Thursday, June 20, 2024

Visual Novel Love Shore Packs a Cyberpunk Punch

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Cyberpunk-noir visual novel Love Shore from Perfect Garbage released today and is packed with action and thrills. The game stars an entirely LGBTQ cast, eight romanceable characters and routes, over 24 endings, and a whole lot of secrets.

I had a spectacular time diving deep into the game and working my way towards as many of the endings as possible and can honestly say that this is the single best long-form visual novel that I have played in a very long time.

Love Shore follows Farah and Sam, two very different S. Humans, a non-aging and tough form of new life created by a now defunct company, Life S. Incorporated after a fertility crisis reduced the number of children in the city.

While their minds, physical appearances, and personalities were developed in consideration of their parents (and their DNA), all 100 have artificial bodies requiring updates as they “grow”.

In the game, you play as either Farah or Sam who served out their incarcerations together. Farah, a veteran born and raised in Love Shore, is trying to re-adapt to civilian life while Sam, born to one of the wealthier families, turned to crime after his parents had a biological child and started to neglect him.

Due to Life S. Incorporated going bankrupt, both Farah and Sam have not received updates to “age” them further and look like they’re in their late twenties. The other S. Humans are in similar positions, which did make me wonder what the “oldest” S. Humans look like now.

Unfortunately for both Farah and Sam, who are just trying to live their lives, they’re both pulled into a war between the gods who live and rule over Love Shore. Over the course of five days, regardless of who you play as and pursue, you must work to figure out what is going on in Love Shore leading to a number of mysteries.

Unlike a lot of visual novels where all the routes lead to the same general ending with tweaks for each route, Love Shore genuinely has distinctive endings because each route leads Farah or Sam to completely different points in their lives. You can choose to forgo romance (or romantic sexual) outcomes entirely and stay platonic with each character. You just won’t see the CGs.

Now if you decide to treat the person terribly….good luck!

Even routes that overlap between Farah and Sam, like a heist, have different perspectives and reveals based on who you play as.

If you’ve played the demo you know that Imani, Farah’s doctor who works with S. Humans for their care, was MIA and Farah wanted to find her. Her disappearance (and later reappearance) is key to multiple plots across Farah and Sam, and the same can be said of really all the characters, especially since Farah and Sam know nearly all the same people.

Additionally, Love Shore has a phone mechanic where you choose to send texts. The phone also logs your character traits of courage, strength, and intelligence, infusing a RPG stat system imperative to moving forward in each route.

Interactive text options appear in all the routes at different times keeping it organic instead of predictable.

Fortunately, the game tells you outright which stat has gained a point based on the choices that you’ve made, so you can strategize as you learn more about each character and route. You’re also told if a dialogue option is locked what stat it needs.

I personally love this type of mechanic because if I have to guess at how to gain whatever is needed in a visual novel, I stop having fun. Don’t tell me what to do but give me enough clues so that I can figure it out, which Love Shore does beautifully.

You also can’t guess at which dialogue option will give you which stat which further increases the challenge. What you think might be about strength is about courage, and what you think is about courage is actually about intelligence.

The stats bring us back to the gods warring over territory in the city, which is the overarching main story even though, like I said before, each route has a number of reveals and mysteries to solve. In fact, many of the most shocking or impactful reveals are actually past the point of the extended demo, in day four and five of the game.

In Love Shore, the better your relationship is with a character, the more likely you are to learn very interesting things about them, which is very realistic (and get more of those sweet CGs). Sometimes in narrative games, you end up learning about characters early on so that you can deal with the bad guys or get to the “good” end or whatever the case may be.

Maya when you first meet her! You can also see the nighttime UI.

Likewise, the better your stats are overall, the more you learn about the Gods and the mysteries around Love S. Incorporated. Who exactly is responsible for it? What caused the fertility crisis? What would happen if someone happened to solve the problem but then disappeared? These are just some of the many questions that are answered throughout, leading to more questions.

