Okay, I named this feature ‘A Quick Look At’ for a reason. Originally, it was supposed to be a way for me to get my thoughts out about a demo and any possible notes for improvement within one thousand words. Now, because I’m long-winded, I pushed the limit to two-thousand words and that has been good. Today though? Today we’ll be lucky to stay within the boundaries of either limiter. I’ll do what I can.
The demo for Silent Voices is the definition of bare bones. It is rundown of the main cast of the game first from the point-of-view of a girl named Autumn, then from the actual namable protagonist. Calling what you experience here as an exposition dump would be a kindness, as we are treated (under the loosest possible definition of that word) to one scene after another of each character’s background, personality and trope makeup is hurled at us in a rapid-fire sequence that will make your head spin. No time is given to actually connect or care about any of these characters and, worst of all, they really have no reason to be there other than as a part of this introductory sequence.
‘Well JP, isn’t a demo supposed to introduce us to the major characters?’ Not like this. Their introduction now only confirms to me that the developers have regularly watched anime within the last five years and erases any chance to build them up. The perfect example is Avery: an archer who interrupts a conversation Autumn is having with her friend, only to insult said friend to establish he’s a jerk. This trope gets upgraded to Jerkass with A Heart of Gold as Autumn literally spells the trope out for him and he immediately embraces his lot in life.
Copy-and-Paste that for every character you meet in the demo and you don’t have the foundation of a potentially great narrative, you have a trial that will devour your patience, time and whatever happiness you had before you started playing. The only mechanic the developers can think of, apparently, to mitigate some of the damage comes in the second half of the demo when we’re placed in the shoes of the game’s protagonist. That’s when they wheel out the humor! Yup, we get jokes about all the tropes and clichés they used to define their cast! Isn’t in funny? LAUGH! LAUGH DAMN YOU.
Then stop laughing, because it isn’t funny.
To the best of my knowledge, all of this was intentional. However, it not being a mistake doesn’t make it good. The humor isn’t funny; it just highlights how terrible the writing and structure of the demo is. There needs to be a better understanding of pace here. Instead of shoving all this crap down the audience’s throat, why not just narrow the focus to ONE supporting character? Not one set of supporting characters or even one group of love interests: just the protagonist and ONE supporting character? From there, you can explain what the Hell is going on in this world while building up your main window into this world: THE PROTAGONIST?
Yes, this can work. In fact, this has worked. In the original demo for Walkerman, the only characters we focused on was the protagonist Jorgen and his Father. The focus on them allowed Scalemail to put out the foundation of Jorgen’s character arc carefully: using his tense relationship with his Father and the new fold in that relationship thanks to Jorgen’s new career path to give both characters depth, build up the world around them and allows both to resonate with the audience. Hell, I’m getting a little nostalgic thinking about Jorgen and his Father saying goodbye to each other in that demo now and I haven’t played that thing in over a year.
I can’t tell you one moment of importance between any of the eleven characters total we are suffocated with in this demo and I finished it an hour ago.
You may be wondering why I haven’t talked about the plot at all. We get a basic history of the world and the two dominate powers: Citelle, an advanced technological race, and Martasco; a militaristic force. There is tension between the two countries as both sides feel that war is on the horizon again. Martasco is building up is military force in response and Citelle is requiring its citizens to undergo a radical new procedure that will enhance their genetic code.
This backdrop is less about setting up a narrative however, because there isn’t any focus on it. The actual narrative focus is both country’s shared prejudicial attitudes and the ‘marginalized’ people who have to live in those circumstances. On the Marasco side, we see their judgmental attitudes through the eyes of Autumn, whose route kicks off with her friend dealing with bullies who don’t like the fact that she’s a female warrior. On the Citelle side, we are at a clinic for people who, for one reason or another, don’t complete the genetic experimentation and have been ostracized by society.
I don’t care.
I’m sure that’s not going to be well-received in the annuls of the development halls for Silent Voices…but I just don’t freakin’ care. I don’t care about whatever Aesop is baked into this game about judging people. I don’t care about the genetic experiments. I don’t care about the setup at the end of Citelle’s government using the genetic experiments for nefarious ends. I don’t even care about the real possibility that Autumn and the protagonist are actually the same person because the game has the unmitigated gall to throw in amnesia on top of everything else. I. DON’T. CARE.
In one of life’s cruelest ironies, the developer has structured their demo in a way that the only thing the audience can take away are the tropes and cliches they hope to subvert. If this is the route they wanted to go, dumping all of the cliches on us at once was not the way to go about it. And I would argue that using cliches and tropes in this way is questionable since it requires the audience not to have an immediate gut reaction to what they’re seeing. Maybe, MAYBE, if we weren’t getting all of the cliches thrown at us at once, we could regulate our reaction. However, that would require more focus on a developing plot and that’s not here at all. It’s just this busted Aesop, the flood of tropes and the daunting prospect of potentially dating one of these creatures since this is an Otome game.
This has been one of the most frustrating visual novel demos I’ve ever played. In their mission to use anime tropes and clichés to preach to its audience about societal prejudice, the developers have decimated any hope of building up narrative or investing its audience in its characters to focus on a frankly limited theme that has been beaten to death in every after school program over the past fifty years. Frankly speaking, while I’ve sprinkled some advice into this feature, the reality is that all of them would require the developer to put its desired themes on the back burner and I have a feeling I know what the answer to that one is. So, I’m washing my hands of this one for now. I’m sure I’ll have to deal with Silent Voices again soon enough.
If you want to experience Silent Voices for yourself, first vaya con Dios. Second, you can get it here. JP3: OUT.