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Aside from E.K. Johnston's recently released Star Wars: Queen's Shadow, the only time in my life when I had a strong intuition that a novel of any sort would be good was when I first heard about Bionic Penguin's visual novel The Falconers: Moonlight two years ago. My intuition was so strong, in fact, that I wasn't sure I wanted to even test the waters with their demo first before purchasing the full game.
I ultimately decided not to jump the gun and treat the game as fairly as I have others in the past that offer demos. I downloaded the demo and, regrettably, left it to collect pixel dust along with a whole archive of other games I'd yet to touch. Life got in the way, and I had so many other projects I needed to tackle before I could finally sit down and find out whether my instincts were correct.
Needless to say, I'm kicking myself for not just buying the damned thing right away. I'm normally skeptical of Sekai Project's product library, as the games they publish tend to carry the same tune in the aesthetic and narrative departments.
But Falconers is the proverbial black sheep I knew I wanted in my herd from the moment I laid eyes on its Victorian Western-Japanese hybrid art style and read its synopsis detailing a supernatural conspiracy in colonial New Zealand, of all places.
As always in these reviews, I reward creators who strive for a different motif handsomely, and Bionic Penguin most certainly delivers on that front within the first few cinematics. Rarely do I come across a visual novel that takes full advantage of its planes like the way Falconers does, both in its regular scenes and CGs.
Character sprites aren't always programmed to appear on the same plane; some blend into the background entirely, and others stand out in the foreground with the readership observing the scene before them.
The game makes use of its 3D camera, zooming in and out for emphasis during conversations. There are also plenty of animations and special effects used to denote action sequences and suspenseful moments. None of this is ever overdone, however; while dynamism undoubtedly enhances audience immersion and engagement, Bionic Penguin avoids exhausting the reader with too many distracting gimmicks.
After all, there's a story to tell, and I'm itching to discover what happens next. We're paired up with Cassandra "Cassie" Winter, a monster hunter for the Falconers who confides in us with her apprehension about her very first solo mission in the tragedy-stricken town of Moonlight, all while maintaining her composure during the investigation. She's able to take a joke and can spare a kind look, but her authority never betrays her regardless of the scenario she's cast in.
Thank goodness though that Cassie isn't one of those unrealistically emotionless and indestructible protagonists that characterize the "strong female character" trope. Her narration is a look into her intuitive thought process, not just an unbiased evaluation of what's happening around her.
It also helps that she's surrounded by equally as compelling characters who, like her, all have an amusingly macabre sense of humour, but are nonetheless equipped with their own personalities and backstories that keep us on our toes (my personal rule of thumb—which mirrors Cassie's—is to always suspect everyone in the beginning).
Her boss, Captain Moonlight, comes across as genteel and altruistic in the public eye, though that's a crystal bottle we probably shouldn't drink too much from. Bridget "Little Biddy" Goodwin is a perceptive old woman who likes to talk as much as she likes her smokes and drinks, but although she never hesitates to reveal information, we're never really sure if she's telling us enough. Our hostess of the evening, Mary "Sunlight" Sunncliffe, is a sunny individual so as long as her limit isn't crossed. And finally, what is a thriller without a cunning gambler mistaken for a playboy like Wiremu "Weka" Jones?
As you can tell, there is quite the psychoanalysis to be had. I'm not about to wait any longer, and neither should you. You can get the game on Steam for $9.99 USD—or you can wait for a discount if you're not fully convinced. Make no mistake about it, however, you can definitely expect a proper review from me in the near future.