I don't really give visual novels much of a shot. In fact, I honestly haven't played once since I reviewed 2064: Read Only Memories back in 2017. However, I'm always looking for a chance to have new horizons opened up. I saw an opportunity with upcoming sci-fi visual novel and investigation game Dry Drowning. It tells a highly political story about several serious subject matters, all while solving a murder mystery. That seems to be exactly what I wanted. So, I took a couple of hours to play the game's first chapter and see if it manages to live up to my expectations.
Taking place in the city of Nova Polemos in the year 2066, you play as Mordred Foley, half of the private investigation firm Foley Investigations. Mordred's firm faces accusations of falsifying the evidence that sends two people to their executions. A court finds him innocent, but both the public and media still believe he's guilty. Mordred knows that they're right.
An extreme far-right anti-immigration organization named The Black Bands propositions Mordred. They offer him a job to investigate a murder and clear their leader's name before an upcoming election. In return, they'll pay Mordred a large sum of money and clear his name. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when Mordred realizes he's hunting the same killer that previously got away. Now he needs to decide if it's actually worth helping The Black Bands in order to clear his name and try to make amends for his past mistakes.
As a visual novel, the story and characters are the most important part of Dry Drowning. Each character feels deep and well developed. Before long, I was gladly looking into their histories to see what I can uncover. What secrets are behind the outspoken politician? What about the silver-tongued lawyer? The young rebellious artist? Each of their stories took turns I didn't suspect. All of them seem connected to the mysterious killer known as Pandora. Your actions determine which of these characters live or die. By the end of the first chapter, I felt like I was already making pretty massive decisions.
Being a visual novel, you'll be spending a lot of time in Dry Drowning talking to other characters. There's no voice acting, but it never felt needed. Plenty of personalities comes through in the text, and it took no time giving each character an internal voice. You will occasionally have to make dialogue choices as well, leading Mordred down different paths. Do you want to tell your lawyer buddy that the police missed a crucial piece of evidence, helping clear the Black Band's leader's name? Or shall you hold that back in the hopes of getting an inside contact on the police force?
Of course, Mordred is a private investigator, and you need to do investigation work as well. By hitting a button you can move into investigation mode, which allows you to scan the environment and interact with items of interest. You'll find things you can pick up and use to question other characters or grant access to new locations. I never had to do something like trying to combine every item with every other item or pixel hunt, which I rather appreciated. When lost, just trek back to Foley Investigations and talk to Mordred's partner in crime Hera for assistance.
Mordred also has a supernatural ability: if anyone ever willingly lies to him then he sees an animal mask over their face. As the game advances you'll get chances to deconstruct these lies, leading to a segment where you have to use all your evidence to show a timeline of events and figure out other character's motives, destroying their masks in the process. This is the only time in the game where you can actually lose, as guessing the wrong motive three times leads to a game over. It's a neat system. At several points, I had to actually think through what I was doing to make sure that events lined up correctly. I can't wait to see more of these in the full game.
There's also some light puzzle-solving. In the demo, I came across a single puzzle where I had to figure out a code to a safe by using environmental clues. It wasn't overly difficult, but I did at least have to spend a little time thinking about it. If the rest of the puzzles are like this one, then there should be enough to keep me thinking without feeling like it's halting the progress of the game.
At the end of the first chapter, I decided to put Dry Drowning down. Not because I didn't like it, but rather because I was really into it. I want to experience the full story as soon as possible, and go in knowing nothing more than I already do. There really seemed to be something unique here, and I can easily see this being my next shot at giving visual novels an honest chance. If nothing else, I'd love to see more of the world. That already has me hooked.
TechRaptor previewed Dry Drowning on PC using a copy provided by the developers. The game will launch this August on PC, and on Xbox One in 2020.