Well, we couldn’t avoid this conversation forever, could we?
Let’s start this one off by me putting myself on the record, shall we? Diversity in writing is good. Having more than one race, sexuality or gender in your cast of characters can often bring different dimensions to a narrative. I believe it also helps to have philosophical, ideological and political diversity in fiction as well for the same reasons. However, making a narrative rainbow hinges on the writer remembering one little thing: the story still must stand on its own.
And that is really the rub with games that promote their racial, sexual or gender diversification as a headline feature. I cannot speak for every game in this ‘march of progress’, but the ones I keep running into in the VN sphere use their progressive politics as a shield for putting out sub par work…to put it very mildly. In this section of the site alone, we have covered six demos that loved touting its diversity, that were subsequently roasted for its narrative failures and bad choices. And, despite my hopes and dreams, we’ve got another log to throw onto the fire.
Who We Are Now has an interesting enough premise: a story of building a life in the wake of a post-catastrophic world. This concept has been used and has worked in EVNs before, as those of us who remembers Aloners will attest to. And, to be far to this title, it can work too. It requires two things I often harp on here: time and character building. We need time to learn about these people, then time for them to learn about each other. From there we can see how their lives have been damaged by their pasts and then want, keyword WANT, them to embrace a happier future. Most importantly, if the audience decides to pursue a relationship between two of these characters, it should be something that allows these developmental steps to happen organically and with just enough of real life sprinkled in to make it feel worthwhile.
Say it with me now: if I have to spell it out, that means it didn’t happen.
Good God almighty does this thing have no sense of pace at all. The minute it starts we are rushed through establishing Wes: the main character who is also a lone wolf who has finally put down his guns: weary of battling for survival in the wasteland. We get a good chunk of his back story, plus his personality (including character tropes) thanks to the supporting character Mohra. Mohra’s the head of a settlement who also serves as the catalyst for the plot as she is the one who tasks Wes with interacting with the four potential love interesting to hopefully keep them from leaving the settlement.
Now, I have plenty to chew on with this demo. However, it must be noted just how bad this game starts. Off the top of my head, this robs Wes of any character agency when it comes to the other characters in the game. Whether he just becomes friends with them or one relationship developers into something deeper, it will always be tainted by the instructions of a third-party with their own interests. Moreover, removing Wes’ agency allows the writer to ignore any development of Wes or any of the characters he will meet. After all, why do we need to spend time with the characters to better understand them, when they’re being spelled out for us from the start?
The darker implications are Mohra’s intentions on their own. Considering the state of the world, her concerns are understandable, but selfish. It is implied that these four have certain mental and emotional trauma that keeps them from fully integrating to the community. Her solution isn’t to address their trauma, it’s to try to keep them put out of her own undue concerns. It doesn’t make her malevolent, but it does shuffle said trauma to the side because clearly it isn’t all that important to Mohra, which means it probably shouldn’t be that big of a deal to Wes or the audience either.
And if her defense of her machinations didn’t make it clear that the larger world and the personal trauma of this game’s romantic targets wasn’t that big of a deal, then our first introduction to said targets certainly will. The demo only introduces us to two of the four interests for Wes, so this could be changed completely by the full game’s release or those two could have a more natural introduction. However, for Xavier and Jesse, our first time seeing them isn’t when Wes introduces himself or even when Mohra runs through their backgrounds to again rob the narrative of depth. No, the audience first introduction to these two comes with their glamour shots. No, I am not making that up:
Before I hit this point in the demo, it still had some tone. We had only seen some of the world and the interactions between Wes and Mohra are more trying disconnected from the rest of the demo. This, however, smashes whatever tone and atmosphere was left and reduces our promised story of human endurance and finding a connection in the remnants of humanity to yet another carbon-copy, low-rung dating game.
The guys themselves start flirting damn near first glance, with their subsequent issues being treated like a mild quirk in their personalities more than anything. Xavier is a mutant (haha, I see what you did there) whose skin generates electricity. His temper is on a short fuse (see what I did there?) but it never goes beyond anything that would come from your basic, clingy HamletMachine side character. As for Jesse, he keeps to himself after being tortured by a gang because of his physical appearance. Yes: that is this guy’s backstory. He is so beautiful, a gang cut off his arm and scratched up his face along with other ‘unspeakable’ things.
Neither he nor Xavier lets that stop them from potentially getting laid though, because how could we forget the point of all of this?
Look, I can critique these characters further but I think you guys get the point. Undoubtedly, the next two will fall into the same mold and their existence will be defined by their level of thirst for Wes’ genitalia. There is nothing to discover about them because the demo does its best to remove whatever development they could have had and with them drooling over one another at first glance, any romantic route would just be a march towards an inevitable end. So, if you guys don’t mind, I’m just going to shoot straight for the jugular here. Who We Are Now, in its current form, is a dud.
Can it be fixed? Yes. All the issues here can be addressed with a little respect for the characters and for the atmosphere the developers chose to set it in. SLOW THE FUCK DOWN, first and foremost. Let Wes discover these guys on his own and not as a pawn in some elder woman’s familial fantasy. And let their trauma be real. You, the writers, are convinced that these are damaged souls barely hanging on to meaning at the end of the goddamn world. In that case, the last person they should want to see in the tool protagonist blowing in from out of nowhere.
Will this game be fixed in the full version? That is the coin toss. Why? The same reason why I’m sure someone will defend this demo: because the cast is gay. Like I said from the top, I am all for diverse characters in my VNs: bring it on. But just like the fanservice defends before you, and the Otome fandom before them, the story is still paramount here. It needs to be able to stand on its own without your personal biases, fandoms or ideologies to hold it up. And right now, it can’t.
Is it really that unreasonable to ask for a good story here? Shouldn’t the developers want to deliver a quality narrative to make this game stand out beyond just the sexuality of its cast? Just ponder that one. Then play Aloners again, because it is heads and shoulders what you’ll get from this demo: I can promise you that.
If you want to experience Who We Are Now for yourselves, you can check out the demo here. JP3: OUT.