Hi there! Are you interested in a moe visual novel with a strong female protagonist that was written by a female writer? Sona-Nyl is a strange game to recommend. It starts on a blank page, with no other clue or route but to go on reading and discover the past yourself. Why? Because the protagonist, Lily, has amnesia while at the same time the other protagonist, Elysia, legitimately throws you into a perspective where she, the other protagonist, has nothing to grasp but her hunch that there was a mysterious conspiracy in the middle of ruins in what was once a flourishing engine city, New York.
The game has two protagonists: one is an observer, almost like a traditional detective role but visibly depressed and sad, Elysia. Lily is the other one; she woke up slowly falling into a bizarre place called the Underground, nearly attacked by numerous creatures, but then was saved. Only then did Lily realize that she had amnesia when her savior, Milia, asked about herself.
Hikaru Sakurai, the writer of Sona-Nyl, did a great job keeping me interested in the story. She does not only value the mystery of what happened to New York but also the emotional aspect of the story. Why is Elysia so desperate? What’s the connection with Lily, and why is she a second protagonist? It’s a slow burn—a well-written slow burn that proved its point by the end of the story.
If you love stories with well-written characters, banter, and fun dialogues, Sona-Nyl is for you. The story’s greatest strength, after all, was the entertaining character interactions. As a bonus, the game also had intense action scenes, even if by nature they were short, in the traditional style of Hikaru Sakurai’s steampunk story. Battles that end in a few hits, sometimes only one.
Without further ado, I highly encourage everyone who is reading this to read Sona-Nyl. Let’s proceed now to the critical aspect of my review, which was summarized and written specifically for audiences that haven’t read the game!
AKIRA’s looming, yet satisfying, art style for Sona-Nyl is constantly atmospheric and stunning. Her consistent top-tier quality of artworks (in my opinion, a masterpiece), in addition to Sakurai Hikaru’s powerful empathy-evoking kind of storytelling and her just as strange riddle-like prose, gave life to their fifth entry in the What a Beautiful series.
The game starts with two girls wandering – one without memory and one in a mysterious, yet desperate, odyssey. Elysia’s perspective reads like a Lovecraftian story in the middle of an early 20th century New York that encountered an unknown disaster, literally turning the city into a crumble of bleak, lifeless ruin.
The pacing of the prologue and first chapter was a bit slow. That’s mainly because the reader is thrown in the middle of nowhere, into a slump-like city in the underground with a lot of weird and unexplained characters, and into the ruins of New York without any explanation. That’s why, in turn, we start out as confused as the protagonists are. However, despite the slightly sluggish build-up, it is not without tension. Once the climax of the chapter started, I was fully hooked on the game.
However, I never once felt bored with Sona-Nyl. The jazzy soundtrack accompanying the experience, its beautiful shade of colors (violet/purple mostly), and the voice of one of my favorite voice actresses, Kawashima Rino, were in constant synchronicity to build up Sona-Nyl‘s greatest strength in the early part of the story and consistently till the end, the breathtakingly depressed atmosphere of its world.
[A] Translation Quality
Sona-Nyl was in work for 7 years and was translated by Koestl, a J-E translator who is popular for top quality works like the Grisaia series and the earlier MangaGamer Steampunk release of Gahkthun of the Lightning ~what a shining braves~.
I haven’t read the game in Japanese, nor am I competent enough to read Sona-Nyl (gauging my Japanese skill) and make a professional or competent comment about the translation quality and original text, but my reading experience was smooth. The scenes hit as they should, and I genuinely feel an emotional connection between the storyteller and her text.
Although an episodic mystery story at its core, Sona-Nyl‘s strength isn’t its plot. It’s mainly Elysia and Lily’s journey as they learn and discover more about important things in life. Sona-Nyl exquisitely conjured the comedy, drama, and spice of Gothic Shoujo, calling back to the stylish presentation of CLAMP’s works and Revolutionary Girl Utena for an immersive experience.
