The western market is much more receptive to visual novels today than it was ten or twenty years ago.
What used to be an extreme niche usually associated with erotica is now a widely accepted thing and while it’s not for everyone, it has its market, with fans and developers and great projects on Kickstarter, despite being the usual Production company made fun of the genre (Huh, BLIZZARD?)
Anyway, while the West doesn’t get many ports of Japanese novels in terms of consoles (games like Da Capo and DearDrops remain in Japan despite localized versions on PC), that doesn’t mean that consoles won’t get places, as series like Nekopara , Utawarerumono and Steins;Gate versions received.
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Italian producer Winter Wolves has an extensive catalog of visual novels that have been released for PC for years and are now coming to consoles thanks to Ratalaika Games. And the latest Winter Wolves game to appear in online stores was C14 Dating, which was released at the end of March.
Is it worth your time, or is it just one of many visual novels that come and go quickly?
Dig far from home and find more than just bones
You are Melissa Flores, a third-year anthropology student who decides to do an archeology internship for the summer. There is only one detail, the archeological site is located in Belgium (which of these developers set their games in Belgium? – It was like that with Black Legend and now with C14 Dating), 8000 kilometers from its native California.
Granted, a two-month stay in a foreign country can be stressful and out of your comfort zone, but the opportunity to unearth a real prehistoric site is too good to pass up.
And who knows, you might end up finding bones or tools forged by Neanderthals during the excavations… You can also make new friends and even fall in love.
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Although C14 Dating is an otome novel (visual novel for a female audience in which the protagonist has a group of men as a romantic interest), it is not tied to the main cliche of otome novels. Usually in this genre all romantic interests are stunningly beautiful and the choice basically depends on the personality.
Here every romantic interest has a trait that doesn’t fit him into the perfect guy cliché, Hendrik for example has no part of his arm. Kyler has hearing problems, Shoji is overweight, and Melissa herself is diabetic.
This results in characters being created that are less distant and more relatable with the person playing.
Visual Novel Meets Picross (And This Is The Moment I Confess My Stupidity)
As expected from Winter Wolves, the game mixes visual novel elements with a different kind of genre, and here too we have a conundrum.
You can play like a regular visual novel, where events roll by and your decisions can lead to different routes that can end up leading to the end of the romance or friendship with the route’s goal.
Or you can activate the puzzle mini-games… which look difficult but are really cool. There are two types of puzzles in C14 Dating. You can dig in the cave or clean in the lab.
Excavation works like in Picross. It’s a little hard to explain, but I’ll try. You have a board (which can be made up of 5×5 pieces, 10×10 pieces or even 15×15 pieces) and activate certain pieces according to the number written on the edge and follow these rules on the board you end up showing a figure (or something similar).
It might seem a bit tricky at first (especially for someone who has a hard time doing 3 steps on a puzzle without looking like a complete idiot), but with practice the Picross logic makes things easier. And in case you have difficulties, a certain number of clues are available depending on the puzzle.
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The cleanup is simpler, but also involves more randomness. You have the task of cleaning a tile and it is divided into some parts (usually 4 or 5) and for each part you have to spend a certain power (it is randomly generated by the game). And you have five objects that you can use for this. The game generates 5 numbers from 1 to 9 and you have to choose which objects to use.
The first object you select will give you a stat, and based on that you must select the others so that the total adds up to the required Strength stat, or up to 3 points less. If you go beyond that, you will break the object and if the score is 4+ points lower, the object will not be deleted.
It’s a mix of RNG and a bit of logic + luck which seems complicated to explain but there is a tutorial that explains it easily.
It’s not just about making decisions
The visual novel portion of C14 Dating isn’t just about making choices as they appear. Before each of the eight weeks of the internship, you must break down your activities, and each of them relates to one of the romantic characters (except those associated with the mini-games).
There are no mini-game activities in the first week, but there are from the second week. Knowing what character-related activity you want to romance will go a long way in determining what you will do.
And if you want to know how the affinity goes, there’s still a menu to see how your progress is with each of the suitors.
Composed and performed by the band Leetstreet Boys, who have worked with Winter Wolves on other games such as Nicole, Roommates and Queen of Thieves, C14 Dating’s theme song is a quiet, sweet theme that sets the tone of the game. .
The rest of the score, composed by Sebastien Skaf, who composed some of the music for Katawa Shoujo and No One But You, has just the mood required for the scenes. Again, as a visual novel creator, I know how difficult it is to find music that fits your game, and composing to complement a theme is an even more difficult task.
Before I talk about the look of the game itself, I’d like to give kudos to Trisha Yuu, the creator of the game’s UI (who, like any sane person, threw a smoke bomb and disappeared from Twitter).
The attention to detail in the user interface is striking, as the subject of archeology is not that easy to transport into a visual novel.
The game’s illustrations were made by Deji (not the YouTuber, the designer), a well-known figure in the Western visual novels community, and are quite appealing to a layperson. In fact, it was the art that caught my eye when the game came out on PSN, especially amidst a slew of brown games.
Each character has their own mannerisms, most have at least one clothing variant. And as I mentioned before, the characters usually have a little physical defect here and there, so it’s not just a “description”, you see Shoji a little chubby or Kyler’s braces and so on.
You’ll still notice the difference in the sprite’s background trait, which doesn’t contrast that well with Japanese titles, but that doesn’t mean the backgrounds are bad, quite the opposite.
Although the characteristics and style are different, they are well-made and varied scenarios, albeit within the same theme.
Depending on the platform in a promotion…
Is C14 Dating Worth Buying? Yes and no. And no, it’s not your typical, “eh, buy it if you’re a visual novel fan, blah blah blah.”
The thing is, C14 Dating is a good visual novel, and that’s a fact. I believe the only bug found in the console version is related to switching the font (which you can do on PC) and it’s a relatively easy platinum. It’s not obvious, like 90% of the Ratalaika catalog (since the multiple endings require more than one playthrough), but it’s not complicated.
The point is that on PC and Xbox the base price of the game is Mate, but on the Playstation Store, as Sony thinks, Brazilian… Anyway, the price of the Brazilian PSN is expensive.
So the point is, on PC, I recommend buying it without batting an eyelid. It’s not an essential novel, but it’s fun. On Xbox if you have money to spare… maybe buy it if you’re a visual novel fan. But if you don’t have the money, wait for a promotion because it will be worth it. Now, on the Playstation, here in Brazil…
Definitely waiting for a promotion. Not for the game, but for your pocket.
C14 Dating is available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series, and will be coming to Nintendo Switch in May, according to Ratalaika.
And before I say goodbye: C14 is Carbon 14, which has to do with archeology. When I made the association, my head exploded.
This analysis was performed using a PS4 copy provided by the manufacturer.