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This is a copy of the review I posted on Steam.
Full disclosure: I am married to one of this game's developers! That said, here is my honest review.
I feel that this game fills a really excellent niche that I haven't seen much elsewhere. It delivers a mix of visual novel, simulation, and choose-your-own-adventure elements, and provides a fun what-if romp filled with parenting decisions, space colonization struggles, farm management tradeoffs. I'll go over some of the main elements below.
We'll start with the overview, then get into the details further on down.
Play this game if you:
- Enjoyed the first game in this series (it's free, go play it).
- Generally enjoy visual novels or choose-your-own adventure stories.
- Think a game about farming and parenting on a space colony sounds fun!
Don't play this game if you:
- Only like the very best AAA games with tons of action and eye candy.
- Think visual novels are terrible and boring.
- Played the first game in the series and didn't like it.
Most of the gameplay is visual novel, choose-your-own adventure style: read dialog and narration, occasionally make choices about how you respond in a conversation or decide what you want to do. (For visual novel nerds, the game was built using Ren'Py, which provides an excellent baseline visual novel implementation.)
Beyond that, each "year" of gameplay starts with a different interface, where you get to manage your farm, read community discussion forums, use a database to read up on information about people you know, and write poetry in a "magnetic poetry" style interface. (Occasionally, other colonists comment on your poems.)
The farm management starts pretty simple, but later in the game gets a little trickier as you have to struggle to meet all of your nutrition needs while not ruining the soil, uprooting your plums, or dooming your kids to a life of working the fields when they should be doing their homework or playing with their friends.
However most of the choices in the game revolve around how you interact with your family, and especially how you choose to behave as a parent. Are you super strict? Super lenient? The game doesn't tell you what's bad or good, what's the right or wrong way to be a parent, but like real life your kids don't always behave the way you wish they would ...
- Mixing up different kinds of gameplay elements makes the game more fun and engaging.
- I really liked being able to do things my own way; the game is made to roll with your choices.
- Managing my farm was a lot of fun for most of the game.
- Like most visual novels and choose-your-own adventures, your choices are by nature sometimes pretty limited. Sometimes I'd get three choices and think "okay, but REALLY I'd do this different, forth thing". Oh well, suck it up and role play. =)
- Near the end of the game, farming got a little tedious and rote. I mostly had things set up fine, and would just switch a couple crops around the same way back and forth. A small complaint, but it did take some of the joy out of farming. (Probably this is more like how real farmers feel about farming, so good job from a simulation aspect!)
Story & Setting
I felt like the story and setting were really good. I think the idea of space colonies and exploring the unknown are a lot of fun. Sure, you maybe could have told the "same story" in a different setting, but a sci-fi space colony setting gave some very interesting motivations.
- Very few stories (let alone video games) have a focus on relationships, especially between spouses and children.
- Technology is super advanced! But we don't have that here, it's too expensive, too rare, only back on earth. (Kind of reminds me of the colony planets in Firefly.)
- It's a colony, the whole point is to colonize! But ... is that what I want for my kids? Maybe they should grow up very educated and go have a better life back on Earth? But didn't we leave Earth for good reasons in the first place? (By the way, play the first game to get the whole back story, it's free!)
- Again, it's kind of like Robinson Corusoe, but in space! Sci-fi settings in my opinion make things more fun. =)
- There were a few minor anachronisms and inconsistencies between the first and second games. But we'll just assume some of that is because of new shipments from different shuttles in the meantime. =)
- The story is pretty much about the "real life" of a space colony. Other than, you know, raising a family, farming and staying alive on an alien planet, solving community labor and interpersonal disputes (and investigating a murder that one time) not much [i]thrilling[/i] happens[/b]. If you're the kind of person who isn't going to have fun until the hostile alien invasion, the game might feel kind of slow paced.
Graphics & Dialog
The graphics and dialog are the main ways a visual novel presents itself. How do these measure up?
The graphics are a mix of quasi-photographic backgrounds with anime-style sprites. There is of course no competition with a big budget commercial game, but I thought overall the graphics had a fun, quirky, and most importantly, consistent character. Most importantly, there was a good focus on facial expressions, especially for the main characters, which helped the dialog have some context (e.g. "are they saying that for real, or just being sarcastic?")
The dialog and storytelling are pretty good, and all of the characters had their own distinct personality. You can tell the authors tried really hard to give everyone their own unique perspective and point-of-view.
- Graphics are a little campy, but fun and perfectly suitable to the story.
- Dialog and narration is pretty good. Nothing stood out, and I kept immersed in the story.
- Graphics can't compete with big budget games -- but that wasn't ever the goal of the game.
- Although there was plenty of interpersonal conflict in the game, often people in general were a little "too nice" and "too reasonable"; there were pretty much no generally irredeemable, bad, trashy, vindictive, horrible people. No complaints for this story, unless you're looking for bitter realism. We'll just pretend that those kind of folks didn't get picked to be shipped out to colonies. =)