The game was surprisingly deep about human study, especially the subject of self, like happiness, memory, and love. It has a lot to do with escapism, and frankly, elaborating on it would result in spoilers.
Hikaru Sakurai’s gentle storytelling was one of the key aspects of why I think Sona-Nyl was an amazing experience. The game deals a lot with feminine aspects, feminine protagonists, reactions, and experiences. Funnily enough, the romance for this game almost subsided despite its importance, and I think, in retrospect, it makes sense considering the theme of Sona-Nyl.
 Characters 8.5/10
What makes Sona-Nyl an enjoyable read for me are the characters: Lily’s character development, along with her stoic conductor, who is a complete airhead to a fault, never fails to form an interesting synergy. The moe energy that Lily radiates made me kneel physically. Lily is a goddess—an actual angel on earth!
The structure of the story being episodic makes it hard to rank the characters who appeared only once every chapter, and while the main stars of this game were definitely Lily and A, the other side characters also left their mark and had been given their chance to shine; ranging from some rather tame ones in comparison to some others that are heartbreaking.
To decide whether Sona-Nyl‘s characters’ roles in the story were simple or not is difficult. From my standpoint, even if a few of them can be a bit cartoonish and two-dimensional—I mean, some even feel like they just exist to annoy you—then nonetheless, they do serve a purpose in one way or another. I don’t think Sona-Nyl has a boring character, even if they are created for the sake of filling in a degree of randomness.
 Art 10/10
My enjoyment of reading this game is owed a lot to the art. Lily’s cuteness and her sprite became a million times more potent in conjunction with the art. The strange atmosphere that Sona-Nyl competently presented was an almost perfect experience. I legitimately have no complaints at all, even if I try nitpicking. I was more than satisfied.
Context would be spoilers, so I’ll be as vague as possible, but when the game tries to be cool, the art doesn’t fail. It’s so stylish, charismatic, and elegantly beautiful that it effectively speaks for itself more than words could ever do.
Sona-Nyl as an Eroge!
The game has two different patches: the refrain (all ages without sex), which is what is available on Steam by default, and the MangaGamer patch (18+ version with original sex scenes included) which you can get in MangaGamer!
I recommend reading the MangaGamer patch first to get the full, authentic experience of the game. While the replaced CGs of Refrain were better written and sweeter, the original experience was faithful to the intended depressing atmosphere of the game. For example, the CG below is one of my favorite changes in Refrain, simply because it made more sense, but at the same time, there are spoilers in Chapter 5 which is specifically a netorare (NTR) story, and what you get is just a lame bar date instead of something way more aggressive and destructive.
There’s also a big error in which I explicitly disagree with the changes in refrain, but at this point, I would like everyone to assume that refrain is a fanservice, especially the changes with CG. At the very end of the game, there were major changes with one important character; his character was changed to fit in something more hopeful, and as a result, almost scarring relationship development. That character and Lily were supposed to be innocent to a fault, and that was just ignored compared to the original. This is very hard to elaborate on without spoilers, and I assure you that it’s a very important part of the story. One could say a romantic climax even.
The erotic scenes in Sona-Nyl were all worth reading. Most of the illustrations look beautiful and intimate. The dialogue isn’t just a waste of time, and most importantly, in this story, Sona-Nyl was a way for characters to confess something they could only tell their romantic partners. That’s why, in conclusion, I think that’s what makes Sona-Nyl a well-written eroge.
I consider Sona-Nyl a masterpiece. I’ve read it in my life when I badly needed it. It’s about the journey and Sakurai’s gentle love for her readers is such that I just munched it up like a buffet.
My rating would be 10/10, but in this case, I should be more professional and admit the fault that Sona-Nyl has; however, I am more than willing to turn a blind eye to its flaws.
If this review grabbed your attention, you could buy Sona-nyl both in Steam and MangaGamer!
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