This week, MangaGamer is celebrating English Visual Novels with EVN Developer Week! The company is announcing new EVNs coming to their platform and encouraging fans of the genre to talk about their favorite developers. So, I’m taking the liberty to highlight some EVN Devs whose work I like, but for one reason or another I haven’t discussed much here on this site. Today is going to be an intriguing day for me as we take a look at a unique developer that I feel has a great deal of potential to grow and deserves your attention: Angela He AKA Zephyo.
Angela He is another developer who has an eclectic style and focuses more on experimental projects than stick to a particular genre. There is a deliberate roughness to the projects not only in direction but also in visuals and theme. We’ll get into the visuals shortly, but what caught my attention initially was the theme of He’s work which deals with darker subjects like abuse, isolation, death and general fear.
The first one was the major theme of the first Zephyo title I played, He Beat Her. The game isn’t that long and is narrowly focused on the sentencing phase of a man charged with hitting his girlfriend. As the main character, you’re trying to find the evidence you need to get your client acquitted and during the repeated playthroughs you’ll have to do in order to get that information, you’ll explore the different levels of abuse and the effects of it.
One of the things that stuck out to me about the game is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel here. Even the best possible resolution to the story feels unresolved, for a lack of a better word. At the time I chalked it up to a game jam, but then I played I Woke Up Next To You Again and had the same feeling that things were left unresolved. There are still a few more projects I need to play before I make up my mind, but I’m Ieaning towards this being a stylistic choice: commentating on how we, as human beings, tend to leave bad situations without fully resolving them. It is mildly frustrating, but has made for some interesting narratives that are above and beyond what many are doing in gaming.
What aides a lot of these stories is Zephyo’s distinct art style and presentation. I talk a lot about how presentation in a visual novel is more than just pretty artwork and this is a solid case for it. There is an ethereal quality to it with a heavy reliance on washed-out color schemes, hazy overlays and indistinct backgrounds and a sound design that focuses on ambient background noise and minimalist scores. It almost feels like you’re looking into someone else lucid dream (or nightmare depending) and it can be both thrilling and off-putting. I’m assuming that feeling will be doubled whenever I get to YOU LEFT ME: a surrealist headtrip that looks like something Hieronymus Bosch would have painted.
I’ll be the first to admit that there is still plenty of room for Angela He to grow. But just on her completed work right now, I imagine that growth will be spectacular. She is without a doubt one of the most intriguing and gifted developers working right now. If you’ve never played a Zephyo game, please check out her Itch.Io store here. You can also check out her process for drawing and info on her projects on her YouTube page which I have also linked below. JP3: OUT.