Technically I shouldn’t even be doing this, there is a long list of games from 2013 I have to finish before month’s end. However, while working on my backlog I have watched and waited for someone to pick up on this visual novel. And waited. And waited. And although I’ve learned to be much more patient in my old age, I’m out of patience.
But to be fair, it’s kind of hard to talk about something you don’t know anything about. Only available at the Dischan store and the Orfeyus Studios’ website, Petrichor mostly slipped under the radar in the wake of more appealing free EVNs like Pyrite Heart. And while there will always be an audience for otome in this community, it is a shame that more people haven’t given this particular title a chance. Hopefully that will change after some of you read this review.
In 1989 Mark Gillett presents an article to an international conference about a rather unusual girl. Not only is she the sole surviving member of her civilization, but she also claims to have a unique gift that made her an outcast among her own people. Unwilling to talk to anyone else, the girl relates the story of her people from the 4th Century to modern times as well as their connection to a very interesting animal: the elephant.
What makes this story so well-told is that its backbone is the rise and fall of a civilization. We start in the 4th Century when the Girl’s people have to journey from their original homeland to avoid certain destruction, to a Golden Age in the 17th Century and to the decline that came with the Modern Era and all of it is told from the perspective of a character central to that time; whether they knew it or not. The history of the civilization and their connection to the elephants they consider sacred is fascinating and in line with other aboriginal cultures throughout the world, so it gives it a feeling of legitimacy while also being very entertaining to read.
It also helps that the historical characters are all well written and can hold their own within the narrative. We don’t see much outside of the one vital moment where their lives and the history of their civilization intersects, but they are all endearing, strong and relevant long after their tales end. This is especially true for the characters of the Golden Age that not only connects the entire game together, but also provides context for the Girl’s childhood and its interactions with the West.
And speaking of us evil Westerners!
One of the major conflicts of the story is the interaction between the Girl’s culture and the Western world and I really enjoyed how this was handled. I’ve spent a good amount of time on this site discussing my disdain for social commentary that tends to rain through plot and characters like an anvil falling from a zeppelin and in 2014 I still have the Anvilicious titles that we have to put up with. Petrichor takes a much more complex approach as the West influences this culture more and more, mostly through trade (good) and poaching (bad). The Europeans who interact with them aren’t all evil and the actions of a minority as the game reaches its conclusion is just one factor in a larger malaise within the Girl’s culture.
They are ALL disconnected with their history and more than happy with the status quo. This is why the Girl’s birth is so discomforting to so many. It isn’t as black and white as many people think it is and while it isn’t perfect, it is the best use of a cultural/environmental message. So if it’s just something that you have to do, this is the best way to do it.
However it isn’t perfect. There is a supernatural touch to the Girl’s story that just wasn’t necessary. It makes up the narrative back bone of the game and by game’s end; it would’ve made much more sense to just have these as folktales passed along to the Girl instead of her being some kind of mythical time capsule. Also, the ending is very convoluted. In order for Mark and the Girl to cross paths, and to tie in the large environmental themes, there had to be some sort of grand tragedy to drive the final nails in
This just wasn’t handled well. It’s rushed and too reliant on plot contrivance, which almost undoes the great pacing and plot lines that were laid during the early stages. The Epilogue doesn’t help matters and just leaves you sadder than anything else. Everything was building up to a strong, satisfying conclusion and it ended up crapping the bed in the final moments. It’s an unfortunate trip-up that doesn’t destroy the entire narrative, but it does leave its own mark.
Overall the story is good but flawed. I still enjoyed what it did and find its ambition in telling several stories along the same plot line a refreshing change of pace. Now, if only they stuck the landing, this conversation would’ve ended differently.
PRESENTATION AND GAMEPLAY
Petrichor is mind-bending gorgeous. Most of the backgrounds are painted which gives a great contrast to the characters. The character sprites themselves have a unique feel to them that makes them all memorable the minute they jump onto the screen. There are no event graphics however; though you barely notice the lack of them. Although I will say that the 17th Century and Modern day characters look closer to Indian than North African, but maybe that’s just me. Added to this is great sound direction that blends ambient sounds and folk tunes and you’ve got an experience that you’ll want to read in full screen.
This is also a kinetic novel so there aren’t branching paths to explore. However, like many Cyanide Tea games, Petrichor employs a hotkey system along with a basic menu screen. The hotkeys are used to skip, quick save, etc. and while it is a nice addition, considering the nature of it being a kinetic novel the lack of a smooth auto read feature is upsetting. Other than that, no bugs to report.
Petrichor wraps up within an hour but I found myself re-reading it willingly well after I had all the material I needed for this review. There is plenty here to warrant it for an afternoon read: plus it’s a free download for those that care about that sort of thing.
My issues with Petrichor are pretty systemic as far as issues go. But even with those issues it is a good experience. The story is strong right up to the end, the characters are intriguing and it gives you a real-world, complex story without demanding that you repent for your sins. There is a place for this style and tone of story along with the otome and space opera works, so hopefully Orfeyus Studios isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.