So, I’ve been noted for talking about the lack of ‘space opera’ games in the English Visual Novel community. Considering the overwhelming influence the genre has had on fiction whether it be in the West (Star Wars, Firefly, Alien, etc.) or the East (Cowboy Bebop, Gundam, Outlaw Star, etc.), its lack of representation is nothing short of startling. So, it will surprise no one that I have enjoyed watching the launch and reception of several titles this year with space as their setting. One that I did not know we were getting is today’s topic of discussion: Quantum Conscience by Woodsy Studio.
And yes, you have heard of this particular developer before. Woodsy is a reference to Jayden Woods: the creator of Serafina’s Saga which I reviewed last year. Serafina showed a lot of promise and despite my critique, I remained hopefully that Jayden Woods would learn from her first project and use it to craft a stronger title the second time around. Quantum Conscience is definitely more ambitious in that regard, but unfortunately, that same ambition proves to be its biggest issue.
As usual, I’ll make my case.
In a universe far, far away, a young man or woman named Blaire is preparing for their first mission: intelligence gathering on his old home world. Unfortunately, like many first missions, it goes pear-shaped quickly and Blaire is captured. HOWEVER, instead of being put through futuristic torture, Blaire is instead given the ability of telekinesis! And with this newfound ability Blaire will…well…watch everyone around him do stuff and react to it!
At least the reactions are fun to watch?
As you may have already guessed, our main character has the distinction of being one of QC’s biggest issues. Unfortunately, I cannot explain the problem with the character without the Gameplay section, so this part is more of an overall picture rather than a direct strike at the problem. Blake is standard for the genre as a rebel who is usually in over their head. Sadly, Blaire is often kept from confronting any of the issues the game places in front of them. That doesn’t mean they are a complete waste as they are the catalyst on which this story spins. To give credit where it’s due, at no time does the game give Blaire any illusions to their role in the story and the main source of the game’s comedy comes from Blaire being completely useless.
However, since Blaire is never directly involved with the conflicts of the story, Blaire never develops beyond the character we’re first introduced to. I kept waiting for them to actually become relevant to what’s going on, but instead I had to sit back and watch them wake up and react just after something important happens. As the main character of this tale, this total uselessness is unacceptable.
Now, it’s not all Blaire’s fault here as the character would have been a bit more stable if the plot in and of itself was, for a lack of better terms, better. We technically have three stories dealing with the autocratic culture of Blaire’s home world, the struggle between the two global factions, and Blaire’s relationship with the people around them. Of the three, the one set on the home world has the best turn and gets the most out of the supporting cast; giving them different motivations that, at the very least, makes them interesting to watch.
It also gives us Veramus: Blaire’s childhood friend. His motives constantly shift and he is initially able to resist your telekinesis. He may have also been the author’s favorite since, regardless of your decisions, the relationship between Blaire and Veramus takes center stage and drives most of the story with Veramus treated like a misbehaving puppy despite doing some VERY questionable things. It’s blatant favoritism, but in this case it helps keep the game from being too much of a drag since Veramus actually has a personality. And while he doesn’t escape the plot’s overall predictability, watching him play at being a chess master was fun at least.
As for the other two plot lines, unfortunately they are quickly muddled by their tropes. The storyline on the exact nature of Blaire’s telekinesis is hurt the most, as it is a question constantly teased but never fully explored. It’s shame because it is one of the most interesting variations of the whole ‘sentient life stream’ trope and could have given the entire story a fresh spin if it had been explored more. The storyline featuring the two global factions is shot right out of the gate thanks to all of the work Woods does to make both factions morally questionable. While I’m all for complex alliances and the good guys not always being as pure as the driven snow, having the supposed ‘good’ faction be morally compromised only made the narrative more frustrating since all it accomplishes is to further highlight the main character’s uselessness and the overall unclear focus of the story. This is especially true considering that, despite that moral compromise, several endings has the protagonist continuing to work with the ‘good guys’ because, well, they’re the only force capable of helping them.
Yeah, if that’s the case and they’re still technically the good guys regardless of any philosophical questions the game raises, why even bother questioning their bona fides in the first place? There is no need to include it if it isn’t going to be expanded on, resolved or treated as something other than another part of a ‘Space Opera Checklist’ that needed filling out.
