I am going to confess that I wanted to look at this game for one reason alone: the emphasis of the main character being gay. It is certainly not because I mind this, heck I am bi myself, but I mind that it is used as a selling point, yet it focuses on “saving the town from certain doom”. I can only speak from my point of view, but I do not see a reason to emphasize one’s sexuality, unless the sole reason is to tell about the struggles or interesting tidbits about this that you might not be aware of. For me, this seems as valid as if they emphasized that the main character was straight, trans, or anything else, and I would much rather have sexuality be just that: your sexuality and nothing more.
However, I might have been spoiled after the beautiful A Normal Lost Phone, which told a fantastic story through interesting means, and made the people you read about believable, the story intriguing, and the message strong. It really was a phenomenal tale, and it did not emphasize a villain or such; just people who did not understand each other with clear reasons as to why. So, is this another step at telling an emotional, yet important story? Or are we just getting into some Yaoi?
When you can’t tell a story
We follow the story of Alexander, a young gay man, who we are told has had a struggling childhood and eventually left his home-town with his sister in order to seek out a new home for them both. Unfortunately, they got separated, but Alexander came upon a small town where a woman named Nora took him in as her own. While everything seems nice and relaxing, there is something strange and unnerving going on within this town.
The picture above shows the first line you are met with, and it sadly does not get better. We can actually start here, as the story is told after the introduction through tons of dialogue, instead of using visual means, which would have been okay, if it was at least well-written. Unfortunately, the game is chock-full of spelling errors and conversations from people that are either strange or unfitting. Some parts can come of as forced, such as when an older lady talks like a teenager, someone just suddenly orders you to help with stacking the bookcase, or someone tries to justify a simple message with no good story to back it up, making it unimpactful.
This also makes two other aspects of the game suffer tremendously: the pacing and the character’s personality. The transition between humoristic and serious moments are all over the place, with some witty commentaries often coming of as insensitive instead of charming because of this, and no character’s dialogue sticks out. There are certainly defined backgrounds to each villager, which is an admirable attempt at making this small town feel grander story-wise. However, the issues they have, are rudimentary and forcefully resolved in the end-part of the game. Because of this, you never see their struggles evolve or get a good connection to them as characters, making these stories lovely concepts, with poor execution and pacing.
This also holds true for the overall plot revolving Alexander and the fate of this town. Let’s start with the selling-point: Alex’ struggles of being gay. It only comes forth in the early game where we are only told about his troublesome youth, and in the climax where we have a flashback. Because of this, the aspect of the main character being gay, is just forced upon the player. You have to sit through dialogues where you have to feel bad about the choices you make, without it contributing to the story, which is just shameful.
The worst part is that none of the choices you have to make contain consequences or feel remotely worthwhile to make you connect more to the character. There is a neat twist with the connection between Jake and Alex, but that is all their connection has going for it, as their story together is on the level of someone who just discovered what Yaoi is and wanted to make something similar. I am sorry, but there is no originality or even personality attached to the characters or their development.
Then we have the overarching plot revolving around saving this town, and it is as bland as it ever could be. It revolves around books, which seems like a forced way to make you connect with the main character on a personal level, because books are cool. Either way, the story does not really evolve, just suddenly gets resolved or even put aside for the romance. The main characters can save the world in some way, and while I can’t say anything more because of spoilers, the reason behind this destruction has so many plot-holes, no one is able to deal with it because they feel useless, and Alex effortlessly helps.
If you have sensed a theming here, it is that everything feels forced. The emotions, dialogue, romance, the danger the town is under, and even the characters. I will give the game credit that the side-elements have interesting stories and that they tried to provide it with some nice messages that are important, but they mean nothing when the execution is this poorly done. The only emotion I got was anger for how lackluster elements could be, and tiresome when every dialogue was a drag to get through, which made a game beatable within 3 hours, feel thrice the length. My local kiosk has better housewife porn than this.
Story Score: 2/10
Stack these books!
So, this is a story-driven title, which is not an uncommon take on the RPG-maker formula. However, while it is fine that a game wants to focus on you being told a story, the interactivity must either give some form of challenge or at least make the player connected to this world. Newfound Courage, tries to provide some objectives for the players to do, but all except for a single one felt like a complete chore.
Most of the objectives will give you clear a direction on where to go and are always kept in a journal. However, since the town is so small, there is really not much going on. You will be forced to gather or find specific items or people 80% of the game, and all are just tiresome and short-lived, making them feel just sort of there. Yes, most are just fetch-quests with no substance. Outside of this, you have puzzles that a toddler could figure out, stealth-segments that are a chore, and even a maze that I would be surprised if anyone got lost in.
The only puzzle I liked, was one towards the end where you had to put important orbs in the correct spot, to alter the area, which was a good, if easy brain-teaser. And while I have no clue why I cannot use my D-pad for the controller, the keyboard alone is a decent setup, and I did not even need the mouse. Sadly, there is nothing here worthwhile for interactivity, neither for atmosphere or challenge. The most immersive element i did, was to scroll through the text in all three chapters of the game, as well as the epilogue.
Gameplay Score: 1/10
Just a regular town
That is not to say this game looks unappealing, as the colors are strong, attention to shading is great, and the characters, while simple in design, are nicely rendered. The sad thing about the visuals, however, is how bland it is. There is only a small town, their buildings, and three minor locations that, while they create some diversity, don’t last long and only one of them becomes memorable due to its more magical aspect. The game also lacks details, such as having individual words appear when a typing-sound is played when introducing a new chapter, and character interactions and expressions are limited. I do at least like how Alexander writes down his objectives in a book in order for the player to keep track, but that is it.
The soundtrack fares far better, thankfully. Most songs contain piano as the main instrument, and all are lovely to listen too. The songs are usually well utilized and fit with the events that are going on, but some are too strong for moments that try too hard to come off as whimsical, for example, making them awkward or even humorous. However, while they don’t always 100% match, the music is overall lovely and even the added chip-tunes have a neat beat to it. The game clearly did not lie when it said it was better with audio, especially with the wonderful end-song. If anything, this game’s soundtrack is worth considering a purchase.
Presentation Score: 5/10
I would rather go read something else
While I stand by this, I can at least give compliments to a couple of cute achievements, despite that they do not do anything in-game wise. There are at least a couple of side-quests in the game, and while some are adorable in reasons for why they exist, the hidden lore books you get for doing them do not amount to anything. Not even for a chuckle.
Extra Score: 2/10
Maybe this is a story for those who struggle and need an escape, maybe it is directed to a younger audience, or maybe I just completely missed something, as I wanted to try to understand the huge amount of praise it got. Sadly, for me, this was a forced story that lacked focus, character, and anything interesting otherwise. If you enjoyed it, I am happy for you, but I cannot recommend this to anyone, especially not as interactive media due to the poor implementation of it. It is at its best bland and at its worst tiresome and annoying. I’d rather recommend you check out 2064: Read Only Memories, A Normal Lost phone, Moebius or one of the novels by Jane Jensen. Happy Pride Month.