By Diego Hernandez / January 21st, 2020
A new decade means new visual novels, so it’s time to introduce you to Aquadine! This debut project by SoftColors is a romance visual novel full of breathtaking visuals. After playing the demo, I realized that it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. I would have never found this gem if the developer hadn’t contacted me. To clarify, Aquadine is set to release later this year. Furthermore, they need all the marketing they can get. After playing through the demo, it’s hard for me to deny such a wonderful opportunity. So here it is, an interview with SoftColors, a peek into one of the more surprising releases this year. Please enjoy!
Let’s get to know the talented individuals behind the outstanding project. Who are you? Who is SoftColors?
My name is Brian Trieu, and I am the writer-director for the visual novel Aquadine. I am also the producer who outsourced artists, composers, voice actors, and others to create this project. My long-term goal is to get at least one of my projects adapted to an anime, but this is the most I can do for now.
The developer name SoftColors comes from the opening songs for two of my favorite inspirations – “Light Colors” from Tomoyo After – It’s a Wonderful Life and “Colors” from Code Geass. Soft is usually short for “software,” but I’m also using it as an adjective to replace “light.” Our target audience is anime fans and visual novel fans who like emotional stories.
Speaking to a lot of developers, very often I’ll see a hint of pessimism when referring to their first game. Some will cite lack of quality or perhaps the lack of budget to truly flesh out their aspirations. However, if Aquadine is the first, you seem to be setting the bar high if the demo serves as an indicator. Could you tell me about your approach to development with Aquadine?
First, I’d like to show respect for my fellow developers. It can be a really expensive and stressful endeavor, but I’m sure their hard work will pay off one day. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and wish them the best of luck.
Aquadine is indeed my first game, and my mentality behind this project is to make a strong impression. That is why I spent a lot of time researching artists on Lemma Soft and Deviantart. Since I decided on the background artist first, I compared the potential character artist’s work with a background to see how well it’d fit. As the director, it’s important to have a clear vision for the art, story, and music.
Since I’m also the writer, I had to make sure my story never fell behind the art and music because the workflow could lag. It’s also hard to know how many backgrounds, CGs, character sprites, and songs we’ll need until the story is complete. But now that the story and most of the other assets are done, my current focus is on debugging and promoting.
I hope you don’t mind but I took a look at your Twitter. You seem to be a big fan of CLANNAD and, arguably best girl, Tomoyo. Amidst the joy in my discovery, a very important question appears. What are the main inspirations for your story and the cast? Will you try to make us cry like CLANNAD did?
I am certainly a fan of CLANNAD, and Tomoyo is my preferred heroine of the series. Key in general is such a phenomenal visual novel developer, and I have so much respect for them. They’ve notoriously brought “the feels” when it comes to both anime and visual novels, and I want to reach a similar level of success in the English visual novel scene.
CLANNAD is one of the inspirations behind this project, not just for the feels, but also because of its strong theme about family. A lot of anime don’t show parent characters often; they’re usually either dead or just never there, so it was pleasant to watch one that revolved on it. A family can be such an important part of building a character’s backstory and goal, which is why I wanted Aquadine to focus on that theme as well.
Aria the Animation was my model for the fictional setting based on Venice, while The Little Mermaid and Nagi no Asukara (A Lull in the Sea) served as ideas for the ancient underwater lore. For the cast, my goal was to have a good pool of different personalities to strengthen group dialogue and interactions, particularly in the common route. Teen Titans (2003) was what inspired me to find that balance.
As recent as last year, I came across several visual novels that are committed to full voice acting or none. Aquadine utilizes the brilliant rare in-between of partial voice acting. What led to the decision? Furthermore, if the opportunity presents itself would you consider transitioning to full?
Money. Haha. Honestly, I felt doing partial voice acting would be best for the budget, yet still giving life to my characters. Fire Emblem games have proven partial voice acting can be effective, so that assured me it could work. Because of this decision, I’ve had the opportunity to affordably work with many talented voice actors, including Amanda Lee (AmaLee) who voices Elisabeth. Not many visual novels use partial voice acting, so I figured this could be a great way for Aquadine to stand out.
At the same time, this decision also allows the project to be flexible with any edits that need to be made during the debugging phase. Sometimes, I might catch a few things that could be tweaked even after the story editing phase. If Aquadine was fully voiced and all the lines were already recorded, it’d be too late to make further changes. That’s why I didn’t want to commit to full voice acting for my first visual novel, but I’ll consider it in the future.
Visual;Conference just ended a couple days ago from the time of writing this. The main takeaway from the event is the emphasis on technical aspects of development. The importance of UI design and properly introducing important narrative choices among them. May I ask for a slight behind-the-scenes as to how SoftColors works with the aforementioned?
