Developed By: Studio V
Published By: Leonardo Interactive
Category: Adventure, Puzzle, Visual Novel
Release Date: 02.22.21
Composers: Giorgio Maioli, Alessandro Masi
It’s pretty hard to check off more boxes on my genre preference checklist than Dry Drowning. It’s a hard-boiled detective cyberpunk dystopian adventure visual novel. If they had managed to throw in some strategic giant robot combat elements I think I might have found my personal nirvana. Unfortunately, the developers didn’t go that extra mile, and, combined with a few warts here and there, they ended up with only a pretty damn good experience instead of a perfect one. Ah, well. I guess you have to leave yourself somewhere to grow for the next one, right?
Mordred Foley, PI
Dry Drowning is the story of infamous private detective Mordred Foley in the dystopian city of Nova Polemos in the not-too-distant future (2066, if you need an exact date). The game opens with Foley being acquitted of charges in a case that alleges he falsified evidence during his investigation of the notorious serial killer Pandora. I mean, he did falsify evidence, but he was pretty sure he had found the right two suspects, who then went on to receive the death penalty. Turns out, though, they were both innocent. Whoops. So, yeah, he’s not the most heroic protagonist we could have hoped for.
Anyway, Foley is approached by his lawyer, David Casey, to investigate a new murder that sure as heck looks like it fits Pandora’s profile. Thing is, the suspect is Richard Baker, the leader of a corrupt, racist, authoritarian political party known as the Black Bands. Baker and his cronies want to make life tough and/or impossible for immigrants, like, say, the love of Foley’s life, Hera. From there, Foley gets wrapped into a web of intrigue, political maneuvering, murder, and his own sins that will ultimately determine the fate of Nova Polemos.
Fabulous Nova Polemos, Where the Sun Never Shines
And what a fantastic web it is! I’m a big fan of almost every trope present in Dry Drowning; give me tale about a morally compromised detective looking for redemption in a relentlessly corrupt city, and I’ll surely be along for the ride no matter what. I was thrilled by every twist and turn, I grew attached to Mordred Foley despite his tendency towards being an asshole (or maybe because of it), and I tried to absorb the story as quickly as the text would scroll across the window.
However, the script unfortunately has more than its share of warts. The editing department needed to take a few more passes at the text, as Dry Drowning is full of awkward phrasings, typos, and nonsensical grammatical errors. It seemed like every time I read a great hard-boiled detective line, it would be followed up by a sentence with the wrong verb conjugation or that looked like the character speaking had suddenly adopted Yoda’s mannerisms. Dry Drowning is a visual novel; getting the text right is paramount. The uneven quality of the script was a great disappointment, but it is a testament to the quality of the story that I wanted to immerse myself in it so badly anyway.
Discovery and Deception
Straight-up visual novels can sometimes be a chore to sift through. Reading walls of text with the same character portraits for hours upon hours can get pretty dry after a while. That’s why I prefer VNs like Dry Drowning, where the prose is broken up by adventure elements. Dry Drowning features both investigative and interrogation sequences. The investigation parts are fairly simple; players drag the cursor around the screen, looking for items that can be highlighted and investigated. Sometimes this will provide new journal entries, and sometimes it will result in finding relevant items.
Interrogation is far more interesting, as it requires a little bit of logical skill. Foley has the uncanny ability to tell when someone is lying, as he sees a grotesque mask appear over someone’s face whenever they do. The interrogation process sees three eyes appear around Foley as he attempts to crack this mask by presenting evidence or information to catch his suspect in a lie. Every time he presents the wrong evidence, an eye closes. It’s a game over if all three eyes close. Luckily, the game’s autosave will put players back to the beginning of the interrogation if they fail. It’s not quite as involved as the trial elements of, say, the Ace Attorney series, but it’s deep enough to remain interesting for the length of the game.
The Path of Righteousness – Or, Y’Know, Whatever
Like all good narrative-based games, Dry Drowning features branching storylines. Throughout the game, Foley faces moral challenges, and the player must make a choice that will effect Foley, the people he cares about, his suspects, and potentially the entire city of Nova Polemos. More importantly, every choice feels like it has concrete, real consequences, both in the moment the choice is made and throughout the remainder of the game. Choices effect who lives and who dies, who trusts Foley and who he can trust, and even how the city functions. The sum of Foley’s choices leads to one of the game’s multiple endings, which gives Dry Drowning a good deal of replayability. Luckily, there is a New Game + mode that allows players to skip some of the early game and get right to the big decisions, which makes it easier to explore new story branches without having to do a lot of backtracking.
Seeing the Whole Picture
The visual art in Dry Drowning is something of a mixed bag. The character portraits are drawn in a uniformly attractive, detailed style, as are the backgrounds. I mean, I couldn’t get over how much Foley’s character portrait looked like Johnny Bananas, but otherwise, the character portraits always looked great. Unfortunately, some of the special screens illustrating the game’s biggest moments were much rougher, especially towards the end. They often looked crude or unfinished when compared to the game’s backgrounds or portraits, which was something of a disappointment. The music, however, was a definite high point. The soundtrack was exactly as thoughtful, sinister, or mysterious as the scene required it to be, and set the tone for every scene at least as well as the visuals.
A Little Messy, But It Gets the Job Done
Dry Drowning is almost everything I could ask for in a visual novel. It has a great story, good characters, mostly great art, a fantastic soundtrack, and engaging adventure elements to liven the experience up a little. Unfortunately, a few hiccups drag the experience down. The script needs work to read smoothly, and many of the special scene images don’t live up to the quality of the game’s regular visuals. With a little extra polish, Dry Drowning could be a true gem. As it stands, however, it’s still pretty good if you’re willing to look past the blemishes.
Digital – $24.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.