N.B.: writer was provided with a free Steam code for the game.
Event-D is a kinetic science fiction visual novel which offers more visually than narratively.
The central conflict of Event-D is a mysterious disaster that destroyed the first manned mission to Mars, sending all future missions into limbo as scientists the world over struggle to understand what exactly caused the failure. Years after the disaster event (aka Event-D), our main heroine Claire has been assigned to lead a team of humans and robots on a mission into space to first discover what exactly set off this disaster and then retrieve as much information as possible for the scientists back on Earth.
The most worthwhile design aspect of Event-D is Freedintale’s choice to use pre-rendered 3D scenes to tell its story. Normally visual novels utilize 2D backgrounds and sprites that crossfade into different poses and expressions (though in more recent releases the sprites might be animated just enough to blink or speak). Visual novels tend to have a limited number of backgrounds because art is time-consuming and costly; as such, you’ll typically have a series of basic set pieces that represent a distinct location (school, bedroom, etc) but remain stationary regardless of where the characters are in-scene or what’s happening in the story at that point. For example, normally whether a VN’s characters are cooking dinner, deep cleaning the cabinets, or simply standing around a kitchen to chat, I would expect the same background. It’s a perfectly good visual aid to establish where you are in universe and merely leaves the finer details of a scene up to your imagination.
Event-D, on the other hand, presents each scene with a unique perspective, showing the room from a new angle as though you are physically moving through the area and giving a more detailed presentation of its story. The artist took pains to not only detail, say, the hallway leading to the sleeping quarters on the Arcana 2 ship, but allowed movement and rotation of your point of view to show the hallway from different angles, in different lighting, and with different people strolling down the corridor. I can honestly say that out of all the sci-fi VNs I’ve read before, Event-D provided the best visuals and gave me the most detailed picture of its world.
This visual detailing carries over to the humans and robots as well. Characters in the vast majority of visual novels have a limited number of sprites to portray a limited set of emotions or reactions, because again, art takes time and money. The pre-rendered scenes of Event-D show a wide variety of movement and poses for every character, and although the gestures and expressions are somewhat comically exaggerated at times (think of the models you’d see if you paused old 3D animated features like Jimmy Neutron or the original Shrek) it felt more alive than most of the VNs I’ve read so far this year. Event-D absolutely understands the finer aspects of visual storytelling and utilizes them to its advantage. As much as I liked the detailing in the backgrounds and character models, however, the story left something to be desired.
Let me start by saying that the actual plot of Event-D isn’t the problem. I enjoyed the mystery of trying to unravel what happened to the crew of Arcana 1, who were supposed to lead the first manned mission to Mars and then suddenly disappeared in the void of space without any kind of reasonable explanation. There’s no scientific model or theory that can satisfactorily explain what happened to the original crew, which helps carry tension throughout most of the story. Although the men and women of Arcana 2 hope to find an answer on their mission and finally make some sense of this tragedy, you as a reader spend the majority of Event-D concerned that they’re walking into an incredibly dangerous situation for which they have neither adequate preparations to ward off additional misfortune nor a contingency plan that could save them in the event of a similar disaster befalling this crew. To a lesser extent you also have the staple sci-fi conflict of robots and humans working together, exasperated by the fact that the lone survivor of the original tragedy was a robot with near-human intelligence and whom some suspect of playing a crucial part of the Arcana 1 disaster. From a meta standpoint, that much of the story is delightful. It’s the actual technical aspect of writing which causes Event-D to fall short.
Event-D was not originally written in English, a fact that I assumed after 10 minutes of reading and confirmed with a quick check on the Steam page. The translation wasn’t as borked as, say, Pastry Lovers or Gaokao, but there were numerous hiccups in grammar which immediately indicated that the writing had been translated and edited by non-native speakers. There was nothing too horrendous, but rather numerous small mistakes here and there like bungling an idiom or trying to verb a noun in a way that English speakers simply wouldn’t do. It was often enough to interrupt the narrative flow, like a person trying to drive a stickshift and not fully understanding how to use the clutch to help shift gears so the vehicle keeps starting and stopping.
Furthermore, there were moments where it felt like the writer had written the script before they saw the onscreen visuals and then made no attempt to edit down the writing to better fit the scene. An example that occurred early on in Event-D was a scene where the screen showed a man crossing the room to stand by the window, and the text box at the bottom of the screen still felt the need to explicitly state that he was walking across the room to stand by that window. Normally in visual novels this is something the writers need to do, because most VNs do not have the art assets to show a person carrying out that action, meaning the writer has to narrate it instead. But Event-D specifically goes to the trouble of portraying every little minute change of a person’s facial expression or adjusting their posture in the seat; of course the audience will see the man crossing the room, you don’t need to spell it out. Having the writing directly state the action when the visuals have already portrayed it is redundant. You’ll see this issue throughout the rest of Event-D, whether it’s specifying “Claire asked” even though she’s the only person on screen and clearly doing the speaking or perhaps telling me that a person is staring out the window when I can clearly see them doing that already. It feels like the plot of Event-D was originally designed for a traditional novel and then poorly modified for a VN, which is unfortunate because the story actually has some fantastic moments of grief or humor mired down in unnecessary narration.
Besides this, the writing itself has trouble with pacing. Event-D is divided into multiple chapters, and often it feels like the writer didn’t know how to properly transition from the end of one chapter to the beginning of another. You know how fanfiction writers have a tendency to close their scenes by, say, having a character suddenly exit the room or simply cutting off a scene while people are still in the middle of eating a meal? Event-D is replete with those moments. There was a chapter that featured the crew members sitting around a table to discuss the possibilities concerning what might have happened to Arcana 1 (which stands as one of my favorite moments in the story), and the scene ends abruptly with the characters suddenly finishing their chat and dispersing back throughout the ship in two lines of writing. It’s like the writer felt the need to have a proper ending to this moment and wouldn’t settle for a simple fade to black transition, or at least drawing out the closing section a bit more so that the wrap-up wouldn’t feel so abrupt. I wish that the story hadn’t been so beholden to chapter divisions, because then we might have seen more natural transitions between moments in the story, rather than concrete beginning, middle, and end shots for every scene.
With all this being said, I enjoyed Event-D. The writing was clunky at times, but the story itself intrigued me enough to keep reading all the way through to the end. I loved the camaraderie between most of the astronauts and will always praise a visual novel for including more minority characters, which Event-D did. The detailed work and effort that went into the visuals is deserving of praise, and I’m keeping in mind that this is Freedintale’s first release. None of the problems I encountered in Event-D are beyond fixing with a little more practice at writing and editing.
Event-D is available on Steam. If you like sci-fi visual novels, I’d recommend picking it up.