Aquadine is actually one of the few visual novels that doesn’t have any choices, but it still has multiple routes. Once you clear the common route, you’ll unlock a character select screen where you can choose which of the four routes you want to read. Then after you clear the four routes, you’ll unlock the final story called Aquadine Memories. This project kind of falls between a traditional visual novel and a kinetic novel, so I’m not entirely sure what is the most accurate term.
One way to describe this experience is it feels more like an anime than a simulation. Some people may prefer to watch how a story unfolds instead of worrying whether or not they made the right choice, so I designed Aquadine with that in mind. Anime is just what I’m more familiar with, so I wanted to take advantage of this medium’s flexibility to create a more unique visual novel.
We’re taking an alternative approach from the norm, while still packing it with some elements that appeal to visual novel fans such as multiple endings and CGs. As for the UI, we went with a sketchbook theme since Anya is an artist who uses hers like a diary. We thought it’d be a fitting theme to save and load your files, check out the CG gallery, and even look up unfamiliar terms in our encyclopedia.
The Aquadine demo is breathtaking in my honest opinion. More people need to see this, and I think it’s a crime if you don’t. Taking a break from technicalities, how do you and SoftColors plan to market this brilliant spectacle with the arrival of the new decade?
Since Aquadine is our first project, it’ll be difficult to get a lot of attention. Unfortunately, I never used Instagram or Twitter much until after I finished writing the story around late 2018, so I don’t have a lot of followers. My plan is to attend some anime conventions to promote, and update regularly on social media. I’ll also have to reach out to more journalists and streamers who like visual novels.
2019 was my first year promoting Aquadine, and I met a lot of people who shared their thoughts on the demo. I held a booth at Momocon, Anime Weekend Atlanta, and Sono Con so far. I’m not sure which ones I’ll attend this year, but I’ll be at Seishun Con later this month.
The team is aiming for a mid-late 2020 release for Aquadine. Outstanding news for me and the others who’ve played the demo. However, how does it feel for you? Do you feel the pressure of delivering a great read, or are you simply overjoyed that we’re inching closer to seeing your hard work come to fruition?
A combination of both, but the pressure I’m feeling now is that there is still much to do. I’m confident in the quality of this project, so it’s just about delivering it. If everything goes according to plan, we should be able to release it later this year. Once that happens, I think it’ll be my biggest accomplishment yet. It’s exciting.
You just released a new screenshot of Anya’s route in Aquadine via your Twitter. It’s gorgeous. Could you describe what writing these routes has been like? Any challenges to note, and furthermore, do you have a favorite?
I had a lot of fun writing all of these routes, especially because Aquadine is told in third-person. This enabled me to add scenes from the heroines’ private lives, like with family, and it wouldn’t feel natural if the main character is always present. Visual novels are traditionally told in first-person so the readers could immerse themselves through the main character’s eyes and make choices, but we wanted to explore other options.
This approach itself is a challenge, because it can be risky to commit to something different from what’s expected. The third-person narrative without choices gave me the flexibility to flesh out major characters much deeper than what can be told in a simulation. I actually do have a favorite character, but I’ll choose not to reveal which one yet. However, my beta readers and those who’ve played the demo seem to like Anya and Diana. The goal is to write all of the routes well enough, so it’d be difficult to choose who is the best.
I can’t end this interview without asking about the jaw-dropping opening. May I ask about how that came to be and were you as hyped as the fans were upon seeing it?
Not a lot of indie visual novels have opening theme songs, most likely because of budget. This wasn’t just to attract attention, but also to prove to myself this project is legit. It’s not just a dream anymore. I hired a composer, a vocalist, and two lyricists to create the song in 2018, then I contacted a video editor the following year. We got the opening video ready just in time before Momocon 2019, which was the first convention where I promoted the project.
Hearing the opening song for the first time gave me goosebumps and it made realize how far we’ve come. Once my video editor put the visuals together, I was blown away by how beautiful it was. It’s always been a dream to have my own anime someday, and this opening theme is the closest feeling I’ll get for now. To see it all come together in that video felt surreal.
I have asked a lot of questions, but we’ve finally reached the end of the road. The final question is what would you say to all the potential readers glancing at this interview? Similarly, what can they do after they’ve played the demo and need more Aquadine like I do? Lastly, do you have anything you’d like to reveal about the project?
Thank you very much for showing interest in Aquadine. I hope you’re looking forward to the release, and feel free to check out the demo if you haven’t. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for occasional updates.
Thank you Brian and there you have it! While there was no surprise reveal, there’s plenty of reasons to be excited for Aquadine. Please follow the team on social media, and keep it tuned here for all the news regarding this wonderful project.
AquadineEnglish Visual NovelevnInterviewSoftcolorsvisual novelVN