I originally already had plans to play this entry, so I have the great fortune of killing two birds with one stone as this was assigned to me for the IGMC 2017 Secret Santa event.
Visual Aesthetics & Atmosphere
Without a doubt, this is one of the best looking entries in the competition. While custom resources do not always guarantee better visual presentation, Dear Edwin's original assets are coherent, polished, and perfectly compliment the story it tells.
Writing & Dialog
With the exception of a typo or two, the writing in Dear Edwin is excellent. The manners of speech for characters of different socioeconomic statuses are believable, and dialog strikes a fine balance between driving enough plot and revealing enough character, without ever becoming too dense and dull.
While the custom soundtrack wasn't bad, there wasn't anything particularly memorable either. Tracks matched the environments and scenes in which they were used; given the type of experience this project intended on giving, it was sufficient, but no more.
There was much deliberation as to whether or not this section should be mentioned, given that the project is up-front about the fact that it's an interactive novel. Ultimately, the choice to include this in the review boiled down to a simple question: "Do the gameplay elements enhance or detract from the overall experience?" And unfortunately, in Dear Edwin's case, the answer was the latter.
There are two elements that can be considered "gameplay" in this project:
1) Interacting/Talking with NPCs and the world
2) Exploring/Moving in maps
Given that this is a detective story, many opportunities were already missed by the design choice to spoon-feed all the clues to the player through unmissable events that are necessary to progress. Even more opportunities were missed when a number of townspeople NPC had dialog that didn't contribute anything to world/lore/character-building. If "having the freedom to choose to talk to townspeople" is a prominent and core game feature, then what does dialog like "They're too focused on each other to talk to me", "I can see my friend's house from here", or "..." add to the play experience?
On the point of giving players the ability to move about and "explore", there's the obvious benefit of showcasing the spectacular art that the game boasts. However, if this was just about eye-candy or awe-inspiring visuals, there are better alternatives to achieve this end. Exploration should lead to discoveries, but unfortunately, there's little to be organically discovered in Dear Edwin. There are very few items that can be interacted with, especially on the larger maps. (Ironically, objects that the protagonist comments on are usually found in smaller maps.)
This, coupled with the "..."-spouting NPCs mentioned earlier, leads to situations where a player would spend time wandering around the map and try to engage with objects or people, only to find that they've wasted their time. A particularly puzzling design choice is the decision to add knocking sounds to doors when the player tries to interact with them. By adding that to the game, one would assume the designer is subtly communicating to the player that there is something that the player can achieve through this mechanism. However, the only instance in which a door was knocked on and answered was during an event scene that is partially triggered WITHOUT an interaction command from the player.
Presenting Dear Edwin in an "RPG-like fashion" is by no means a bad thing. However, it does beg the question whether this project would've benefited even more if it took on a different form of presentation.
Ending (Potential Spoilers)
While the story had an excellent setup and kept up its momentum for most of its length, the closing act leaves much to be desired. For one, there was no aftermath following the revelation of the story's main mystery. While not all mystery stories require an epilogue, the lack of closure given the nature and implications of the core conspiracy unfortunately makes the project feel rushed towards the end and incomplete.
Tangential to that, given the protagonist's backstory and internal conflict that helped fleshed out his character, it seems illogical and out-of-character for him to unravel the conspiracy at the setting and location that he did; as it is natural and easy to imagine that doing so has with the potential consequences of repeating his past mistake at a much larger scale. While I can see how this might be a deliberate choice on the writer's part, in either case, this is another reason why the lack of closure or aftermath is troubling and gives off the unfortunate impression that the final scenes of the story were rushed.
*Note to Devs: I'm trying to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, but if this part (or any part of the review) is too cryptic or you would like to discuss, feel free to let me know. You know where to find me.
All in all, Dear Edwin was a charming experience that easily stands out from its competitors. The lack of meaningful gameplay and seemingly rushed conclusion are regrettable flaws, but otherwise the project is well-made and polished. Kudos to the development team!