By Diego Hernandez / February 18th, 2021
|Release Date||February 12th, 2021|
|Genre||Romance, Visual Novel|
When you live in times like these, you look forward to many wonderful things like Aquadine. The extravagant project from the team at SoftColors is finally here after so long. To clarify, I interviewed the head of the studio about a year ago. Hard to believe that such an amount of time has passed already. I remember all the magic from the demo and the juicy information from the interview that filled me with hope for the full release. Now the game is out on Itch and Steam. Honestly, opening this game for the first time in a year is surreal. I’ll finally see for myself what kind of story will await me. There’s several reasons why Aquadine sat at the top of my most anticipated visual novel list. Now it’s time to answer the age old question: How does it hold up to such expectations?
The first thing that’s going to capture the eyes of the reader in this story is the setting. For you see friends, Aquadine is the name of the beautiful city where it all takes place. Drawing clear inspiration from the wonderful city of Venice, readers will quickly find themselves in love with the scenery before the characters get a chance to speak. But Aquadine isn’t just a stage for characters themselves to shine. The city bears many mysteries and folklore that’ll intertwine with the fate of our characters. Just as you learn about the characters, you’ll come to see that this background is more than it seems. The information can get a bit overwhelming, so I will be your tour guide. Don’t worry, this one is free of cost. So sit back and relax as I take you through the city’s vibrant personalities.
The first on our list shall be the man with two lives to live, Robin. Our main character doesn’t have it easy, masquerading as a nerdy student by day and prominent tour guide in the evenings. But what brought about such a confusing lifestyle? Why, it’s nothing illegal or shameful to be giving tours, especially when you have a majestic voice. But to clarify, it’s not as simple as dodging the fans. The roots of his story go rather deep and hit you in the feelings quite severely. For now, you’ll enjoy a story of a man both living as a commoner and the city’s most popular celebrity. Interesting to say the least, but we still have more stops on this trip. However, before we continue, let me enlighten you with thoughts as to our dear gondolier.
Robin’s a very peculiar main character for many reasons. Think about it: how would you feel to know you’re both the most popular man in town, while also being the city’s biggest disappointment? While I’ll omit the details for the sake of a spoiler-free review, he’s got more to worry about than just public opinion. Throughout the story, I see a man constantly dealing with his own emotions. Just as you think you’ve seen all of him, the writing continues to make him grow with every interaction. No matter how silly or serious, it’s like his two personalities are finally blending and make him a tremendous overall character. There’s very few main characters that fascinate me to a similar degree. However, like I said, Robin doesn’t grow by himself. He has a wonderful supporting cast by his side.
Here we are with Diana, whom you’ll first meet as an adoring fanatic to Robin’s more cheerful personality. With her you’ll see the story of a hard-working schoolgirl just trying to live her best days while she can. But is that all there is to it? Being the heir to the most popular café in town comes with a price, you know? Follow along for a journey of self-discovery; a journey that details the grueling pains of uncertainty and self-doubt — otherwise known as your traditional high school years. Jokes aside, Diana is the life of the party and beyond all emotional struggle, she always seems to put a smile on your face. With Diana, she isn’t the only one embarking a journey: you’re coming too, as you witness a girl go from just your average fangirl into something more precious and down to Earth.
Diana’s route in particular intrigues me because of what’s presented in the Aquadine common route: a girl who metaphorically is in the trenches and dealing with a very strict parent. You know how these stories go — they’re always complacent until the bubble pops. What’s interesting to note is what happens once the floodgates open. Diana seamlessly stares at what she’s done so far and says to hell with it all. Despite having no plans whatsoever, this girl goes out there with a smile on her face and ready for all sorts of opportunity. The key word in this route is perseverance and it presents itself so beautifully. In fact, I could even say that it heavily inspired me once I got done reading. But let’s not forget the other people involved in this wonderful story. Say, do you mind if I tell you the tale of a transfer student? Good!
Every story has to have one of them so meet Elisabeth. Elisabeth has a tall order to meet from the perspective of the reader. Transfer students are numerous, and you could probably name at least five from shows or other visual novels you’ve read before hitting a mental block. However, with Elisabeth, the charm is already there. A foreigner with an angel’s voice, one that could fill out opera houses in minutes, it seems she has stopped singing and nobody knows why. The question lingers among the class for a brief moment until everyone realizes that there’s a celebrity in their class. Thus all returns to normal — well, for everyone minus you and our main character Robin. There’s much mystery involved with the songstress, and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it. Before we proceed, let’s get our thoughts in order.
Elisabeth is just another interesting addition to Aquadine’s cast of characters. While the bar is set pretty high initially with the transfer student trope, do not be deceived. This girl packs a wallop with her story, and if you dare to go deep it will hit you in the feels. After going in with little expectations, I found myself enamored with Elisabeth’s motives and passion to do better. While her route pales in comparison to that of her peers, it’s still a tremendous show to watch her grow. She’s a phenomenal character and is insanely lovable. I think a lot of people would choose her as their favorite. That is, if it wasn’t for our next mention. The small artist who’s popular among testers and early reviewers. Let’s meet her, shall we?
