Fallstreak is a heartbreaking story about the struggles of human survival and connection.
At the beginning, the visual novel follows Adelise, a young girl living in the idyllic land of Socotrine. Socotrine has been isolated from the rest of the world for as long as anyone can remember, being surrounded by a mist that invariably causes those who encounter it to lose their minds and die. With the exception of a single expedition of refugees from the outside world, Socotrine has always remained cut off from whatever lies beyond their borders. Every character we encounter within Fallstreak, then, is someone who has grown up with the terror and harsh reality of permanent isolation as a core part of their daily lives.
I use the word terror to describe isolation because that’s exactly how Fallstreak portrays it. The story begins with Adelise wandering around a dream world of perpetual spring where she is completely alone, save for an invisible and incorporeal presence that she’s named Tubby. Adelise occasionally enters this world when she falls asleep and then remains trapped there for ages with no obvious means of escape. It’s never made clear how long she becomes stuck in this other world, but it’s long enough that she feels with absolute certainty that her physical age in the waking world is far behind her actual age when taking time in this world into account. Horrifyingly, as long as she remains locked in this world, Adelise is clearly aware of her situation and perfectly miserable; there is no one to talk to, nothing to explore because the whole world loops around on itself, and her only form of entertainment is a library filled to the brim with horribly depressing books. While in the dream world Adelise is morose and listless, pondering whether such a lonely existence without any sort of surprise or change could ever be worth it even as a god. Eventually she returns to the waking world though, and her personality does a complete 180.
Surrounded by her schoolmates and kindly townsfolk, Adelise becomes a vibrant and happy young woman with an impish side to her. She alternates between wanting to tease the other children around her and being fiercely protective of them when the situation calls for it. Her days at school or in town are comical and upbeat, and showcase the happiest moments of the story. As soon as she separates from them and returns home, however, the melancholic mood immediately comes back with a vengeance.
Adelise clearly has trouble communicating with her father in any kind of meaningful way, and her mother died shortly after Adelise was born. Nights at home often find Adelise quietly reading books from her mother’s collection to stave off loneliness for a time, though they ultimately fail to provide any meaningful or lasting relief. It’s painfully obvious that Adelise is unhappy with life and can’t stand being alone; her happiest moments stem from her being around other people and engaging in some activity that can distract from an incessant internal dialogue with her personal demons. When she actively feels a connection to the people around her, then her pain is lessened because she feels as though she’s serving some purpose or actively working towards a higher goal. The message is simple; lack of connection to the people around you can have dire consequences for your own mental and emotional well-being.
It’s not just Adelise who needs these connections to thrive. Most of the relationships between other characters in the VN can be defined by what kind of relationships (if any) they are able to form with the people around them. Lerona is often defined by the fact that she is an orphan acting as surrogate elder sister to the other orphans around her. Erwina the blind student is accurately aware of how empty the classroom seems right now with only twelve students, and takes great pains to seat herself near others at lunch or prank the school master (her own father) because this will lessen her awareness of the void in their school. Even the stories the children are raised on orbit around concepts of maintaining relationships and seeking connections with others. One in-universe fable, for instance, revolves around the last person on earth trying to make a sentient doll for company and then killing herself with it upon realizing that because it was only a toy; she was still alone and merely talking to herself. On the other hand, an attempt by a young boy to spare an outsider at the expense of his village’s welfare results in him viciously being murdered for choosing a personal relationship over the good of the many.
Humans depend on socialization and companionship for survival, and yet these very bonds all too often serve as our own doom. Who among us hasn’t made an incredibly poor life choice in the hopes of defending someone we love? Who hasn’t forced themselves to go out on the town with friends even feeling exhausted beyond all reason, because fear of losing those bonds is worse than a few hours of suffering through insipid socializing? These stories in Fallstreak are so painfully direct that one might mistake them for Aesop’s fables, and yet we can recognize ourselves in these characters to an extent because we understand the desire within ourselves to be loved and connected juxtaposed against the fear that no one can or will.
Fallstreak doesn’t pull any punches in the moments where people fail to connect. The VN is never so subtle as to let a missed connection be left at an awkward silence in conversation or a character fumbling for the right apology. More often, the reader encounters characters verbally lashing out in hysterics, being left alone to wallow in a hell of their own making, or succumbing to incredibly violent bloodshed. For those of you sensitive to violence, I will warn you that Fallstreak is not for you. There were graphic descriptions of torture and one of the CGs was a scene from the lynch mob burning their chosen scapegoat to death after a calamity known as the Fire of Collapse befell the land. The writer wants you to look at the world and understand that so many of the truly awful and wicked things which happen therein are a direct or nearly-direct result of people failing to communicate with and protect one another. We suffer the most when you shut ourselves off from the people around us, closing ranks and seeking a witch to burn in times of tribulation because an “us vs. them” mindset is so much easier to latch onto, even if the consequences will ultimately be worse for everyone involved (very few of these in-universe stories have happy endings, in case that needed to be mentioned).
Yet even with all these atrocities going on, the VN still shows us people who are playing, cooking, working and growing as people. As much as the characters suffer within their own lives and minds, rarely do they completely give up on trying to enjoy what parts of life they can. Adelise may feel no connection to her mother because she never knew her (and so, to an extent, that makes her not real to Adelise), but she constantly showers a naive girl named Noleta with affection and kindness. Tris lost his voice in the Fire of Collapse and was nearly murdered when he was younger, but still finds the energy to engage with friends and plot nefarious schemes with his sister. The world is full of suffering, despair and death, yet people go on and try to do so with a smile.
I think that’s the true value of Fallstreak. It’s not the greatest VN in the world; there are several weird tense changes in the middle of scenes, the prose was so purple at times I could’ve repainted my bedroom with it and often the symbolism is so overt and on the nose that I couldn’t physically restrain my eyes from rolling. But at its core this is a story about trying to build bridges in a world that so often tries to burn them down and never learns how costly that can be. That in and of itself is worthwhile. We don’t always need stories with good people in them. Now more than ever, we need to be reading stories about horrible people doing truly awful things, and people deciding to fight against that by building and utilizing their own bonds of love.
Fallstreak is free on Steam and itch. Strong recommend.