Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows
Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows | cover
Title Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows ~What Beautiful Memories~
Developer Liar-soft
Publisher MangaGamer
Release Date Dec 7, 2023
Genre Adventure
Platform PC
Age Rating MangaGamer: 18+; Steam: Mature
Official Website

Memories are beautiful, treasured and fragile things that give humans purpose and meaning. But are memories what make a person who they are, or do they simply add context to our choices? If someone can’t remember who they are or where they came from, can they truly understand themselves and the world around them? Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows ~What Beautiful Memories~, the newest steampunk alternate history title from Liar-soft, attempts to answer these questions and more in a beautifully realized tale that straddles two very different worlds.

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows

At the turn of the 20th century, the Mega Engine City of New York ceased to exist. Every living thing vanished within minutes on Christmas morning of 1902, leaving behind only ruined buildings and empty streets. In the blink of an eye, three million people were wiped off the face of the earth. Five years later, Elysia Wentworth ventures forth into the broken remnants of New York to answer one burning question: Why?

As Elysia walks the barren streets above, deep “underground” a person is falling. Lily can’t remember anything from before tumbling into the mushroom-strewn landscape of the Underground other than his name, and that he does not want to be “her.” He finds himself on the outskirts of a bridge town named Verrazano, where he meets Milia Stoke, a “combat courtesan” with a metal arm who uses a pile bunker to protect the townsfolk from the Dark Gang – giant metal monsters who were once, presumably, human. Down here in the Underground, everyone eventually turns to metal, you see. Some just turn faster than others. That’s been the law of the Underground for as long as everyone can remember, and no one can remember more than five years ago.

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows | Milia

Like clockwork, the town is beset by a White One, a monstrous being that devours memories and turns the people into metal. It’s been attacking Verrazano every week for five years, and Lily sees first-hand the chaos it brings when it steals away Milia’s memories of their meeting.

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows

While in Verrazano, Lily meets an assortment of colorful characters, including a catgirl named Mao, a man with a giant metal arm named Luciano, and eventually the “airhead” A – the conductor of a one-car railway train who tells Lily he can be whatever he wants, so long as he chooses for himself. At first, Lily is against this, unwilling to become “her.” When Milia and the town are again beset by the White One, Lily decides to become “her,” embracing the inner voice she’s heard since arriving in the Underground, and harnesses A’s power for herself to defeat the monster. Now in the form of a young girl in a blue dress, Lily and A venture forth along the subway tunnels of the Underground in search of the violet horizon and answers to not only what’s happened to the Underground, but who Lily herself is. Meanwhile, above in the ruined New York, Elysia makes her way to the source of the disaster from five years ago, literally picking up the pieces of lives cut short along the way – including her own.

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows

There’s quite a lot here that I really enjoyed. Memory makes us who we are – our childhoods, our growing pains, our loves and our losses. Without knowing where we came from, it’s hard to know who we are and why we do the things we do. So what happens when everyone is robbed of their memories yet trapped in a cycle of being they can’t contextualize? How do you deal with knowing you had a life before but can’t remember any of it due to someone else’s actions? The exploration of memory and the way it shapes a person – and how ugly and cruel the world can be when your sense of self is robbed from you – was so compelling. Lily being a blank slate gave the narrative room to breathe, to explore the ideas of loneliness, joy, sorrow, fear, grief, and love, and how those emotions can have positive and negative impacts on a person. The dual stories of Lily and Elysia also meant each idea could be explored from multiple angles. Watching as the pieces of the narrative fell into place was really rewarding. A and Lily’s relationship was especially engaging, and I loved every scene with them in it.

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows | A

I found the sex scenes all well-done and tasteful, with some lovely CGs and impressive voice acting. The intimacy that comes with sexual relationships dovetailed poetically with the often exposed and raw emotions of the participants, so while the game does have an All-Ages version that removes and rewrites these scenes, this is one of those instances where I think the 18+ version better conveys the story’s themes. That being said, there are a couple instances of characters with ambiguous ages and some questionable consent, so while it wasn’t personally an issue for me, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, the All-Ages version might be better for you.

Visually, Sona-Nyl is gorgeous. The characters have a vibrant, sketchy quality to them, with evocative pops of color and texture. The backgrounds are detailed and varied, and I found the CGs particularly impressive. The music has a fantastic jazzy quality to it that fits the mood and time period beautifully, and I found myself humming a few tunes even when I wasn’t reading. Overall, the game has some very strong sound design, especially during the encounters with the White Ones. And of course, the voice acting here is top notch – not just in the sex scenes. I’d be remiss not to mention the fantastic localization. This has to be one of the most eloquent VNs I’ve ever read, with fantastic use of cadence and repetition. The descriptions are detailed and expressive, and the dialogue is punchy. Everything is dripping with character and it was such a delight to read.

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There’s very little gameplay to be found here, with only a handful of choices bookending and within each chapter. Before each interlude, you’ll have the chance to determine how a news article covers the destruction of New York City, and your choices here determine which options are available to you during each chapter. If you choose wrong with the newspaper, you’re met with one of two bad endings and are required to make the correct choice if you want to proceed. This means there’s no real replayability to see branching paths. The game takes roughly 12 hours to complete, making it a bit on the shorter side, but it’s relatively dense, so this actually worked out well for me. It hit that sweet spot in terms of complexity of narrative and length of time to read it.

That being said, not everything here worked for me. The villain fell flat, with confusing motivation and an unfulfilling conclusion. Seeing as this is the fifth entry in a series, I suspect that has something to do with it, but I’m a firm believer that a story should have a satisfying beginning, middle and end, regardless of where it fits into a broader narrative, and the ending of Sona-Nyl did not quite live up to what came before. A handful of characters also felt underutilized – again, possibly for the same reason. These weren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they did leave me feeling like I missed out on something.

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows | Ginger

Sona-Nyl of the Violet Shadows ~What Beautiful Memories~ was my first Liar-soft VN, but I doubt it’ll be my last. The intricate story, well-realized characters, and fascinating world building all impressed me greatly, despite some shortcomings. I loved the way this story wove in a multitude of faerie tales and children’s literature, especially its heavy use of Alice in Wonderland motifs. The MangaGamer version includes the unedited 18+ version and the All-Ages Refrain, which rewrites and removes the sex scenes. The Steam version is Refrain, but you can download an 18+ patch. Whichever you choose to go with, at $35, this one is worth your time.

Review Score

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Leah McDonald
Leah's been playing video games since her brother first bought an Atari back in the 1980s and has no plans to stop playing anytime soon. She enjoys almost every genre of game, with some of her favourites being Final Fantasy Tactics, Shadow of the Colossus, Suikoden II and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Leah lives on the East Coast with her husband and son. You can follow Leah over on Twitter @GamingBricaBrac