Friday, July 19, 2024

The Divine Speaker Challenges Players to Defy Destiny

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What if everything you ever believed was a lie? A common plot in media, The Divine Speaker from Two and a Half Studios takes this premise and runs with it in a visual novel with beautiful art, delightful characters, distinctive voice acting and music, and an engrossing story for anyone who likes narrative focused games.

I loved playing the demo in January and was really excited to receive a copy for review! With three routes, and the opportunity to witness at least two other romances play out, this game is incredibly detailed and has a depth I’ve seen rarely in shorter games.

In The Divine Speaker, an 18+ boys love visual novel, literally nothing is at it seems at first glance. Everyone in Aurelia Cavella believes that their town and their people are all that exists on the planet. Here, the birth of a child brings many things, including The Judgement where The Divine Speaker determines the child’s destiny from the day that they are born until the day they die.

You play as Raen who was abandoned as a child after receiving a poor judgement from the Speaker and is later kicked out of Aurelia Cavella entirely. While Raen/the player try to figure out what the heck is going on, he’s got his hands full with three love interests and a cast of delightfully chaotic and diverse characters.

Leos, a literal assassin sent after Rae, Cyne, the rich guy who lies a lot, Fawn the wholesome animal lover, Illran and Veras, two men travelling together who are also together, and Nox, the young heir of the influential Murano family all appear within the first portion of the game. Plus there’s the Speaker himself who is definitely shifty…

Redhaired man looking to Raen, a shorter brown haired young man. Behind Raen is Cyne, a tanner blond haired man. Fawn, a blue haired man stands behind Cyne and looks to the other characters in the divine speaker
Left to right: Leos, Raen, Cyne, and Fawn.

What I loved from the demo is integral to the full game itself. Each character regardless of their connection to Raen is a fully realized person who I want to know more about, even if we only see them for short periods of time.

Many visual novels center the interactions between the main character and their love interests, but here, everyone is simultaneously learning about one another and the larger world around them, just as Raen and the player does.

This approach to the story provides a depth that’s sometimes missing in other game. It also provides for a lot of banter between characters and keeps the player engaged, especially on the three romantic routes where new dialogue breaks up a lot of the common route’s information.

One of the best parts of the game is the dedication to helping keep all that information organized in a codex that logs everything you learn about the characters, settings, lore, and mysteries. And woah, are there mysteries.

The Divine Speaker and Defying Fate

While the central plot of the game focuses on Raen learning that everything he knows is a lie and trying to find out more about a man that he believes can help him back in Aurelia Cavella, the story spins out in fascinating ways as Raen meets each subsequent character and then as the four meet others a group.

All these meetings and journeys take place against gorgeously drawn backgrounds that change as the day progresses, drawing the player even deeper into the story.

Without spoiling the story, the real focus on this game is a musing on good versus evil, destiny versus free will, belief versus knowledge, and what people do with the choices that they have. I found the plot particularly compelling because the team really teases out the various perspectives on these questions and how one decision early in life might play out decades later.

There are some coincidences that could have felt too on the nose, but in The Divine Speaker all the connections between the various characters feel well-earned. So well-earned that at certaint points of my playthrough I sounded like a rowdy audience at a movie yelling “BETRAYAL?!” a time or two.

The game elicits such a reaction because each love interest (really every single person) is a well-rounded character. After playing through one route, you won’t feel that another was tacked on. Leos, Cyne, and Fawn all have captivating histories and connections with other characters that players can’t begin to imagine.

The other couples, two of which I won’t name as it would spoil the reveals, are in even a short period of time, provided complicated backstories too! Though Illras and Veras are absolutely my favorites and I would love a sequel with them post-game.

Which, Veras is blind and one of multiple disabled characters that you meet due to a plot reason that I won’t give away, but the disabilities are never written as a burden for any of the characters. They are just one of aspect of these various characters’ lives which is so refreshing to see in a genre that still has issues with body diversity and disability representation.

As a BL visual novel, the focus is on male characters. However, there are multiple well-written women who aren’t there only to prop up Raen or the other MCs, which isn’t always the case in visual novels, so I was super excited to meet them throughout my first playthrough. In fact, there are two that I really want a sequel about as well!

That depth of character and story is difficult to create in a game that is about 15 to 18 hours for the first run-through, depending on reading speed.

Personally, I would play with the voice acting on because the cast is absolutely solid especially a certain bad guy (or more…), and I actually played the entire game with the music on because all of the tracks were that aesthetically pleasing.

Two and a Half Studios was also thoughtful about accessibility and various audiences. For example there’s an option for streamers to toggle that makes the NSFW art blurred so that they don’t have to go back to deal with it when uploading their videos or streaming live. Another option allows for turning certain character voices on and off or turning them all off until the full voice patch is added.

For avid visual novel players, there’s the choice to skip all the dialogue even if before you start the game or to skip at certain checkpoints. Finally, self-voicing is available, which reads everything on screen including settings so that someone who cannot see can still enjoy the game.

After playing so many visual novels in the last two years, The Divine Speaker is now in my top five games and I think anyone who likes plotty fantastical stories should get it right away!

You can grab The Divine Speaker on Steam or Itch for $29.99 which is a great price for a game with so much replayability and more voice acting to add.

Images and review copy courtesy of Two and a Half Studios

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