AlienWorks is an up and coming developer who decided to publish an interactive game as their first project.
Highway Blossoms is an American heart-filled story, drawn in the style of Japanese anime and with simple game mechanics. It's not a point-and-click, and it's not a ‘choose your own path’ type of game.
It doesn't have to be.
It simply is a relaxing read, that emphasizes visual aids and sounds to pull the reader into the story. Because its publishing house is no one other than the Sekai Project, the folks behind the Sakura franchise (see our latest Sakura review here!), I had high expectations toward the art style and visual design. I wasn't disappointed. The beautiful artwork coupled with such a story line, not to mention the technical ease at which the camera moves instead of watching still frames, Highway Blossoms is one of the best visual novels I have had a pleasure of reading. A lot of thought went into this story and the extra attention to both the writing and the programming shows.
The story is about a girl named Amber beginning her adventure through New Mexico. I won't spoil it for you; instead I'll try and explain the writing style with which AlienWorks went about narrating. First, it's clear that a lot of work went into making words words flow. The writing is descriptive to an extent it almost feels like it's been pulled right out of a novel from John Steinbeck. At times a bit slow in capturing the reader's interest, it's a ‘Yuri’ story set in a gold rush era (close, close away?), and in comparison to the Sakura games I've played, the writing here feels a lot better. It's still a game though, and might fall short in meeting expectations of the aficionados for soft cover books. Still, the dialogue flows and praise ye AlienWorks, isn't interrupted by anime clichés to see through the fanboy's desires.
In short, if the writers ever attempted to write a book, I would buy it in a flash.
Reading? Great, but animation you ask? Ha! That's the gem of this novel, and I applaud the developers for their achievement. Instead of still frames, as one might expect from a visual novel, each character moves and reacts. In tune with the backdrop. Expressions switch, characters move, each time the narrative wants them to edge closer or run away. It feels dynamic, it feels alive, it's a breath of fresh air. It might be a tad ambitious, but I do hope competing studios will observe this (needed) attention to detail. Maybe even implement them in their own games. The fact is, animation helps introduce and develop characters in a more attaching way. Combined with the art style which sure, isn't unique, but is nonetheless well done, we get vibrant close ups and witness emotions in a variety that is key for us to connect.
Highway Blossoms is a relaxing play, with great mechanics and storyline, and best of all, attention to detail. No clouds in the sky to transition between slides on this one lads. This is a story, with down-to-earth characters that feel, well, like actual human beings. If more visual novels were built like this, I would play more of them.