A while back, I got the chance to try out Lightstep Chronicles, which was the first visual novel I've played in some time. Despite the fact that they're not in my regular rotation, the genre definitely interests me. I always like when a game tries something unique. While I only got 30 minutes out of it, Lightstep Chronicles' unique ways excited me about the full release. Now that it's here, is Lightstep Chronicles as unique as I hoped? Or should you find a different chronicle to read?
Taking place in the same universe as the Lightstep comics by Dark Horse, you play as Captain Cain Phoenix. When a mysterious ship called Amarok crash lands on Earth, Cain heads a crew to check it out. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong, and the entire crew ends up captured by the ship's AI. Thankfully, one of them saves Phoenix and cuts a deal: if Phoenix helps him kill the other AI and take over the ship, he'll free him and the rest of his crew. Sounds simple, right? Naturally, it's not. Soon, Phoenix is figuring out why the AI splintered and what exactly happened on the Amarok.
The Joy of Reading (Sometimes)
It's a good thing the AIs you'll be meeting are a weird and varied bunch, and even the worst of them manage to have some sympathetic moments. From Aleph's paranoia that you're going to betray him, to Hod's weird love for playing games, to the somewhat terrifying Malkuth and his obsession with defending the ship. Each character is worth exploring and I really enjoyed diving into each of them. It's here when the writing is strongest, with top-notch character development and world-building on display.
Unfortunately, actually reading this text can be an issue. For some reason, Lightstep Chronicles puts all its text on the left side of the screen and displays it all one sentence at a time in a big scrolling log. Furthermore, the log moves faster than actual reading speed. Often I'd get to a decision and have to take a few moments to actually scroll back through it and read what the robot just said. It especially gets weird later in the game when there are attempts to sync up lines with actions happening in the background. Not a single time did these sync up correctly, and it often felt silly rather than dramatic.
Not Making a Choice is Still a Choice
At least it always looked nice. Lightstep Chronicles has some unique art, and each room felt like it flowed in a weird artsy way. Does the ship really need statutes of the emperor that double as doors? Not really, but it fits in with the world well and helps sell the style. In addition, there are a few times where you can step into some simulations. These take place in impossible landscapes that are awesome to behold and are well worth checking out. One particularly great one was a church that seemed to have stairs constantly reconstructing and moving, making for some impossible architecture.
As much fun as I had reading about and looking at Lightstep Chronicles' world, I also never really felt like I had much impact on it. The game gives the illusion of choice a few times but making the "wrong" choice leads to a game over rather than a new situation. You'll generally watch the same story play out no matter how you respond. There are six different endings, but they're all decided by a single choice you make at the very end of the game. There's nothing wrong with telling a single story rather than a branching one, but after the fact, I did wish my choices throughout the game had more of an impact on the end rather than just the final one.
Being a Busy Bee
In addition to the story, there is the occasional puzzle to solve, but there's nothing that taxing. You have the ability to connect to cameras and scan rooms for interactive objects. You then utilize these objects in some light tasks. This can mean matching lights up with a diagram, interacting with objects in a specific order, repeating facts you can easily look up, or inserting specific codes. It's very difficult for one of these to stump you. If you forget a code there's a handy log you can pull up at any time that stores all the puzzle related notes inside of it. It is, ultimately, busywork.
After you finish the game, there are some bonus extras for you to look at. Most of it is the usual stuff you'd expect, like concept art. However, there's one particularly cool extra in the form of Ivan Branković's currently unreleased book The Uncommoner's Gene. It's a full 285-page novel set in the world of Lightstep, a fantastic companion piece for the game. I haven't read it yet, but it's hard to be upset about such a substantial bonus. Especially one set in a universe that I'm kind of coming to enjoy. It's probably one of the most unique rewards I've seen for finishing a game.
Lightstep Chronicles Review | Final Thoughts
While it may have had issues, I did enjoy spending my time in the world of Lightstep Chronicles. The fantastic world-building really makes me want to read both the comics and the aforementioned book I got. I wish the game's dialogue was easier to read, and I wish the puzzles didn't feel like lame busywork. Still, I do appreciate getting to stay on the Amarok for a little while. I'll be back for the next step in this chronicle.
TechRaptor reviewed Lightstep Chronicles on PC using a copy provided by the developer.
Lightstep Chronicles features some great characters and world building, but some lame puzzles and weird design choices drag it down.
- Great Characters and World Building
- Looks Fantastic
- Awesome Extras
- Lame Puzzles
- Tough to Read Dialogue Boxes
- No Choices