February 14, 2016 5:25 AM | Lena LeRay
Solstice is a new visual novel from MoaCube, the makers of Cinders. It has many things in common with Cinders in terms of beauty, polish, and quality of writing and character building. Where Cinders was a great new take on the classic Cinderella story, however, Solstice is a 100% original story and is a mystery to boot. And it's really good.
The game starts with its two protagonists arriving at the Jewel of the North. It's a gorgeous merchant city which can only exist because the world's premier inventors and magicians collaborated to protect it from the harsh arctic climate. For three months of the year, the Jewel is totally isolated from the outside world by harsh weather conditions. It is at the beginning of this True Winter, as the locals call it, that Galen and Yani arrive, and during this period of isolation that they must solve the mysteries unfolding there.
The character writing is superb, as anyone who's played Cinders might expect. The writers and artist went out of their way to create a diverse cast with differing ethnic backgrounds and personality traits that really shine through. On top of that, everyone who remains in the Jewel of the North during the True Winter is flawed and hiding something. They all have reasonable motivation to be behind the problems going on. Even the protagonists themselves, newcomers though they be, are hiding things. Since the player perspective bounces back and forth between the two, even they are suspect at times.
One of the best things about the writing is how details about the Jewel itself are revealed. The start menu is the first place where the player sees the beautiful, dome-covered place surrounded by ice and snow. However, in talking to the people who live there, the player learns that the city is as much a character in the story as anyone with lines. The nature of its society, with everyone who lives there being under contract with the Bank, which owns the Jewel, affects everything that happens under the dome.
It's the perfect setting for a mystery with branching paths. The branch indicator that Cinders used to tell the player when a scene could have been different makes a return here, but since who the player talks to and when affects what information they can gather, it feels more weighty. Everything the player learns comes at the price of something else that they could have learned. Everything they see leaves something else going on behind the player's back. What was missed? It keeps the player on their toes and second-guessing their decisions the whole time.
All of this is built on top of the great foundation that Cinders built in terms of polish. The expressive text, with speed changes and pauses, is back. Cinders had animated backgrounds and so does Solstice, but in Solstice, the state of the Jewel changes and the animations change to reflect that. They've upped the ante where characters are concerned, too. Although the characters still have a limited number of poses, every pose is animated. One character absentmindedly touches a pendant she wears around her neck, another twirls her fingers in her hair, a man stands with his hands on his hips, tapping his fingers. They've added even more life to everything than they did with Cinders.
Solstice is easily one of the best visual novels I've played. If you have any interest in visual novels or story-heavy games in general, you should get it. If you played and liked Cinders... why are you still reading this?
Although Solstice isn't yet on Steam and won't be until April, you can buy the game now (or download the demo) directly from developer MoaCube. The game is available for Windows and Mac, and although digital copies of the game are $19.99, they are also selling digital and physical collector's editions.