direct you to a seriously indie title I’ve been following for a while named Amarantus, developed by ub4q and in development for something like eight years.
In Amarantus, you take the role, or viewpoint, of Arik Tereison. He’s woken up one night by his parents telling him to run. The Caudat, the terrible lord of the land, who has kept it in a state of war for twenty years, is out for his family’s blood. They’ve been too… outspoken against him, and he’s decided a show of force is in order.
Arik, now wanted, has decided in return that a revolution is in order. Arming himself with a couple of friends, a hired gun, and a freak with a knife, they’ll venture off to enact justice and see the world changed.
The first thing you’re going to spot is the set design. This is a strange thing to say about a visual novel, but it fits Amarantus to a T. Each background takes up only the top half of the screen, a lovingly drawn and framed background on a black screen.
Characters will walk as best as 2D portraits can or be moved across the space to frame shots and give a real sense of 3D space, despite what is literally images on a black background. Coupled with immersive lighting effects, it looks and feels fantastic.
It’s not just spatial either, as characters constantly move around while talking to you, like any normal person. This is reflected in the narration as well. The game isn’t going to say, ‘Marius sighed,’ He’ll just sigh. Characters will visibly ponder and think, with portrait changes and text boxes timed to movements.
This use of space, and variety of portraits, means that a character can deliver a line with far more gravitas than otherwise normal. If a character is going to get cut off mid-sentence, they just get cut off, and the next text box occurs. No, ‘I was just thinking that perhaps-‘ partial boxes, it just happens.
The text box auto-scroll is fast enough to never annoy me (as someone who always sets it as fast as possible) while also allowing a character to be cut off mid-sentence, or you can slow it down. There are even sequences where the music is timed and will cycle through an establishing set of beats, and then the power of spacing means that you’ll get the fancy CG when the song kicks. The music is fantastic, by the way. There’s a bunch of it, and it really helps play your heartstrings at tense moments.
Interactivity in Amarantus is all choice based. So no raw gameplay elements. Not that the story actually needs them because your choices’ weight on the narrative is quite substantial.
As Arik, you’re going to be planning out how you want your revolution to go, in all of its messy and improvised glory, with a romance subplot along the way. The romance is technically unrelated to the ‘main plot’ itself, but it’s very thematically relevant.
It’s a case of people acting on their emotions when they’re on a high, and by high, I am referring to the high-stress situation of running a revolution to depose a political leader through any means viewed as necessary- violent or otherwise. It’s messy and chaotic, with considerable attention to detail.
The romance isn’t just you picking out your best girl, or Marius, to woo, but also the incredibly unique job of playing wingman. After all, Mirielle is showing so much interest in the Major. Why not see if you can help her out?
All these little decisions that influence romantic tensions and the main plot are scattered throughout the story and are pretty innocuous. But also in such a way that you’ll know exactly what to do to prevent that from happening next time, as there are some hilarious and long-lasting effects.
And you will want to play this through multiple times. One playthrough won’t tell the whole tale, and instead, approaching your venture with differing plans will flesh out particular details and help you slot the jigsaw puzzles into place.
I’ve played through it several times, definitely enough to discover the full scope of the story. There are no more big twists, but there are still tons of extra dialogue and scenes to discover. What makes this so enticing is how well the title is written.
You reread a sequence knowing the future context, and your mind snaps because you understand more now. And you’ve got a chance to twist the knife in deeper by making new choices. It’s a highly compelling narrative and a very fleshed-out world.
It also helps that it doesn’t ever sit you down and give you a history lesson- the closest it comes to that is a short reminiscing in front of a war memorial. And that lasts half a minute at the most, focusing more on family names in the area. If any of them seem hard to pronounce, never fear; there’s also a pronunciation reference guide for everything in this game, which is surprisingly helpful given that linguistics ends up quite crucial in this novel.
With its eye for detail, impeccable direction of design and music, and fantastic narrative, Amarantus is definitely up there for one of the year’s best releases. It tells a compelling story using unique systems to express the cast’s emotions, adding to the immersion. While multiple playthroughs are needed, you’ll quickly jump back in after the first ending to get the most out of this experience.
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