1) The Last Birdling (InvertMouse)
There is power in friendship.
The world can change and, if your will is strong enough, you can change the world.
Always listen to your heart.
We’ve all heard these aesops before: more than once a season if you’re a fan of anime. Their familiarity still rings true for some, however those of us of a certain age knows that it is a bit more complicated than that. Sometimes the world doesn’t bend to your wishes. Sometimes your friendship isn’t enough. Sometime love fails. InvertMouse also seems to understand that and their subversion of those familiar theme in The Last Birdling not only leaves them with their best work to date, but also the distinction of Visual Novel of the Year.
The story of Tayo and Bimonia has stuck with me for months now: I just have so few words to accurately put to it. Both are individually and collectively well-written: endearing themselves to the audience long before Tayo catches Bimonia literally pissing into the wind (that actually happens and its funny as Hell). The game brings the audience in with a false sense of security: pushing those two and their sappy friendship in our faces with the only warning being Bimonia’s Mother who outright tells her daughter, and the audience, that their friendship isn’t enough to change how the world works.
The brilliance of the build-up is that it is framed in the way environmental themes usually are in fiction: humans bad, nature good. The Birdling race has been pushed to extinction while humanity sprawls deeper into the world: blindly consuming every natural resource it can come across. It and the main character keep the audience disarmed until about a third of the way into the game when the developers pull the rug out from under us and begins deconstructing the aesops one-by-one.
Just when you think it’s gone as dark as its going to get, it pushes a little darker. And it saves its best, most sinister twist for last: though not without solid foreshadowing. And like the other horror titles on this list, there isn’t really a happy ending here. Here, though, there really shouldn’t be. At its heart, The Last Birdling is a somber, yet beautiful tragedy about the unchanging, unforgiving nature of the world: how some things are just set in stone and what it really costs to try and defy that natural order. InvertMouse could’ve easily taken a step back and found a happier way to tie up its loose ends, however it stays true to itself to the very end and deliver two of the most poignant game endings I’ve seen in the medium.
Is it a game for everyone? Hell no. However, there is something to be said about a title so uncompromising in its themes and artistic vision. The Last Birdling takes all of its parts and builds something enrapturing with it: something that tries its best to see beyond the glass half-empty/half-full paradigm we set up for ourselves. It tries its best to look at things as they are and, as far as I’m concerned, it succeeds.
Congratulations to all of the entries in this list. They all deserve the recognition. And a special congratulations to InvertMouse for giving us the Visual Novel of 2017!