Title: Melancholy Love
Developer: White Dew Games
Release Date: January 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Kikai Digital
Genre: Visual Novel
Melancholy Love is a coming-of-age yuri visual novel from Chinese developer White Dew Games. The sweet love story should definitely appeal to girls’ love fans; however, some issues with the game engine can make it frustrating to play.
The main point-of-view characters of the story are Qianxun and Mianxue, classmates at an elite private all-girls academy in southern China. Mianxue failed the previous semester and has been branded a delinquent due to her brusque demeanor, while Qianxun is a star student admired by everyone.
Qianxun is self-conscious about her image at school, so when Mianxue catches her skateboarding, her secret passion, she pretends to be her nonexistent, cooler identical twin sister, Qianyu. This is an extra layer of complication for Mianxue, who finds Qianyu easier to relate to but is already developing feelings for Qianxun despite their antagonistic relationship.
There’s a conflict between the new headmaster and the school’s administration which helps drive the plot forward, as Mianxue is in danger of being expelled and needs help from Qianxun to pass a remedial exam. However, the story’s main conflict is internal, as the girls gradually learn how to express their true feelings rather than just doing what’s expected of them.
The story is slow-moving and low-key, featuring plenty of slice-of-school-life scenes with the protagonists’ friends, forward and cheerful Yuxi, and shy Qiuling (who unfortunately don’t have any romantic endings). And despite the title, there is ultimately a happy ending, and the melancholy tone (emphasized by the piano-heavy soundtrack) never feels too overwhelming.
The artwork is lovely, although I found the characters’ stylized tiny hands kind of distracting, especially in the CGs. Character sprites have multiple poses, and I liked that one of Mianxue’s main poses is a three-quarter rear-facing view. Rear-facing sprites aren’t terribly common in visual novels, so it stands out as a strong use of body language to show personality and character dynamics.
Melancholy Love is fully voiced in Mandarin Chinese. I haven’t heard much Mandarin and don’t know the conventions of tone and expression, so I can’t really judge the voice acting quality. Still, voices are always nice to help add depth to the characters, and it was also helpful to hear how everyone’s names are pronounced. The sound balance between the different voice actors is very poor, but the volume for individual characters can be adjusted in the settings menu, so it’s not a big problem.
The English translation generally flows well. The decision to translate honorifics like “big sister” and “fellow classmate” does come across awkwardly. Still, when the alternatives are to either transliterate them with a glossary or omit them and render conversations about how characters refer to each other completely nonsensical, I understand why the localization team made that choice.
The text display, however, is a bit messy. The word wrapping doesn’t seem to properly recognize punctuation, so ending periods and quotation marks are often pushed to the start of a new line. A few special characters also didn’t display properly, showing a rectangular undefined glyph instead. I understand that sometimes there are engine limitations when trying to display text in a new language, but it’s something I’d expect to be cleared up in an official release.
The text speed and skip functions caused me some frustration. The text speed setting doesn’t save, so after choices and major scene transitions, the text slowed to a crawl until I went back to the menu to adjust the speed. I also had to keep resetting it when skipping through the game to make different choices and get all the endings, as the skip function didn’t work properly unless the text speed was set to max.
Furthermore, the skip function is painfully slow and skips all text even if you’ve chosen the “skip read text-only” setting. It took me about 12 hours to fully complete the game, and nearly a third of that was just spent waiting for the text to skip, a process so tedious that I almost gave up before seeing the best ending.
(I played the game primarily on Linux using SteamPlay, so I initially thought these problems were just compatibility issues, but after testing the game on Windows 7 and talking to a friend who played it on Windows 10, they do seem to be problems with the game itself and not just my system.)
While the technical issues left me with a bad final impression, I’d still recommend Melancholy Love as a competent visual novel. The progression of Qianxun and Mianxue’s relationship from antagonism to affection is sweet and relatable, and the Chinese setting and voice acting are underrepresented in English translated visual novels. The all-girls private school setting might be overdone in the yuri genre, but sometimes tropes are classic because they just work.
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