Noctuary is a blend of a visual novel and an action role-playing game (ARPG) with an adorable anime art style. From the very start, we can see that the team behind the game decided to put much more emphasis on the visual novel aspect, but was it worth it? We took a look at the game (and also interviewed Caly Wang of Gratesca Studio, the publisher of the game) and here is what we thought.
The story of Noctuary follows our main protagonist duo, Fancia Dream and Alina Nightsong. Both of them want to become Arborangers who serve the people and protect them from the forces of darkness. We are put into a fairy-tale-like world in which Arborangers fight the Darkritters to protect beacons which act like a safe space for people, engulfing the area around them in light.
Noctuary is built on the idea of being a visual novel blended with a bit of ARPG combat and progression system. Completing side quests and main quests (the majority of which are pretty much a visual novel) gets you currency which can be used to make your characters stronger in general and the Flower Dews that give you passive abilities during combat.
The game fleshes out the VN aspect, but this made me feel like the ARPG part was somewhat lacking. The currency we collect throughout the game allows us to upgrade six stats by a very small amount. The most frustrating thing is that you don’t upgrade the characters separately, all stat upgrades apply to both characters at once, meaning that upgraded stats had to be very general instead of being fine-tuned to work specifically for one character.
In addition to the upgrade system, another thing that was meant as some sort of character progression was the Flower Dews points. They work similarly to charms in Hollow Knight. Each dew has a set cost. Costs of each Flower Dew used adds up and the sum cannot be higher than a set amount that can be increased by leveling the Dews. The Flower Dews I had the opportunity to use gave the player some passive abilities which triggered under specific circumstances.
The problem with this system is that in order to level up the Flower Dews you had to complete side missions, cause, at least at the point of the game I’ve reached, that was the only way to get the upgrade materials.
I don’t have any problems with mainly focusing on one part of the game, however, adding an uninspired RPG system takes away more from the experience than not implementing one at all. Thanks to a very basic upgrade system and no diversity in combat throughout the game makes the entire ARPG part more like a failed attempt to break the streaks of missions that are done entirely in a visual novel style.
As for the combat itself, it has its pros and cons. The visuals, indicators, and most of the abilities are clean and easy to use. You rarely have a situation where you don’t know what’s happening on the screen. I’d say that the enemy attacks work in a way that is similar to a bullet hell game, which allows the combat of the game to have its moments and be pretty fun.
The problem is the diversity of attacks that the player can use. Each of the two controllable characters has three weapons. Every weapon has a normal combo unleashed by pressing one button and an ability that we can use by pressing a different button. Sadly, I’d say it’s not enough and the combat gets boring pretty fast.
Quite early on you can already notice which abilities are the best, and which are too hard to land, and thanks to that you are left with very few options during the battle. Leveling up stats and changing Flower Dews doesn’t meaningfully impact your game plan. You can’t upgrade specific weapons and specific skills, you just basically try to maximize the damage output of the six abilities you’ll be using throughout the game. What I also found very weird was the AI. We can control one out of 2 characters at a time, however, the character controlled by the AI either misses most of its attack or walks around aimlessly, making it more of a tap-in situation, rather than assisting you in a meaningful way during the combat. If you are not big on the battle system this could actually appeal to you, just in my case it felt a bit lackluster.
But What About the Visual Novel?
When it comes to the visual novel part, I also have mixed feelings about it. The character’s designs are extremely pretty and the general feel of backgrounds and the world are nothing but positive. One thing I found very weird, however, was the use of 3D models in the backgrounds during the VN segments. Some of them blend well, whilst some break the immersion.
What also caught me off was the voice acting. The moments where we could hear the characters speak were sprinkled all over the game. At first, you think only the most important scenes are voiced, but then some random dialogue that doesn’t bring anything to the game is voiced as well. However, although scarce, the voice acting was well done.
This game was originally published in Chinese and later translated into English. I did spot a few grammar mistakes here and there but those were so minor they didn’t affect my reading experience. In general, the VN part was done well. Good voice acting, pretty waifus, really well-drawn backgrounds, and nicely highlighted important words with an ability to reread the definitions of specific words made for a clear and good experience.
Light vs. darkness, some betrayals, and mystery. Those words pretty much sum up the game’s general plot. We play as the Arborangers who fight darkness, and in the middle of it all, we try to solve the mystery regarding the identity of a girl whom we found at the very beginning of the game.
I’ll be honest with you here, the story felt very cliche, and most of the VN segments I’ve played through made me feel like I’ve already seen this stuff somewhere else. The gaps between interesting stuff, and the boring exposition dumps made me more bored than interested in what will happen next. As mentioned, I can see people playing through the game simply for all the pretty characters and art, which is good. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t finish the game yet: I tried but eventually kept getting bored.
Is Noctuary Worth It?
Cute waifus, pretty art. Nice voice acting, lackluster RPG system, simple combat, and a story that feels cliche. This pretty much sums up Noctuary for me. Still, we cannot deny that the team behind the game put a lot of work into this game: it does feel like a labor of dedication. I wanted to love it and I hoped the battle system would save it for me, but sadly that did not happen.
The game is priced at US$29.99 (as of the time of writing the review it’s discounted and the price is US$23.99). For around the same price, you can get Final Fantasy VII Remake (if it’s discounted at the moment) or even Persona 5 Royale (also if it’s discounted) which both excel at storytelling and the RPG combat systems, so unfortunately, for this price, I can’t recommend Noctuary over games like those. However, although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love visual novels and stories that bring you comfort with familiar characters and twists then Noctuary could be one for you.
Noctuary is now out on Steam.
Anime Corner received a review copy fo the game.