Visual Novels have made a lot of headway in the west in recent years, thanks largely to the success of DS series like Zero Escape, Professor Layton, and Ace Attorney. But while bigger publishers have put in a lot of work to bring their flagshipVNs stateside, we haven’t seen much of japan’s thriving doujin (produced by fans or hobbyists) game market. Likewise, the western indie scene hasn’t really touched the genre yet. There have been some notable exceptions, namely the work of Christine Love and the 4chan-created disabled girl dating sim Katawa Shoujo, but they can’t hold a candle to the best of the doujin market, especially in terms of production values.
Exogenesis – Perils of Rebirth aims to change that. Developed by Kwan, an international team of VN enthusiasts, the game tells the story of a post-apocalyptic treasure hunter named Yu and his team, Durchhalten, as they search for a mysterious device called “Noah’s Ark.” The device’s “Lazarus Protocol” has the power to restore objects from the past, and could hold the key to mankind’s salvation. More importantly for Yu, it represents a way to bring back his dead sister Miho. With the stakes so high and so personal, Yu will have to make some hard decisions, and may end up doing a lot of bad things in pursuit of the Ark. Whether or not he does is in your hands; Exogenesis features moral choices and branching storylines that should make it eminently compelling and replayable.
It’s an interesting story and world, to be sure, but the immediate draw of the game is its jaw-dropping visuals. Every last bit of background art is rendered in beautiful detail, and many of them feature little animated touches like lights blinking on computer consoles, or birds flying against the clouds. Likewise, the character sprites are very clean and well-designed, with smooth, expressive animations and little details that bring them to life. What really impresses me, though, is the game’s lighting. Not only have the artists done a great job capturing different times of day and creating moody backdrops, they’ve gone so far as to animate lighting changes and dynamic shadows. Its touches like this that make it feel as though the characters are really standing in the world, rather than in front of it.
The backgrounds are a lot more interactive than you’d see in a typical VN as well. Exogenesis has exploration and puzzle segments similar to the Zero Escape games, meaning that you’ll have to pay attention and think critically in order to progress. The developers also boast of intense character interrogation scenes straight out of Ace Attorney. It might be difficult to juggle all these disparate elements, but if they can manage it, Kwan could have something really special on their hands.
On top of its artistic merits, Exogenesis features some fantastic atmospheric music courtesy of up-and-coming composer John Delvento, which I’d say is up to par with anything in 999 or Virtue’s Last Reward. The game also makes use of some clever sound design tricks borrowed from the Ace Attorney series, such as accompanying dialogue with different pitches of typing blips to give each character their own voice. And if the Kickstarter manages to clear $55,000, the hilarious and talented Team Four Star will be brought on to give the characters proper voices. Sound is arguably just as important as art when it comes to making a good visual novel, so it’s good to hear the developers are on the ball there.
All told, Exogenesis – Perils of Rebirth looks like an exciting step forward for western visual novels. I’d go so far as to say it could go toe to toe with the genre’s greats, assuming the writing and puzzle design can hit the same highs as the music and art. But you don’t have to take my word for it, because Kwan have provided a generous four hour demo to show off everything that makes their game so cool. Try it, and if you’re convinced, head on over to Kickstarter and show them your support.