I have often thought that a lot of visual novels put their best foot forward, and then don’t offer a whole lot else. Nothing more than meets the eye. Lotus Reverie: First Nexus is the exact opposite of this.
After a clumsy beginning, too lore heavy, bombarded with text, endlessly having the world explained and philosophize to you, I’m not sure if I would have powered through the first few hours if it hadn’t been for this review. Yet despite the initial annoyance, every hour is eventually rewarded. What begins as mundanity is actually lulling you into a false sense of security, entertaining me in ways I never saw coming. It has growing pains, but this really is a gem of the genre.
The first few hours are your standard affair: meet the cast of anime characters and learn about the world. Yet bit by bit Lotus Reverie: First Nexus opens itself up, and shows itself to be a worthy addition to the genre—but one that could do with being a bit braver.
The interesting premise starts wrapped in a mystery, as your character, Cinque, wakes up in a hospital bed. An omnipresent voice ambiguously explains the world of the game, and then walks you through the combat. This strange sequence ends with you defeating a “woman in white”, who isn’t overly fond of you for some reason, before waking up in a castle.
Already taking in a lot both lore and combat wise, the tutorial period isn’t finished. Over the course of another hour or so, you’re introduced to the initial cast—Thistle, Rose, Violet, Helio, Rue, and Columbine—in what initially seems to be a lighthearted tale about Cinque getting her memories back, suffering from amnesia.
Some games revel in being a slow burn, but Lotus Reverie seems to stumble through it a bit. Even if it is well worth the wait in the end, it is a worry that some might switch off if they aren’t already used to sifting through dialogue for hours on end. And yet I can adamantly say it is more than worth it, rewarding you with a gripping, tearjerker of a story.
The aim of the game is to survive, not hoards of enemies attacking you, but the tension in the castle you all live in. As you’re told at the end of the prologue, a mysterious “incident” has taken place, and now everyone is confined to the town of Maya. If you try and leave, you die. And that’s not even the worst bit: ever since the incident, everyone has been able to create their own “Tulpa”—a human being created as they see fit. Tulpas have a limited lifespan, and can only survive by killing other Tulpas. This means the local population is dwindling, almost exclusively down to the castle crew.
This interesting concept, which is introduced a bit clumsily, is amazingly utilized throughout the story. Despite the nightmarish reality, you become wrapped up in this cutesy home-life with your castle family. Hell, you even have a girly sleepover with them, forgetting that any of them could be an apocalyptic clone looking to kill you. The false sense of security is warm and cozy, and having the rug pulled out from under you when your story snaps you back to reality is a real gut-punch. Sure, the lore is absolutely convoluted, much like the game’s title, but over a few hours, all the time spent trying to understand what is actually going on becomes worth it.
As a visual novel, Lotus Reverie is superb, and the survival mechanics fit in well to increase how engrossed you are. Time is always passing in-game, through either training in combat and spells, spending time with fellow castle-dwellers, exploring the world to recover your memories, or advancing the story in the main events. If you don’t reach plot-milestones before the tension bar is full, it’s a game over. In truth, the tension was never too much of a threat, but that didn’t stop the periodic reminders that everyone is angry with each other from being a major kick up the ass to get the ball rolling.
In that vein, it serves a purpose, but it isn’t much of a survival. It would have been interesting if individual characters had tension bars as well as the whole castle, so you would have to juggle keeping specific people happy against the mood of the whole group, much more like other survival titles. However, this is still a good implementation for the first entry in the Lotus Reverie series, as it does force you to decide which characters to spend more time with, and that will affect how you feel about them in the novel.
As for the other obvious survival element, the combat, I don’t have much to say since it is easy enough (and probably better) to avoid. It is turn-based, but you and the enemy carry out your turn simultaneously. While it’s a neat idea, the thought “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. Traditional turn-based would have been fine enough, especially since the combat already has its own quirks with the stamina system, spells, and allies sharing the same pool of health. My characters would also keep making moves I didn’t tell them to make, so something here needs some ironing out.
Thankfully, it no way cheapens the experience to turn combat off. Instead, you get a fight scene described to you in painstaking and emotional detail, which much better suits the tone of the visual novel.
Usually in this genre, it’s a criticism to say that decisions didn’t have much of an impact. But that isn’t really why decisions are in Lotus Reverie, or at least that’s how it comes across. Now and then the game throws a decision at you, everything from picking out something in the lost-and-found, to convincing someone not to kill you. Sometimes they can affect dialogue, but often, there is only one right answer and the rest result in your death and a reload.
As cheap as it might sound, this has the effect of finding things out about the characters at your own pace. As you fail to talk the character down from pushing you into a lake, you learn just how unreasonable she can be, but if you got it right the first time, you can pat yourself on the back that you were paying enough attention to sus her out. Sometimes the decision is little more than a jolt to make sure you’re paying attention, which is ultimately what separates this from being a manga; finding things about the cast in your own was changes how you feel about them from another player.
The best way I can sum up how I feel about Lotus Reverie is to share a cringy little story, about how engrossed I got. At first, it was a bit of a slog. I really wasn’t gripped and didn’t get the point of it all. Then, on my third day of playing, something happened in the story that compelled me to text my partner to remind him I love him.
A bit melodramatic? In hindsight, sure. But when you get lost in this novel, you’re rewarded with a story that is oozing with heart when it wants to. And hey, I must be pretty fond of the game to share something as embarrassing as that just to sing its praises.
Lotus Reverie: First Nexus definitely needs more guts, and hopefully it will get them in the future installments the developer has mentioned, but it already has all the heart it needs.
TechRaptor reviewed Lotus Reverie: First Nexus on PC using a copy provided by the developer.
- Engaging, Unpredictable Story
- Heartfelt, Emotional Writing
- Just Enough Player Control to Suck You In
- Slowest of Slow Burns
- Easy to Ignore Combat