Saturday, June 15, 2024

Solace State Muses on Cyberpunk Activism and Emotional Choices

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In 2021, I published an article on four LGBTQ forward visual novels I was really excited to see and Solace State: Emotional Cyberpunk Stories, one of the four, is finally out to play! It’s actually been out for a while but I, alas, have been writing my dissertation and preparing for a month abroad, so this is more of a first impressions piece. So far, from my first two hours of playing the game, Solace State is a truly unique visual novel experience focused on activism in community.

Solace State comes from Vivid Foundry, led by director and founder Tanya Kan out of a passion for diverse stories that engage people from all walks of live and encourages them to experiment. Kan writes from an academic perspective grounded in political science and cinema studies which is incredibly apparent in the game.

This sci-fi 3D cyberpunk visual novel follows Chloe, a young hacker who comes to her political awakening as she seeks her friends in a biotech surveillance society. A dynamic trip-hop and Kpop inspired soundtrack really helps to set a youthful yet tense atmosphere which I found myself loving during the demo. The story follows Chloe and Rebecca getting out of their old home to Abraxa City where we then jump forward to find out Rebecca has gone missing.

As Chloe looks for Rebecca, she finds out that there’s a military regime trying to control everyone, and she has to use her abilities to hack and work with other characters to save the day. As an iconohacker, she’s able to take on another person’s identification and find encrypted data at the top of someone’s thoughts.

Abraxa City has a tumultuous story, and connecting with the other characters is Chloe’s only hope in finding her best friend and mentor Rebecca using all of her skills and wits. As the player, you have choices of what actions Chloe will take and who to romance (if at all) as Chloe works with her friends to find out what’s really going on in Abraxa City.

An example of a choice point. If you click Chloe’s thoughts you can read her internal musings on the situation.

Romanceable characters include Torrent Tam, an Abraxan local and a hacker, Sueli, a community director for health services, and Alden, Chloe’s ex lover who now works for a biotech conglomerate (yikes). Torrent is kind and quiet but not so reserved that he falls into stereotypes about Asian men, while Sueli is very firm in her perspective on what must be done to fight the oppressors. Alden of course, as the one person from Chloe’s “past,” provides a very interesting perspective into her character and I am really interested to see what else we learn about her (and the others)!

And as you go through the game, you’re presented with backstory and lore on the walls of the buildings, moving through the game as if you have x-ray vision! It’s very compelling (and also could make you dizzy if you go too fast, so don’t be like me) and provides a whole lot of information for the player to take in while progressing.

It’s probably one of my only critiques of the game, actually. Less is more and at times it can get overwhelming just how much information is provided as Chloe works on learning more about the different characters in the game.

However, the unveiling of the locations to reveal story information is an incredible approach to telling the narrative and I especially enjoyed the East-Asian inspired metropolis.

navigating solace state visual novel
How cool is this?!

Overall, I really enjoyed my first foray into the game and am excited to see what will unfold as I learn more about Abraxa and the occupation by the military and biotech company. I do have to say though that Chloe, well she’s 22 and I’m almost 30 so that definitely impacted my experience playing the game.

I have numerous cousins her age or younger, my youngest brother turned 23 this year, and I TA’d for undergrads my first four years of my PhD, which means I spend a LOT of time with the YouthsTM and thus simultaneously found Chloe very realistic and also kind of naïve.

Now that’s not a bad thing! I think that Kan’s writing is very true to someone like Chloe. She, as a iconohacker, can change what she looks like, manipulate tech and other people, and do so much more and is also figuring out her sexuality and you know dealing with the whole, this city is shut down and things are not GreatTM part of her life.

In attempting to find her friend Rebecca, who she had fled their home with, and getting involved in a conspiracy, she has very particular views on how the world should work, and the player’s choices can lead to one of 38 endings. That’s a lot of endings!

Solace State also includes 31 hand drawn characters, three potential romances (including ace relationships), 3D cityscapes based on impressionism, the moody soundtrack I already described, and eight to fourteen hours of playtime (dependent on reading speed of course).

Chloe’s optimism will either feel very liberating when the world is quite literally on fire or feel trite, but I think Kan’s writing makes Chloe and the other characters and their choices realistic. I’m looking forward to finishing the game when I’m back home!

Grab Solace State now on Steam!

Images and review copy courtesy of Vivid Foundry

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