Reviews of English Visual Novels

Review: «Stories from Sol: The Gun-Dog» (Demo) – A Verdant Interplanetary Adventure

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Written by ku-Eyes

NOTE: This review is of one of the demos that was available during Steam Next Fest, 2023, which went on from June 19th-26th. If you still want to play the demo, it might still be available post-event! Click here to find out.

If you’re reading this currently, chances are that you’ve spent hours upon hours playing and reading visual novels. Or, you could be just a dabbler, having played a couple—read, famous—titles. Either way, you’re probably used to the simplicity of most visual novels, and subconsciously expect that games in the genre won’t interact much with you, as the reader, or allow you to do things that impact your character’s environment.

There are a few games that break this mold, however, and give the reader—now closer to a player—free reign to explore the possibilities of the world they’ve just entered into. Stories from Sol is one of them.

First Impressions

Alright, let’s boot up the game, and… Whoa, why is everything so green?

Upon the conclusion of a wonderfully animated intro, behold, the title screen!

Before you go and check if your copy of the game’s corrupted, allow me to reassure you that it’s just fine. The developer, Space Colony Studios, just decided to pay a tribute to the computer games of the early 1980s, as well as the PCs they operated on—the venerable PC-98 series, which originated in Japan, seems to receive their most particular focus.

The entire game has a retro vibe, from the good old monochrome graphics down to the chiptune music. It’ll be a real nostalgia trip for all the middle-aged grandpas out there, and a cool experience for all the young’uns who never got to experience what games were like decades ago.

But enough of my rambling. Let’s press START and jump right in!

Story

In a time in the far distant future, a long and difficult war between interplanetary empires has come to an end. An uneasy and fragile peace now looms over the entire solar system, and has been for the past four years. Enter you: the new head of security on Gun-Dog, a patrol ship currently on course to investigate some anomalous signals on the edge of their empires’ space.

The game kicks off with you getting on the ship and getting to know the crew, and I’ve gotta say, I was impressed. The various characters are written and designed very well; all the relationships and the banter felt realistic and genuine. The dev team deserves to be applauded for their effort.

After meeting everyone on Gun-Dog, you carry on with checking up on the ship’s various systems, doing favors for the crew, and just generally going about your typical routine—that is, until Gun-Dog draws near to its destination. All of a sudden, the ship’s power system fails, and you and the crew are left scrambling to restore the power to the ship by attempting to get access to the central computer system. Then, you find out things have taken an even worse turn, and…the demo ends, leaving you on a cliffhanger.

Overall, I thought it was a good place for the demo to cut off. It was a decent way to keep the reader wondering, “What happened, and what will happen next?” and keep them curious about the game.

On another note, some observant readers might notice the the main title of the game, Stories from Sol, and start wondering if the developers intended this visual novel to potentially be the first in a series in the same in-game universe. Well, wonder no more—there just happens to be a question on the survey that loads after you finish the demo that asks, “What would you like to see in the full game/future Stories from Sol titles?” To me, that certainly implies that the company might create another title from the universe if this game does well, but that’s just a guess on my part.

Design

The prologue of this game plays out just like any other standard visual novel title. After that, however, the game gives you a few controls to use in the form of buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. Once those are available, you’re essentially left to your own devices.

Your quarters inside Gun-Dog. Looks like one of those good old—ahem, futuristic bunkers, doesn’t it?

For those who have played at least one of the Ace Attorney games, the point-and-click interface style of Stories from Sol may feel pretty familiar to you. The MOVE button allows you to go between different rooms and parts of the ship, the TALK button allows you to interact with people in the same room, the LOOK button allows you to check out the room you’re currently in and tells you more information about certain points of interest, the USE button allows you to interact with said points of interest, and the ITEM button allows you to select an item to bring up in conversation or to use during an action. There is also a FUNCTION button on the bottom right of the screen, which will allow you to see your current objective, take a peek at the map of the ship, and access a knowledge base which contains information about the universe you’re in, similar to the tip system some other visual novels use.

Personally, I liked the way they constructed the mechanics; for those who don’t like to leave a single stone left unturned—or a single sentence left unread, in this case—the game gives you a lot to explore and investigate. I thought the task menu, which had a list of the objectives that needed to be completed, was a useful feature as well, since it’s very possible some readers might lose track of what they were doing while exploring the ship. The map also allows players to fast travel to different locations around the ship, which is a handy feature for those trying to complete objectives quickly.

Another thing that I’d like to note is that, despite the fact that Stories from Sol is a point-and-click, the game was actual created on Ren’Py, the go-to visual novel engine for most VN developers in the west. Whereas most Ren’Py-made games have unchanged UI that is essentially stock, Stories from Sol put some effort into making the UI their own; the interface is definitely customized, and it’s more responsive than the plain Ren’Py UI.

My Personal Experience

I liked Stories from Sol, but I do think there were some aspects of the game that need improvement. First of which is the font.

An example from the prologue.

I am aware that this particular font was chosen because it resembles the block-like text found in the games and computer systems of old, but I found it too small to easily read, and found myself squinting a bit. It would be great if the developers added either the option to switch between fonts or increase the size of the text to the settings so that those with accessibility issues can have an easier time reading through the game. Although, I know the latter option can be impractical.

Beyond the text, I also took issue with the scaling of the buttons. It felt a bit weird to me; personally, I would have preferred the action buttons to be a bit smaller, so that the view of the ship could be expanded.

That said, I thought it was pretty clever that the Backlog feature displayed over the ship’s background when activated. It was really well done.

Conclusion

Well, that’s it! My review of the demo of Stories from Sol: The Gun-Dog is now complete. If the demo’s still available, I highly suggest you download it and try it out so you can form your own opinions on it.

This is actually my first time writing a review, so I’d love it if you provided me with some feedback in the comments below!

About the author

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ku-Eyes

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