One of the more interesting themes I’ve seen come up and used with various degrees is success in visual novels is slavery. As a student of history, it’s a subject you cannot avoid because of its prevalence. However, its portrayal isn’t already successful, at least to this one, because of the inability of writers to accurately show the cultures where slavery was a major economic cornerstone. This isn’t usually malevolent; especially if said writer hails from the United States. But, nine times out of ten, that same writer will shout as loud as they can for historic and fantastical worlds that don’t take place in Medieval Europe. This means if they’re going to accurately build a fictional world based off Arabia or the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia and China, or the Sub-Saharan African kingdoms; slavery is going to be a part of that picture somehow.
For the most part, the VNs I’ve played featuring slavery have been reasonably handled. Cursed Sight, Taarradhin, Solstice and one I’ve heard some good things about but haven’t played yet (To Libertad) approach the issue with the maturity needed to tell an effective story. One in particular, Taarradhin, was very clear about the reality of the societal system it operated in. I still remember the complaints it got for not having some grand revolution at its True Ending: instead having the slaves return home after the heroine completes her coming-of-age arc. There have been a good handful that screw themselves over as well, but there’s no need to retread that today. Instead we’re going to look at the next game from Sonnet009: the mastermind behind the fantastic 2015 title Aloners.
The story is fairly straightforward. You play a young woman in a wealthy family who has grown up in a life of relative privilege. Her Uncle is the chief adviser to the regional monarch and has arranged for her marriage to the monarch to secure their family’s political position. On the day of their wedding, her aunt has a surprise for her: an albino Djinn fresh off the market. The Djinn are a race of human/animal hybrids enslaved by this society and serves as the backbone of their economy. This albino Djinn, however, proves to be more than a little rebellious and is intent on getting out of the city. Unfortunately, the way he may or may not accomplish that will pull our protagonist out of her gilded cage and into a world of trouble.
I mention the setup here because, on paper, it’s pretty familiar and standard for the genre. The shakeup here comes from the setting and themes. It doesn’t take any digging to see the parallels Sonnet009 is drawing between the enslaved Djinn and the protagonist. W But before that we get plenty of time with the protagonist’s family and the two Djinn: Ran, the albino one I mentioned earlier and who you can see in most of this feature, and Bahadur: the loyal family servant. Both Djinn represent the conflict within the protagonist and I especially enjoyed how Bahadur and the MC played off one another. Even if it is a Master-Servant relationship, it feels the most natural in the demo and I’m very interested to see how his route plays out in particular as both struggle with their loyalties and desires.
That isn’t to say the poster boy is a net negative, but he is definitely more of an unknown. His wilder (ahhhhhhh) nature definitely there to fuel the underlying mystery that fights for time with any self-discovery angle that might be tied to the romantic paths. I’d argue that the final moments of the demo puts any potential romance in dead last in terms of plot importance. Obviously I’m trying to avoid that since it’s something of a spoiler, but it fits into Sonnet009’s narrative style that we saw in Aloners: telling a larger story and weaving in romantic moments to build up a potential relationship.
The greatest question is if those relationships will be palatable. As I mentioned earlier, I was around to see the flack Taarradhin got for not having a revolutionary storyline (even though that wasn’t the point of the plot). Personally, it is my belief that a story should speak for itself and not have to answer to the political opinions of its audience. However, I’m also not naïve. The ‘modern-day slavery’ is still slavery, so that will play a role in how the subject is handled. Which means the difference between a nuanced drama and an anvilicious beat down could be as thin as a piece of string.
Finally, I cannot leave this demo without discussing the business model Wilder is operating under. A growing trend in Western romantic and Otome games is to sell each romantic route separately. So far only Ran’s path has been released, with Bahadur’s to be released in the near future. Presumably the rest of the story will be released in time as well, because let’s be clear here that is what’s being parceled out: the story. Defenders of this model will no doubt point to their Japanese counterparts that have done this with Otome games for years now. However, I’d argue that one of the most frustrating things in current day gaming culture is how Japanese corporations operate their gaming industry. Every other week it seems there’s some mind-numbing decision from Atlus, Nintendo, or Konami (#FucKonami) to remind you that not everything decision from our Eastern cousins is the height of common sense.
I am placing this particular business model in with the rest of that sickly pack. Look, if a visual novel has little to no overarching narrative and only exists to tell the separate stories of different relationships, then maybe, MAYBE I can find it within my withered shell of a heart to show mercy…and even then I’ll hate myself a little. When there is a bigger story than just serving up a fictional boytoy or waifu for the audience to drool over, it’s maddening. Especially in Wilder where we in the demo with Ran and Bahadur’s storylines connected through the protagonist. Both need the other to complete their tales, which works best when those storylines are all happening at the same time; not broken up into pieces.
Unfortunately, I cannot fight Sonnet009 on this one as that decision has already been solidified. But it stands as the biggest potential tripping point in a promising title. This is a writer that has proven the capacity to deliver before now, and where they go from here is a mystery. But I look forward to seeing where Wilder takes me, and can only hope my concerns do not crush such a promising story.
If you’d like more information on Wilder, check out the official Sonnet009 website here! JP3: OUT!
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