By Nick Benefield / January 9th, 2019
As of January 2019, there are currently over 1,200 visual novels for sale on Steam, many of which were developed by small teams with big dreams. One such title is Bloody Chronicles – New Cycle of Death. This title serves as Igrasil Studio’s debut release and was added to Steam less than a month ago. Currently in its alpha/early-access phase, New Cycle of Death is act one of what is planned to be a three part series. It’s a murder-mystery visual novel with slice-of-life elements thrown in. It began its life as a Kickstarter campaign back in early 2016 and surpassed its funding goal by an additional $17k. Boasting nearly 30 hours of content and around 70 different decisions to make, Igrasil Studio certainly set its goals high for this one. The question is, was it able to succeed in reaching them?
The core story revolves around a group of young detectives, all of whom are fresh out of school. As part of the non-governmental detective agency IGRASIL, they take on cold cases that normal organizations like the police are unable to solve. At the onset of the game, a string of bizarre murders has left the public afraid and the police baffled. Most of these have been attributed to a maniac known as “the Phantom”, whose work is both grizzly and grandiose. He or she leaves a series of clues behind with each murder, many of which seem to hold some form of symbolism. Among our group of detectives is the protagonist, Kazuki Koyama. Kazuki is relatively new to the IGRASIL team and makes it his goal to solve these puzzling clues and catch the Phantom before the police can. Along the way, we learn a bit about his troubled past as well. Having lost both of his parents in a fatal car accident just one year earlier, Kazuki seems to have found comfort in solving cases and helping others. He can be a bit of a curmudgeon at times and is often blunt with his teammates, but his heart seems to be in the right place. He’s joined by by fellow detectives Suzumi, Kaoru, Akito, and Aki, all of whom have ended up with IGRASIL under different circumstances. With the Phantom case being their first murder investigation, IGRASIL team (much like the development team) sets their sights high and aims to make a bigger name for themselves.
All exposition aside, how’s the writing? Well, it varies. I enjoy murder mysteries and stories that incorporate a variety of religious elements, so to that end I was pleased. The story as a whole is interesting, but its main problem stems from that fact that it doesn’t seem air-tight. Some loose ends are to be expected when your game is separated into multiple acts, but a number of existing pieces didn’t seem to mesh. For one thing, I’m fairly certain that certain scenes were either missing or pulled out without changing the others. There is a “side-quest” of sorts that is introduced about half-way into the game which involves a character named Bradley. If the dialogue between the characters is to be believed, Bradley should’ve been introduced earlier in the game. All of the characters (including Kazuki) seem to know him and reference meeting him a few days prior. As far as I can recall though, he was never introduced. My assumption is that an earlier scene was removed, either by accident or to quicken the pace of the story. There are other instances where characters are introduced and then never mentioned again. In cases like that, perhaps I simply didn’t make the right decisions. Still, having these character interactions just exist without further context was a bit disappointing.
Stranger still are the points where story elements will change without warning. Towards the beginning (before you meet him), the new police officer in charge of the Phantom case is referred to as General Akiak. When you go to meet him though (and from that point forward), he inexplicably becomes General Coya. I think it’s safe to assume that his name was changed at some point during the game’s development cycle. Finally, the game’s description indicates that player choices can lead to multiple different scenarios, but during my playthrough most of the decisions didn’t seem all that important. There were some larger ones to be made, but the majority of them revolved around choosing to spend time with Kazuki’s teammates or blowing them off. This did seem to affect romantic options with characters, but most didn’t appear to be story-centric. I did read some user comments on the Steam page which seemed to indicate that decisions would carry more weight in acts II and III, but I can’t vouch for that since those are not out yet. There are some romantic moments available, but it would seem that more will follow in acts II and III. My first suggestions to the developers would be to flesh out the story a bit more, make sure all the scenes fit together, and find a way to convey the importance of each decision. Perhaps a flowchart of events or an easier way to return to these decision points would help.
The English voice acting is also mixed in terms of quality. The only options are English or no voices at all, so I chose to stick with the English voices. The voices for the main team of characters aren’t too bad, but some characters’ voicework is better than others. All in all though, the main characters’ voices grew on me over time. Additionally, I could tell just by listening to them that the actors all had a really great time recording their lines. What I wasn’t as impressed by was the difference in pronunciation between characters. Some of the voice actors would address people or things using one pronunciation, only for another actor to immediately pronounce that person or thing differently. The most standout example of this is the way in which the team addresses Kazuki. Some pronounced his name as “ka-zu-key” while others would pronounce it as “kazoo-key”. While I eventually got used to this, it was a bit grating at first. As for the other characters (those not imperative to the story), the voice acting was not nearly as polished. Some of these characters didn’t even have voices at all, but those who did were not voiced as well as the main characters. My second suggestion for the developers is to revisit the voiced dialogue as well as provide more where gaps exist. This goes for both the main and supplemental characters.