Though I don’t want to claim that I’ve found every god, there are at least eleven that you’ll meet throughout the game, some in each route, and others only in specific ones.

One of the most successful aspects of Love Shore is the dedication to truly inclusive writing and worldbuilding. There’s Persephone, Ganesha, Innana, and Anansi of course, but there are also gods from all over the world like Zurvan, Coatlicue, Eshu, and Sakhr (also known as Asmodeus). Add in the absolutely gorgeous illustrations of their real forms, and it’s clear the team did their research and put their own spin on them.

The Gods are hot, but they’re probably going to kill me so I’m looking respectfully.

Similarly, the CGs in the game, of which there are 140 (the most that I’ve ever seen) are varied in tone and in style, which adds another level of depth to an already brimming story.

When I reviewed the extended demo, I was struck by the dedication to a number of topics like reproductive rights, disability, queerness, capitalism and power, racism, and so much more. The full game does not disappoint.

Hilariously enough, of all the games that I’ve played that would be great to have a codex, Love Shore doesn’t have one. I just took notes instead, but there is just so much happening between the routes that it truly feels like eight different experiences (never mind if you die or the many bad endings).

Another cool mechanic is that Farah and Sam can scan people that they meet (though not the Gods) and learn their age and other information. It’s a cool onscreen piece that further highlights what makes S. Humans different.

Farah and Maya standing across from one another. Above the dialogue box is a rectangle that states Maya's name, age, and occupation.
Did I spend a portion of my first playthrough just trying this on everyone? Yes.

Combined with the gorgeous art and music this is seriously the best visual novel I’ve played all year. It was such an incredible experience that I reached out to Son M. and Emmett Nahil, the producers and narrative designers of the game, to learn more a little bit more about their writing and development of the game which you can see below.

Since I read fast, I’ve already logged 14 hours in attempts to find all the CGs, but one route should take approximately 2 hours promising at least 16 hours (and more) of immersion in the game!

How did you two develop the storylines in Love Shore?

The storylines in Love Shore were developed with each route encompassing a kind of transformation, between the companion and the player character, and within the world itself. Each route represents different types of character growth or character decay, and how that transformation changes the world around them, via the player’s choices. Each different companion has different areas of expertise and characters with whom they interact, and we built out the storylines from there!

Each of you tackled a character and their various routes, but was there a lot of discussion as the game started coming together on how the characters would interact? Sam and Farah mostly know all the same people when the game first starts, which makes learning about their independent relationships really interesting!

Yes, definitely. We collaborated heavily at the early stages of each route, and both were checking in as we finished each ‘day’ in the script. However, with a limited cast, we thought it would be even less realistic that during a given route, that they wouldn’t interact with similar people or run into each other in similar spaces. As we wrote each route, we would check in on what the other character would be doing during any given route, and try and pull those interactions out as opportunities for humor, or tension, or just interesting gameplay. 

How did you two decide which gods would be included in the game and which ones would get a true form?

We selected gods that had an interesting history and symbology, which might be less commonly seen in games. For example, even though Persephone does appear, we wanted to avoid only using Greek or Roman gods. We also didn’t want to pick only one ‘true’ set of gods or one entity for the game, in terms of implying that only one worldview would be the true one.

What was the process for deciding on which scenes would receive a CG?

Generally, we wanted to pull impactful beginnings, endings, and romance scenes in as CGs. We were lucky enough to work with a variety of amazing artists, and that means we’re pretty proud of the CGs that made it into the game. 

What would you like the players to take away from the game?

We’d definitely like players to come away from Love Shore with a willingness to question what you’re willing to do for the ones you love, and why. Keep your eye out for future announcements coming from Perfect Garbage– we’re working on something really fun. 

You can play Love Shore now and keep up with Perfect Garbage on Twitter!

Love Shore
10 Reviewer
Visual Appeal10
Love Shore is a brilliant visual novel that doesn't hold back and is absolutely worth the time.
Images and review copy courtesy of Love Shore

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