By Alex Irish / May 3rd, 2018
|Developer||Quiet Bay Studio|
|Publisher||Quiet Bay Studio|
|Release Date||February 20th, 2018|
|Age Rating||Not Rated|
Do you ever think about the future? If you met the person who killed my son, what would you do? Those are among the hard-hitting preponderances that Gone Fireflies posits in the course of its story. A veritable point-and-click adventure that plays like a visual novel, Quiet Bay Studios makes their debut with a tale that juggles a modest presentation with a story that has to hit where it hurts. With its super-duper low budget price, how does it meet its modest aims?
Gone Fireflies‘ visual makeup is primarily built on clip art that looks like it was out of the game making software RPG Maker, which, in fact, it was. Characters all come from the generic anime book of pixel art, and their small size makes it hard to read their actions, lacking emotion or any specific movement. In rare occasions, it was even hard to tell what gender a character was supposed to be if their clothing detail wasn’t specific enough. The background art similarly lacks in atmosphere, setting the scene but no more, their perspective flat and listless. The aesthetic overall looks like it crawled out of a 16-bit role-player, which is not bad in itself, but the art style is too flat and generic for it to have much character or personality.
When the art style fails, Gone Fireflies‘ music is its saving grace. The mostly piano, sometimes strings score is credited to Jeremy Wray, Nicolas Gasparini, and Kevin MacLeod, who paint each scene with a melancholy that conveys all the emotion required. It’s a score that’s good enough to put on SoundCloud or Bandcamp for sale. Sound design for the rest of the game is also of high quality, with tip-top samples further enhancing the mood of a scene. The game’s heavy use of raindrops is above reproach.
The actual act of playing Gone Fireflies is as similarly modest as its presentation. As a reflection of its visual novel aims, the game directs you every step of the way with little in the way of exploration. On occasion, you’ll poke around the environment for specific items needed to further the story, but most often, there’ll be a little circle pointing exactly where you need to go. This is as hand-holdy as a game gets, almost insultingly so, but given its storytelling focus, that approach makes some semblance of sense.
With a mixed presentation, it’s then up to Gone Fireflies to excel in narrative execution. And, for the most part, it does. It’s impossible to give much of the storyline away in a review for the sake of spoilers, so instead it must be given in broad strokes. The story flashes across time and space, featuring a principle cast of two couples who intertwine as if through fate. Gone Fireflies deals with life when tragedy strikes, the remembrance of loved ones gone, child rearing or considering having children, and how to face a future unknown together. It’s deep subject matter that belies the game’s outward appearance and its chibi anime figures. Melancholy proceeds the story as characters are haunted by specters of their past, dealing with depression, guilt, and loss.
For the first-time player, the storytelling can get confusing to keep track of as events flash forwards and backwards, often from scene to scene. You also face dialogue choices, some of which affect plot progression in ways subtle and large-scale. Dialogue doesn’t really snap, crackle, or pop, instead keeping the cast grounded in reality of how people actually talk. Based on your choices made, you may even be moved by pangs of consciousness from the unfolding events. And if you want to see everything the game has to offer, multiple endings extend the story’s possibilities.
Gone Fireflies is short, but feels like it moves at a slow crawl. To that end, you can speed up text with a button press. On that technical end, thankfully there is controller support. However, here’s some advice for the game’s save function. If you accidentally were to pick “start game” instead of continue, that new game wipes your existing save (!). That raises issues if you were to play in short bursts and pick back up only to enter the wrong option by mistake. When you’re in the midst of your game, always save to slot two as a precaution. Further tech issues rose up in one instance as speeding through the text in one early scene caused the game to freeze, which require a full restart.
Gone Fireflies was clearly made on a low budget with the best intentions. It uses RPG Maker as a vehicle for pure storytelling. Its asset-driven build shows all too well, with generic clip art balanced by a beautiful musical score. It’s a breezy experience you’ll finish in around an hour, but to its credit, its thematic depth at least warrants a playthrough, maybe two. Given it’s only $4.99 and takes around an hour to complete, it’s at least worth it to see Gone Fireflies‘ pathos-heavy story.
Review code provided by developer
Gone FirefliesQuiet Bay StudiosRPG Maker