Title: Winter Polaris
Release Date: December 12, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Sekai Project
Genre: Visual Novel
Winter Polaris is a visual novel by the well-known developers stage-nana who developed Narcissu and Ame no Marginal -Rain Marginal-. While the developer’s past successes should be recognized, I was eager to read through their most recent game, Winter Polaris.
In retrospect, it’s difficult for me to put my experience with Winter Polaris into words. Despite seeming zany at first, the game deals with severe and touching topics with added themes of fantasy. Scenarios in the game stay true to its fantasy foundation but had a way of making me think of what it means to actually live.
Winter Polaris tells two different stories, Winter Polaris and Sweeper Swimmer. In Winter Polaris, a mysterious event occurred which caused people to vanish randomly, leaving nothing behind beside the clothes they wore. At first, the protagonist didn’t believe in these rumors until he witnessed it himself. In fear, he fled into the mountains to avoid the disease. Years have passed since he entered the forest, as the protagonist emerges to find everyone has vanished. As he returns to a deserted city, he meets a young girl who doesn’t seem to be what you’d consider “normal.” Well, looks don’t deceive in this situation because she claims to be immortal.
Sweeper Swimmer opens with Elena, who lives on a small rustic island and works as a courier by boat delivering cargo. After a storm, when she begins her daily deliveries she encounters a girl in the sea who is lucky to be alive. Not having anywhere to go, Elena takes her in and brings her back to her home island. This girl ends up being in possession of a mysterious object that Elena doesn’t recognize. This mysterious object is only the beginning of strange happenings as they both discover a treasure map, which leads them through a grand adventure.
I enjoyed how the developers merged these two different stories, which are, in some ways, connected. Throughout each story, it’s possible to catch on to these connections, but the predictability doesn’t make the slow reveal less enjoyable. Still, I wouldn’t have minded if the developers made the bonds stronger. Without revealing too much, Winter Polaris is the stronger story of the two, as Sweeper Swimmer doesn’t contribute much more than introducing two new characters.
Something Winter Polaris conveys well is character development. While it was tough to feel a connection in the opening of the stories, the more I got to know about them, the more I found myself connected to their goals. I felt like the developer’s made these characters unlikable intentionally, as the mysterious girl is obscene to the protagonist. Still, as I got to know her, I couldn’t seem to be mad at her for her behavior. Her child-like features make you underestimate just what a vast presence she is in this story, and I enjoyed how the writing took advantage of that. The events and how the characters deal with the situations they find themselves in play on themes of what it means to be alive, which had me eagerly progressing through the episodes to learn where their story ends.
Winter Polaris allows the players to choose which title they’d like to play first. The menu is divided into different episodes, which unlock as you progress the story. However, during various episodes of Winter Polaris or Sweeper Swimmer, the next episode won’t open until you’ve completed a specific episode. This means you’ll experience both stories as you complete the entire narrative. I should also add that Winter Polaris is a kinetic novel, so there isn’t much in terms of player interaction with this story.
I found it difficult to adjust to the game’s art direction of large black borders and limited illustrations. My issue with them is that even though they are so big, the text is tiny, even with all the extra space to make the font larger. This is easily seen while trying to play the game in window mode, which makes the text pretty much unreadable. This just meant I had to play the game in full screen, but the higher resolutions made the game look blurry. Regardless of that, the illustrations and CGs in this story are beautiful, and I couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I would have liked it if the game had a way of distinguishing which characters were talking since there aren’t any avatars displayed.
Winter Polaris tells a touching story that has some fantastic themes of loneliness and existence. While I enjoyed the narrative of Winter Polaris more than Sweeper Swimmer, I left with a fondness for each of the characters. It made it easy for me to want to see where these characters end up, and I was satisfied with how the conclusion played out.
I am sad my journey with these characters is over, and despite my small issues with this some of the game’s features, it didn’t affect my appreciation for the story that these developers were trying to tell. That being said, Winter Polaris is one of the more serious visual novels where the story has a meaning and will hold your attention for the entire story.
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