By Chris Melchin / December 12th, 2018
The story is complicated, as time travel stories tend to be, but not necessarily for the reasons that time travel stories often are. Throughout the primary path of the common route, Rinne’s route and the two final routes (and even in Sara’s route, to some extent) there’s a lot of twists and turns, ultimately making the story somewhat difficult to follow at parts. It tends to pull the rug out from under you, and ultimately every guess I had about where the story was going ended up being wrong, and then proven wrong again. It kept things interesting and unpredictable, but it made things hard to keep track of when, especially in the primary path, the game is constantly giving new explanations for Setsuna’s origins. That being said, I ended up enjoying the ride, particularly when I decided to give up on trying to anticipate where things were going and just read in the moment. Maybe that doesn’t say anything great about the game, but the fact remains that it’s an engaging read that keeps you on your toes throughout.
As one would expect from a visual novel with a summer or subtropical setting, the visuals are pleasant and colorful, with plenty of bright blues and greens to match the isolated island setting of Urashima. The designs do a good job of expressing character, as well as being generally appealing and varied. The changes in designs throughout also do a good job of conveying the shifting tones as you progress through the game, in the character designs, backgrounds, and the CG scenes. Beyond the graphics, the presentation as a whole is also high-quality, going beyond the basic text box at certain points as well as with the way it displays the sprites themselves. It doesn’t do it much, but the sprites can move around the screen as they can in many modern visual novels, making scenes more animated and engaging, especially for more comedic parts. There’s also a classy animated title card serving as a scene transition, something that’s unusual to see but gives the impression of higher production values. The aforementioned flowchart also comes in handy, and is something that I wish more games with this many choices included.
The music also illustrates the various tones well, and even if it’s definitely not the best VN music I’ve heard it’s better than most. There are a few standout themes, especially the vocal opening and ending themes, but overall it’s still good if not necessarily outstanding. The voice acting is also good and well-matched to the characters, although it’s hard to be able to discern issues with voice acting in a language you don’t understand. The translation quality is generally solid, with only a few minor typos that I noticed throughout the entire game.
I expected that a game with this few main characters and routes could feel somewhat lacking, but the relatively small number of characters means ample time to develop each one and make them all feel complete, along with much of the game’s playtime coming from the two main arcs after finishing the initial three character routes. None of the main characters feel weaker than any of the others, and even the side characters get their share of screen time and development throughout the various arcs. The true ending is somewhat unsatisfying, but in a way that’s appropriate for the story, so I’m not really sure what to make of it.
ISLAND is a high-quality romance visual novel worth checking out for those interested in the genre. This likely holds even more true if you played and enjoyed Himawari, but I can’t speak for that directly. The lack of adult content may disappoint some (even the original Japanese release is all-ages only), but it doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything for not having it. The story is complex and engaging, even if it feels like it can be overly complicated at times and there’s an excessive number of relatively minor twists throughout. The characters are all interesting, appealing and well-developed, and even though Rinne’s route is obviously intended to be the “canon” one, Karen and Sara’s routes are both satisfying in their own way, actually providing more closure than the true ending – although I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the intent. The entire game took me about 30 hours to complete and see everything – VNDB lists it in the “long” 30-50 hour category – and costs $39.99 USD. If it sounds interesting to you I’d absolutely recommend it.
Review copy provided by publisher
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