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Published October 16, 2013
There seems to be an irrevocable connection between this site and Moacube.

For those of you familiar with VNs Now lore (do we even have lore yet?) my first interview for the site was with Tom Grochowiak: the founder of Moacube. After that, as the development of Cinders continued I released my first actual visual novel feature on its inspiration; Cinderella. My first actual video on something actually related to visual novels was about what I was looking forward to for Cinders. And on the very first episode of VNs Now! TV, the release of Cinders was squarely in the spotlight.

So, we’re pretty much a crime family at this point yeah? With Cinders successfully under their belt, the group has been busy with two games: Bonfire which doesn’t fall under my purview but is still insanely enjoyable. So if you haven’t picked up a copy, I’d recommend at least checking it out. The second title is Solstice which shows that this group has more going for it than just a fairy tale. First, let’s start with the world we are preparing to enter!

ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA

It will be hard for those who are familiar with Irrational Games’ work to avoid comparing Solstice’s Jewel of the North with Rapture and Columbia; especially that last one. While you can make your own judgments about Columbia’s society, it felt like a city that actually existed in real life thanks to lots of research and three-dimensional NPCs: Fitzroy, Comstock, the Luteces, etc. Also, in the early part of the game a great deal of time is spent connecting the player with Elizabeth to where she’s more than just a thing you have to protect.

The same goes for the Jewel in the North. Unlike Columbia’s idyllic naiveté, Solstice’s Jewel of the North has a simmering exoticism to it by design. In the game’s history, the Jewel of the North serves as a trading post and it makes sense for it to be a mixture of cultures, but at the same time there is a level of maturity (for lack of a better word) that would appeal to those who had to tramp through the snow just to make a living. It seems to appeal to the more carnal half of adult nature while not being sleazy…and considering Constance’s get up THAT would have been easy. It speaks a great deal about the culture of the place without delving too much into its history, which is a different and complex subject all on its own.

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be any religious or moral authority in the City so there is a strong mixture of lifestyles and opinions without the threat of a church overhead. A lot of previews I’ve seen up until now have picked up on this and praised Solstice’s for its diversity, but it is this point where the darkness starts to seep into this title. For people who just want to celebrate the fact that the main characters are an openly homosexual African (?) man (Galen) and an Asian woman (Yang) you may skip about five paragraphs down because this might only piss you off. For everyone else; let’s talk about slavery!

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Here’s how the Jewel of the North operates…and for those of you wondering about the Columbia comparisons, it’s about to come into play. At the top is a cabal of financiers and merchants who serves as the City’s government. Anyone who isn’t in the cabal can only live in the city through a Compact. A Compact is a type of contract that details exactly what Person A will do while in the City: from their official job and salary to more…er…intimate affairs. You cannot work in the City without one and you cannot tell anyone the details once you sign.

So, the only way to live in this place is to sign your life away. This puts the residents of the Jewel of the North in a completely different light outside of their characterizations. See, they’re not staying through True Winter for the sake of solitude; they’re staying because they can’t leave. But would any of us, just playing through the demo of Solstice, pick up on that just from interacting with the cast. Even after the game makes it flat out clear these people were mostly slaves, they’re still drinking, conversing and going about their day-to-day. Here you have a society built on indentured servitude, where the contracted cannot question the contractor’s request no matter how debasing, and with one or two exceptions everyone is pretty much fine.

It may not have been intended by the Moacube writing team, but I think this is a fascinating take on human nature that deserves to be talked about just as much as, if not more than, the game’s character diversity. Philosophers have struggled for generations on whether the natural state of man is to want to be free or to be slaves and in this literal bubble is a test case of that very debate. The Cabal’s system allows the signers of the Compact to live in relative security, total comfort and without the judgment of their former societies in exchange for their freedom. Some people are clearly fine with that set up and their lives aren’t outwardly any different from our own.

So what does that say about the nature of man? Are we so adaptable that even in the middle of slavery we can find a place of normalcy? Again this could all just be my own conjecture and it may not be brought up at all in the game proper, but I can’t help but think that it will be addressed in some form. The Cabal’s system most likely will stay put, but the core of many of the mysteries lies within the Compacts between the Cabal and the workers of the City. It has to be touched on somehow and I really want to see how it’s further explored, along with the actual driver of the plot: Kala.

But that will have to wait as it is vital to one of our main characters. In Part II we’ll discuss our leads Galen and Yani!

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