My concerns with the voice acting and the subtitles go hand-in-hand. Spelling and grammar were indeed an issue. I’d say 75% or so of the subtitles were okay, but the other 25% could use some heavy spelling/grammar updates. Given that the game is still in early-access, some spelling and grammatical errors are to be expected. Having said that, there were a number of other issues outside of these simple ones. The largest issue was the placement of the subtitles. More often than not, I’d read the subtitles while listening to the voices and the two wouldn’t sync up. Part of this was likely due to slight variations between the script and the subtitles, but another part was simple misplacement of the subtitles. Not all of the main character lines are voiced of course, so I can see how this mismatch may have occurred. One major example relates to a scene in which your teammate Akito talks with his mouth full after eating some donuts. This audio is played again several scenes later and paired with unrelated subtitles. There are also times when the opposite is true. This issue was peppered throughout the game and I found myself trusting the subtitles more than the spoken lines (though the spoken lines didn’t have translation issues). To their credit, the development team does make mention of possible translation issues when the game first boots up. Since they seem aware of the spelling and grammar issues, I’d suggest that they also take a look at the subtitle pairings and make sure that they sync up with the correct audio.
In terms of art style, I must once again say that it has its ups and downs. Hands down, the best aspect of the artwork is the main character designs. All character portraits are hand drawn and the irises of their eyes really stuck out to me. Each character is uniquely designed and has a distinct personality, which the portraits do a great job of conveying. While not all of the other, supporting characters have portraits, those that do are generally not as detailed as the main characters. All of them are still hand drawn, but the eyes aren’t as detailed (for the most part) and the linework isn’t as neat. Given that some of these extra characters don’t even have portraits, I’m assuming that most of the focus was dedicated to the main characters. While not a huge deal, I would’ve preferred a bit more continuity between the designs. Character portraits aside, there are also times where scenes will break away to chibi art renditions of the characters, complete with matching backgrounds. These were a nice change of pace and, while infrequent, were all very well done. Lastly, the backgrounds for the normal scenes were nice, albeit unassuming. None of them stuck out as overly unique or memorable, but they certainly got the job done and fit well with their associated scenes. In looking at the original Kickstarter images, there have been some noticeable changes since the game’s inception. Having said that, many of these changes aren’t necessarily for the worse. In my opinion, the largest changes exist with the character designs. As far as the main characters are concerned, these changes are merely stylistic and the new designs look really nice.
The music and sound design as a whole didn’t really stand out to me. That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with it, but I only found myself paying attention to one or two of the tracks. The opening song and the track played during melancholy points of the story both stood out as really nice. As for the other tracks, while I can’t say that I found myself jamming out to them, each fit the mood of the game pretty well and I have no complaints. You can actually buy the soundtrack itself through Steam as a separate purchase if you’re so inclined.
While we’re on a more positive note, let me briefly touch on the game’s sense of humor. When Kazuki and the gang aren’t tracking down leads on the Phantom or looking at gruesome crime scenes, they’re either harassing one another or having a good laugh at the Red Dragon restaurant. Akito and Aki are siblings, so they have a tendency to pick on each other and get into childish arguments. Suzumi and Kaoru on the other hand seem content with picking on Kazuki for his laziness and stubborn attitude. Of course, all of this takes a back seat to Akito’s goofy behavior, which all the characters take part in laughing at. Akito is definitely the comic relief of this game, so emphasis is often placed on him during light-hearted moments. Interactions like this helped break apart the more serious parts of the game. I actually tend to prefer serious moments over comedic ones, but I can appreciate the way that they are handled here. Also, I didn’t just mention that Red Dragon restaurant at random. It seemed like after every other scene the characters would all head to a restaurant for food, usually the Red Dragon. They would even take the time to discuss what menu items to order once getting there. I’m being serious here; someone on the development team must really love food and I’m not knocking that.
Looking into the future, there is also a bit of bonus content in the works for this title. The full release will see the introduction of IF Mode, which will include four unlockable episodes. These episodes will each center around a different member of IGRASIL and will feature some form of adult content. There is also a beach-themed episode planned, which will be packed with fan service. The menu options exist for both of these options currently, but the content itself won’t be available until the final release. Also keep in mind that this is but act I of III, so two more games will expand upon the content that is already there.
In short, Bloody Chronicles – New Cycle of Death is an interesting visual novel that shows potential, but its absence and/or misuse of story, voice, and art assets leaves a lot to be desired. Missing assets aside, the fact that many of the existing ones don’t sync up is something that will definitely need addressed before the official release. Bear in mind that there’s still time for the developers to fix these issues and they seem dedicated to doing so. In fact, as I was writing this, several fixes were already put in place to improve the opening chapter (among other things). The team aims to make update announcement each week, so it’s safe to say that the game will continue to see refinement. Some of my more minor suggestions include tightening up the story a bit and making player decisions seem more important (and appear more frequently). I like the idea of having decisions that carry over to acts II and III, but would’ve liked to see some immediate changes in act I based on my choices. Lastly, I would’ve liked the game to last just a bit longer. I put in right around 22-23 hours, but there were a number of things that I would’ve liked to see play out further (namely interactions between non-IGRASIL characters). The game is set to see a full release in mid-February of this year, so there is still time for some of the kinks to be worked out. If you’d like to give the game a try yourself, head over to its official Steam page. It is currently listed at $24.99 USD, but the price will see an increase once the game has officially released. Assuming that all of the above points get addressed and the game releases with all of its content in sync, I look forward to seeing what acts II and III have in store.
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