I know, I know; I botched it again. I deeply apologize for leaving everyone hanging on this final 2015 list. I was hoping to wrap it up in January, however I got snagged in more than a few categories. Believe it or not, I do try to be fair when I can and I want to make sure everyone who deserved to be on the list not only gets there, but also gets serious consideration for winning. Fingers crossed, this week will do it and the final 2015 Best Ofs nominations and winners will be released. BUT, I knew who was going to win English Visual Novel since the beginning of 2016 and biting my tongue on it has bloody. Today I decided to bend the rules just a bit and reveal who took the top prize in the VNs Now Best Ofs for 2015 and as I’ve said, the others will be revealed in due course. But today was far too good of a day to pass up on this one.
First though, let’s recognize all of the nominees for EVN of 2015. These games defined the year with their excellent storytelling and ambition. It was truly a treat to play them all and I tip my ridiculously country straw hat to all of the developers on this list:
- SC2VN (Team Eleven Eleven)
- Break Chance Memento (Cyanide Tea)
- Over the Hills and Far Away (WarGirl Games)
- Cupid (Fervent Studios)
- Aviary Attorney (Sketchy Logic)
- Queen at Arms (Aqualuft Games)
- Leviathan: The Last Day of the Decade Episode 5 (Lostwood)
But as a wise man once said, there can only be one. And last year provided us with one EVN that stood above the rest in terms of storytelling, presentation and ambition. Only one of these games scored 10/10 in 2015, or it would’ve if the review came out during the calendar year. And what better day to make this announcement and celebrate this developer’s achievement than on Valentine’s Day?
To put it simply, Cupid by Fervent Studios doesn’t just do one thing well: it does everything well. It is an coming-of-age tale, an intricate dark fantasy, a horror story and a nail-baiting psychological thriller. It’s a story of broken people and the chain of events that led them into a very sinister place, only to find a chance at redemption in the darkness. Most of all Cupid is a story about love, all forms of love, and how they all can be so easily twisted into something truly terrifying. With so much accomplished in a single project, Cupid has more than earned VNs Now’s English Visual Novel of 2015.
It’s been several months since I completed Cupid and it still haunts me. So much of that is due to its excellent cast who defy the cookie cutter stereotypes that are deafening actual creativity in gaming and dares to show them as human. They all make plenty of mistakes and terrible decisions that hurt the people around them, and they never get let off the hook. Those decision not only builds their major characters (Rosa, Catherine and Guilleme), but also makes the quiet moments between the tragedies and drama that much more powerful. Combined you will find yourself connected at the heart to one, if not all three, of the major characters. I’ve talked about it a lot in reviewing lesser, so-called ‘dramatic’ visual novels. Pain, suffering and death are arts in fiction. Knowing how to weave it into a narrative takes skill and Fervent showed incredibly knowledge of that art as it endears its characters to the audience.
Then there’s the role of the player in the story. This is the first English Visual Novel I’ve played where the player is unquestionably the story’s true antagonist and in its done in a very creative way: by making us a part of Rosa’s broken psyche. It was a risky move on the developer’s end for many reasons, but the one that most impresses me is that it chooses to make the audience an obstacle for Rosa to either be broken by or overcome. Even at her softest, ‘Mother’ is a sadistic apparition and the dialogue options only give you the power on how deeply abusive she can become. I can only speak for myself in this instance, because I was interested to see how, and even if, Rosa could overcome ‘me’ and when we got to that particular moment what I felt was a mixture of emotions (yes I’m still capable of feeling some emotions) that are rarely evoked through gaming. Relief for one, but also, strangely enough, remorse and fear. After all, by overcoming me Rosa effectively removed me from the story. I couldn’t give my opinion anymore and all my previous decisions will determine whether or not she survives what was coming next. She was on her own and, for better or worse, my role in her story was over.
That’s not just good writing: that’s craftsmanship. I’ve barely touched on the other factors of the story that make it so fantastic such as how much time the story covers; twenty years or so depending on the character. I’ve avoided Guilleme because much of his character needs to be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate him. And if you’re faint of heart, this game is not for you. This game takes several topics off my ‘Avoid’ list when it comes to fiction and uses them in a way that I was seriously impressed by, including two rape scenes. Yes, Cupid has two rape scenes and both of them are done exactly right. It really puts into context other groups that enjoy talking about their ‘maturity’, but uses similar topics cheaply and offensively.
I don’t know anyone who walked away from Cupid not completely floored by what they witnessed. It’s a story that really could’ve only been told right in this medium and, at the same time, exceeds its own ambitions as a visual novel. With only two projects under its belt, I have no idea where Amelori and Fervent Studios goes from here, but I look forward to seeing what they do next. For now, Cupid is the EVN of 2015. Congratulations!