It's not often visual novels try to raise the bar and become something much more than just another interactive book. It's also even rarer that a game with politically charged roots tries to address the why instead of the how. So when I got the chance to play the Canadian-based Vivid Foundry’s first visual novel Solace State, I was left impressed and had to know more about what makes this intriguing, heavily stylized, and strongly themed visual novel so compelling.
Solace State is a visual novel that hopes to help open up a dialogue and let players think about social situations differently and with a new perspective. Now I'll be the first person here to state that politics in games are generally a turn off if done incorrectly, but what makes Solace State so interesting is the fact that the game lets the player see all sides of a conflict and hopefully steer you away from the standard “good guy vs bad guy” binary choice. I had the chance to sit down with the game's executive producer and all around creative lead Tanya Kan. As a political science major, Kan hopes to use Solace State as a way for people to think outside of the box with the way we look at social situations, privacy, and addressing social trauma.
“The theme of the game is really about addressing social trauma that hasn’t been addressed in the past."
Artistically, the novel is presented in a way that mimics street art as well as giving the player the perspective that they're watching the events unfold from security cameras. There's an almost 2.5D look to the novel that really sets itself apart from other games in its genre. Choices are also prevalent throughout the game, and they can affect the narrative in more ways than one. How this will totally pan out is still not public, but in the interview below, Kan gives a summary of how your choices can change the narrative and hopefully help the player leave Solace State with a better understanding of social issues that are prevalent in the real world.
Empathy Over Assumption
Throughout the demo you are tasked with controlling the game's protagonist and given the option to make multiple dialogue choices depending on how the situation with a militia soldier and activist played out. What struck me differently about this scenario was that nobody was totally “right” or portrayed as virtuous. You had to make choices based on the characters' motivations and ultimately learn that the bad guy wasn’t so heartless after all by looking through the antagonist's personal data. While this gameplay element is presented as morally invasive, Tanya states that, “the ability to look into people's backgrounds from both a logical and emotional perspective, it actually helps people hopefully comprehend what a complex society can be like.”
There's a sense of empathy to Solace State that really sets itself apart from other visual novels and games with a strong political message, and if the demo is anything to go by, Solace State is definitely sure to help players look at social situations a bit differently and, hopefully, with a more open mind.
In the interview below, Nick and Kan get into a more in-depth discussion on Solace State’s art style, themes, branching paths, and what it's like working on an independent game in the age of COVID-19.