And that is pretty much the game folks. This type of story, one that attempts to marry several conflicts and themes, hinges on the main character. If that character isn’t well-developed and suited for the task of carrying the tale, the whole thing inevitably falters. There are plenty of good ideas here and there are chapters that make the most out of them. By far, the best chapter was the espionage mission where you have the choice of using your powers to get details on the autocrats’ plans. Regardless of your choices, Blaire feels like an active participant and all of the game’s mechanics feel relevant.
But much more is needed than just ideas to pull off something good. For all of the ideas the game has, it never pulls them into a coherent, enjoyable story. Instead, we get a barely decent mush of sci-fi tropes with a bland main character on top.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
Presentation is far more of a mixed bag than the tepid story is. The character sprites are actually very good, clear, distinctly defined, and carry a wide range of emotions. Considering the usual span of sprite emotions, this is a step up and I appreciate it. The soundtrack is also done by Woods and it feels inspired by games like Metroid. It’s a very distinct piece of work and I enjoyed listening to it long after the game’s issues began to wear on me, especially my favorite track appropriately titled ‘Sneaky’.
Unfortunately, the backgrounds are hit and miss. Again, I know the goal was for an ‘alien’ world, but some of the backgrounds featuring the outdoors of the different planets are just plain hard to look at and become more of a distraction as the game moves forward. While I can appreciate Woods doing all of the work on her games on her own, this issue with background art isn’t new as I had a similar critique in Serafina’s Saga. If Woods is going to continue to carry the entire development load on her own, much more time will need to be invested to give her backgrounds the same quality as her sprites.
And now we’ve come to the game’s biggest gamble and, subsequently, its downfall: the gameplay. Quantum Conscience has a system called the ‘Void Stream’. The system highlights Blaire’s telekinesis and depending on how you choose to use it, or even IF you choose to use it, events in the game will change accordingly. The game’s romances are decided in the same manner with some companions opening up based on specific uses of telekinesis.
On paper, the Void Stream option is a good idea. It’s a button at the top of the screen where you pop in at any point to read other people’s thoughts or interact with the Void itself. If this system had been fully fleshed out, it could’ve been a great compliment to a dialogue system where what you can decide how to use what you learn in the Void in your missions as well as with your companions. It would’ve also given thematic weight and suspense to the story since there is a difference between using the Void and using what you learn IN the Void. And the very fact that I’m talking about it means that it doesn’t happen.
All other dialogue options and choice trees have been removed from the game. How many times you enter the Void Stream screen and read a particular characters mind determines the choices they will make over the course of the game, so you’ll have to either use the screen a lot or barely at all. This is the worst kind of double-edged sword since actually using the system during the game is cumbersome enough; however around the fiftieth time you go there to read the exact same text just to build up the counter, it becomes painful. On the other edge of the sword, with all of dialogue options removed, the flaws in the game and the uselessness of the protagonist gets brought to the forefront and the whole game comes off as watching a very predictable movie.
This is also how romances are handled, which is mind-boggling since it only adds to just how inactive you are as a player. Blaire is the breathing definition of ‘submissive’ as they barely register a mildly romantic thought at any point during the game, yet each romance they fall into has another person grab the poor moron and have their way with them. Now, if that’s you’re thing that’s your thing: I’m not here to play High Inquisitor (yet). However, when we’re already doing little to nothing as the main character, more opportunities to do little to nothing is rather pointless.
Other than the sole defining issue of the game, there are no bugs or glitches to report.
Quantum Conscience retails at $4.99 and it took me about two and a half hours to finish one ending. So, roughly estimating here, the game should last about twelve hours to fully complete it. From the tone of this review, I’m sure main of you have guessed that I wasn’t exactly running back to the game for another go, so your replay value will depend on whether or not you are okay with the Void Stream system. I strongly recommend playing the demo first as it does give you a good look into the tone of the game before you make a purchase. The game may very well be for you, at least on a romantic front, but if it isn’t, let me suggest purchasing the OST to support the developer? As far as science fiction soundtracks go, it is solid.
The sad thing is that with a few different decisions, Quantum Conscience would have been a good game. Woods has a lot of talent and that can clearly be seen in her novels and Serafina’s Saga. Even here, in the few scenes where the various ideas come together, you can see exactly what Woods had planned for the game and how much fun it could’ve been. But, could’ve beens and potential do not make up for failure of execution and that’s exactly what we have here.
Stuck with an useless protagonist, a bloated plot and a cumbersome major game mechanic, Quantum Conscience is barely strong enough to sit upright on its own; much less stand on its own. It isn’t terrible by any means, but it is far from what this developer is capable of.