Disclaimer: Two review codes have been delivered by the developer to both reviewer and subsequent interviewer via Curator Connect. The developer has also participated in the recently launched Fuwanovel Advertisement Program, however, they have refused to any product placement opportunity and demanded a fully unbiased review coverage featuring both good and bad elements of the game. Thanks for all the support!
Hi there, fellas. It’s been a while since my last review, so let’s get going!
This time, I present to you Synesthesia, a sci-fi adventure game by Spire Games. It feels like a mix of Steins;Gate and the Zero Escape games, in the best way possible.
CW: Discussions of death and murder.
If only those easy, carefree days could have gone on forever…
The year is 2029. Around the world are those awakening to new cognitive abilities, estimated to be about 0.016% of the next generation. The Huntley Scientific Research Institute has opened its doors to these young people to take on as students, to research their gifts and aid them in harnessing their strange abilities.
Ziek is a college level student at this institute. He seeks to continue his easy and comfortable life alongside his friends, but soon discovers they may be caught up in something much larger than they realise.Steam
The story follows the daily life of Ziek, Jase, Isla, and Eris — who only joins in later. While the two main girls do fit their tropes (Isla as the Yamato Nadeshiko girl and Eris as the twin-tailed tsundere), they are very fun to be around. It surprised me that Jase ended up being one of my favorite characters in the whole game. I usually dislike the male best friend because they tend to fit the “idiot” role but Jase was far from it!
Outside of our main group, we also have Ms. Keller, the teacher and Maya, a mysterious student attending that University…
Ms. Keller is a fantastic character, and one of my favorites. She struggles to balance her work and values as a scientist and teacher. Because of this, she feels somewhat distant to us.
We sometimes see Maya at the school gates, but she’s a total mystery… You might find something out in one certain route! Personally, I headcanon her as autistic-coded (as an autistic person myself), though certain things about her are explained later on.
While they are absolutely fantastic as characters, the voice acting by text-to-speech voice-over hurts the emotional delivery of some tense and sad scenes. However, I find it’s best to have some form of voice-acting than nothing. Fortunately, you can mute everyone if you so wish, but it’s important to to keep in mind good voice acting goes a long way, especially when it comes to making memorable characters! It’s an important thing to keep in mind even if it’s added in a later update.
The character art is made by Dony Satriyo Nugroho, while the background art is by qs2435. Additional character art is credited to inariawan and additional background art to both farld1995 and Caleb Coles. I feel torn about this category. While the art is certainly beautiful, there a few things I want to talk about.
First of all, it annoys me a bit how simple Jase and Ziek are compared to every female character. I somewhat understand it, but it’s such a whiplash that made them look worse than they actually are.
On the other hand, the female sprites are way too detailed. It’s good to have wrinkles drawn on clothes, but if they are too wrinkled, I might as well iron them.
The soundtrack isn’t going to blow your mind, but it does something many can’t: being subtle enough for you to immerse in your reading. I especially enjoyed the calmer tracks, as we ended the day. It may not be epic, but it understands its setting and story.
The writing was pretty good, I have to say. It’s full of personality from our MC and doesn’t feel generic. There were a few typos at the beginning when I first played it but those should have been fixed by now, according to Spire Games.
If there’s one thing I hate, is heroic characters, who are never afraid or know always what to do. These characters feel realistic instead, reacting to things the way any person would, and even making bad decisions because of that. It’s easy to try and raise the MC’s bravery as the stakes rise, but it’s at times like these that a grounded writing is highly valuable. It would look cheap and forced otherwise.
This game incorporates a ladder structure with unlockable routes. It made it super fun to unlock new routes as I played. I finished the whole game in about 12 hours, so while it’s not a weekend game, you can probably read it in a week.
I initially wanted to read Eris’ route but it seems the game forces you to read through Ms. Keller’s route first. It’s fascinating how this enables the use of certain elements later revealed in the game — I can’t say more though, otherwise I would be spoiling you big time!
Speaking of routes and endings, I do give my congratulations to the team for the first bad ending. I’m a sucker for bad ending and this one truly caught me by surprise!
When it comes to individual routes, we have 4 routes and 9 endings in total — three “game over” endings, three bad endings, two normal endings and one final true ending. After finishing the main story, there are four additional epilogues to enjoy.
It’s interesting to see how the routes are not what you expect they’d be. Yes, they do deepen our understanding of a specific heroine; however, you won’t get a cutesy love story that distances itself from the main plot, like most ladder structures. In a way, each route still serves as a tool for the true route.
Finally, I do have one personal negative… I wish Jase received more attention. Maybe he didn’t have to get a full route like Eris or Isla, but I think giving him a shorter route like Ms Keller’s would have been fantastic. He’s one of my absolute favorites and I would love to see more of him, like his background, more on his abilities, and his relationship to Ziek. Unless I’m that forgetful, he wasn’t given as much attention as the main girls.
Eris’ route was, all things considered, the one I enjoyed the most. It bares her fears and motivations, why she’s there at the institute, and how a peaceful life can be destroyed in seconds.
She’s a fantastic character and one mysterious girl. I’m not sure how long each individual route was, but this one felt the longest to me, maybe due to its pacing.
