What makes a game a game?
I ask this because Winter’s Daydream has just launched on consoles and PS Vita, and it contains almost no interactivity whatsoever. Is it a game? Does it matter?
A visual novel without choices or branching paths, it’s a linear experience progressed by either pressing A to move onto the next section of text or by turning autoplay on, which moves everything along for you. There is no gameplay. So, I guess I’m reviewing the story.
The protagonist is a boy called Yuu, coming back from Tokyo to visit his family. Yuu has been burnt out by the usual. People, trains, neon. He has a difficult relationship with his family, too. His sister Otoko is constantly sparing with him, wondering why he doesn’t care more about her life. He escapes to his grandmother’s house to get away from it all. It’s here, while wishing in a shooting star, that his grandmother turns into a teenager.
Now I can tell what you’re thinking. No. This doesn’t feature anything icky. It’s a wholesome tale about a grandmother wanting to be young again, hoping to visit a temple to say goodbye to the man that she loved and lost.
The themes are quite nice, actually. It’s just a shame that’s it’s undermined by clunky writing. There is a lot of over-explanation, using a hundred words for what could be said in ten. We also got irritated by the constant references to Japan and all things Japanese, as if the author wanted to show off everything they know.
Then there are the visuals. They’re typical anime-inspired visual novel fare, but they lack almost any animation. As an example, when wishing on a shooting star, the star doesn’t shoot. It’s just a static image of a starry sky. There’s also an elongated bit about what’s happening on the television, which merely shows the image of a blank screen.
We realise budgets are tight, and animation is expensive, but it really detracted from our experience and made the entire thing feel even more static. In fact, the visuals don’t really add much to the experience at all.
Fans of the genre, or those chasing easy achievement points, may well get something out of this, but it absolutely shouldn’t be your first introduction to visual novels.