I remember talking to Brian about my love for Anya prior to our interview last year. I spoke about her wonderful design and pondered many questions with regards to her route. We got image teasers and the like, but the thing I always wondered the most was how her story would play out. With the release, I’m proud to confirm Anya as my favorite girl within Aquadine. Her story touches on a similar note to Diana’s where it’s a journey of self-discovery. However, unlike Diana, we’re looking at a story that touches on the value of one’s life. We all have those days where we just can’t seem to find the reasoning for being alive. This pandemic certainly made me think along those lines more times than I can count. Anya was already the cutest girl on this list, but her story hit so close to home.
Sure, you can have the hardest hitting story and design, but development is where it counts. Anya proves herself to be the most memorable character in this story by far. Everything ranging from her small mannerisms to her involvement in the story is incomparable to the rest of the cast. If you’re going to read the game in its entirety, I’ll give you this advice now: Do her route last. It’ll be very tempting to immediately jump in, but patience. It’ll be very much worth the effort. Anya sits at the forefront of the story and occupies a very special place in my heart. If I’m going to give any advice to SoftColors moving forward, it’s to keep making characters like her. Oh yeah, I guess there’s one other character we can talk about. The most amazing friend you can have is Cameron.
Cameron is the best bro of this story, bar none. He’ll have your back through thick and thin. He’ll encourage you to get off your butt and do something. He’s that extra push of motivation to truly make the most out of any day. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that half the things Robin does would not happen were it not for Cameron. He always carries himself with such optimism and strength — a dedication towards doing the best in whatever he does. I could even make the argument that he’s a role model to follow very closely. It’s kind of shocking that he doesn’t get as much attention as Robin’s alter ego, but I digress. Make sure to treasure your homies. Cameron put so much life into the group scenes, it’d be an injustice to not talk about him. Just don’t follow him to the shower.
Now that you’ve gotten know everyone, let’s get down to business. When the demo came out for Aquadine, I spoke incredibly highly of the art and music. I’ve been covering the EVN scene for two years now. With this in mind and the game coming out, I’ll boldly say that this is the most impressive game I’ve covered in both those areas. Aquadine is a breathtaking visual and audio experience. The character art is extravagant and meshes incredibly well with the detailed backgrounds. The small animations with each reaction are cute and ever pleasing to the eyes. Then you have the amazing soundtrack playing in the background; the partial voice acting does wonders and gives these characters sufficient life beyond the game. If I graded this game on just those two fields, it’s a masterpiece. However, we have one major field to address and it’s the writing.
Writing needs to cover three major fields. The world building, the character development and overall story. I love Aquadine’s characters, I’ve spent over 1,000 words detailing how good I feel about them, not going to do a 180 there. Reading the wonderful tidbits of this historic town and all the mythological involvement was breathtaking. The more I learned about the history of this city, the more beautiful it became to me. So if the world and characters aren’t the issue, the elephant in the room is none other than the story. Yes, my friends, the weakest part of this amazing visual package is the actual story. It can be hard to believe when everything else is so good, but this fundamental got left behind. It’s saddening.
While you have all the fun in the world falling in love with the city and the characters, something’s amiss and it’s the story. Aquadine tends to hit road bumps with the story because it can’t seem to stay on a scene for longer than a couple minutes. If I feel like I’m going to learn something very vital about a character, the scene can end as quickly as it began. The story transitions so often between characters that finding the how’s, what’s, and why’s becomes a blur. Suffice to say, I felt drama and passion in only two of the game’s total routes. To put it mildly, it’s not what you want to see. The whole thing felt like a slice of life story when it is clearly not when you read all about the world and characters. Some parts are flat out missing.
The lack of major story development in a handful of the routes can break the experience for a lot of readers. It’ll feel like you got dragged along on a mystical journey only to realize that you were just going to your local mall to hang out with friends. It’s not bad, but the build up indicated something else was coming. It could be an issue with regards to its anime style portrayal of its story, but sad that it did not work well this time. However, even for all of that, the rest of the game is too good to just dump away for this. Aquadine boasts one of the more memorable cast, world, and sound I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. That’s not changing. I just wish I had a cohesive story.
Aquadine’s characters, sounds and visuals make for a truly extravagant package unlike anything that’s come before it. Aside from minor complaints in the story, people will have no trouble falling in love with the world and its characters. I spent eight hours on this journey and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone looking to see what the English Visual Novel scene is up to. Please consider picking the game up on Steam and Itch and enjoy yourself. Congratulations to SoftColors on the release and may everyone know that Anya is the best girl. See you next time friends.
Game provided by developer for review purposes.
AquadineEnglish Visual NovelevnSoftcolorsvisual novelVN