Since Eris’ takes a while to open to us, the route itself feels longer, though I wouldn’t say it drags itself — there was enough conflict to avoid that, and it made me reflect on a lot of things while reading: the way words can forever change our relationship to others, the power of music, and how human language is overrated.
I find it odd and unfitting that after struggling so much with her ability and refusing to use it or even tell us what it is, she would just… use it. Sure, Ziek doesn’t notice this (although he finds it weird) and it’s a way to move the plot forward, but it felt anticlimatic… At the end of the day, it’s not awful, just something I noticed. This also happens at the end of the true route, though I can understand that one a bit more, given the context.
It was at this moment that my jaw dropped. To know someone dear to us could die so suddenly was brutal. It’s absolutely fantastic how one thing messes with the whole flow and mood of a story, in the best way possible.
This was a fantastic route as well, but I felt it less impactful to me, personally. Ziek might be close to Isla and love her with all his heart but, we (the reader) are not as intimate. Because of that, some events of her past and some reveals failed to shock me as much as they could have.
I love Isla to bits — she is a sweetheart and I’m way more into characters like her, so I was pretty excited to play her route next… so it’s a shame I couldn’t feel as connected.
Maybe it was because I played Eris’ route first, but I also couldn’t keep with the pacing this time. In the common route, Isla is trying to beat every game highscore at the arcade. We follow her training routine and help her beating these games, but since it’s so repetitive, it feels a bit dragged. It’s bound to happen fault, though I’d say adding a different type of stimuli would be good in this case — like going on a date!
As we help Isla beat these highscores, there are moments when we’ll have to show her we’re not just for show — that we are, in fact, a gamer. We have more gameplay befitting these scenes: this time, we get to play one arcade game to help her with game strategy. Our results don’t influence the ending, but you do get a Steam achievement. I had fun, but it’s definitely challenging. If I had to suggest some improvement, I’d say to just change the WASD controls for the directional arrows.
Without going into too much detail, there was a certain twist at the end of her route which, unfortunately, didn’t work as well on me. This might have been due to what I’ve talked about before, and about how our sole focus on beating these games made me feel less attached to Isla as a person. So, when the big twist came, I didn’t connect with Ziek’s emotional response.
Ms Keller is an interesting one. While I understand the main focus is the plot, I wish we could have seen more of Keller’s casual side, without having it serve as just a way for the protagonist to obtain new information on this world and forward the story.
Her character truly interested me — just like Jase’s — and it’s a shame to see her being underused.
Now, this is where the meat of the story truly is. While we’ve been getting questions and more mysteries to solve, we get the answers and tools to finish this mystery once and for all in this last route.
For starters, I have to say I’m glad I finally managed to successfully solve a minigame! It sounds silly, I know, but I’ve been constantly stuck in all the others, so it’s refreshing to finally get one. I had a fun time with this one: simple yet effective.
While I speak more freely in the following spoiler box, I find it sad to leave this part so empty… So, if you read up until now, just read this game. It’s not too long and it’s a solid story that makes you think.
Although saying exactly why is spoilery enough, the origins for their abilities does remind me of Vicious, by V. E. Schwab. It’s a great book and duology. I highly recommend it for both urban fantasy readers, as well as those looking for a morally grey cast mixed with a revenge story.
Anyway, about this “Resign End”. I find it delightful when a character just gives up and embraces the easy option. Maybe it’s my “tired adult” side, maybe it’s my “bad ending enjoyer” side; maybe it’s both. I love grey endings to death as well! The ones you can’t say are either “good” or “bad”, they just are. I’m pretty sure this one also fits the bill. It’s only a shame it’s so short…
Ah, yes — the True Ending! We finally get the open future Ziek wishes for… but at what cost? Ziek loses everything, even himself in the process. I think I’m realizing I’m a sucker for this trope, especially when it’s full of angst and despair — but I’m weird and sadistic like that.
Now, I’m a bit picky with open endings, but this one wasn’t bad at all, as it didn’t leave everything up to interpretation. We do see snipets of life post-events and who knows, it looks like we might get a sequel!
If there’s one thing I was surprised by, even before I played it, was for the existence of minigames. Some of them truly tested me, to the point I had to give up and look up a walkthrough (I know, shame on me). Others were easy enough for me to get them right!
We’ve got a glossary, a flowchart, and even a completion percentage indicator. The only VNs I remember having the latter are CLOCKUP and parade titles, which is a true shame…
The flowchart is also a nice addition! It reminds me of The Nonary Games, along with its little puzzles.
When it comes to moving around, we can explore our town or directly investigate places, but the best part is how our own ability integrates the environment. Saying more would ruin the fun, so play it for yourself to find out!
This game was a wild ride, and I enjoyed all of it. The ending was especially thought-provoking, and I’m expecting to read more of it in the future!
I’d usually give it a score according to the sum of each category, but I want to change that approach as it’s too objective. So, I’ll say this instead: Synesthesia was a fantastic experience. Enticing plot, dark themes within its routes, and an endless tragedy…
If you enjoy all that plus some fun minigames and a futuristic setting, you should definitely read this.
You can get it on Steam for a discounted price this Steam Visual Novel Fest, so don’t miss it!