From SoftColors, Aquadine is a fantasy romance kinetic novel set in the canal-filled city of Aquadine, a town with a mysterious past. To pay for his mother’s hospital bills, high school student Robin works a secret job as a singing gondolier, giving tours of their town. He’s not the only one living a double life—as he meets new friends who also struggle with their own secrets, he’s quick to find there are other mysteries hiding underneath the surface of this otherwise-quiet town.
An advance copy of the full game was provided by the developers.
At first opening, Aquadine is an exquisitely good-looking game. It has lovely painterly backgrounds to set the stage with wonderful southern-European-styled architecture to match the Venetian inspiration for the setting. Some of the night and underwater scenes in particular have this faint glowy quality that really brings home the intended etherealness of those scenes. While the character sprites aren’t particularly unique design-wise, they’re very cute and there are a lot of them. The variations in costume and posing make them feel like living characters actively moving through this world they’re in. They chose to implement a lot of squash and stretch to make the characters feel a little more active, and it doesn’t always play well in scenes where a lot of that is going on. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but once you get accustomed to it, it doesn’t feel as jarring. Overall, with lovingly crafted CGs to pull all this together, it’s a visually stunning game.
A Wonderful Cast
There’s also a lot of really great character work. They have strong voices both written and acted, and they act well as the primary moving and motivating force of the story. They’re introduced in a bit of an odd order, though, and they almost don’t get quite utilized to their full potential at first simply because there are so many little side characters and minor cameos. Even the main cast has a little uneven screen time. I like this main cast a lot, but it did take a considerable amount of time to hone in on who was actually supposed to be important and how their dynamics actually played out between them. As individuals in their own routes, they were fun with great acting, but they struggled a little to work as an ensemble.
A Writing Mixed Bag
The writing, overall, is a bit of an odd duck, too. The dialogue is a great and there is a lot of it. They do a really good job of telling the story and building the world without huge bouts of exposition. What little action narration exists, however, is extremely bland. It’s written in third person, which leaves very little room for personal internal insight beyond “thought bubble”-style lines here and there. It has no narrative voice whatsoever and very much breaks the flow of dialogue between scenes.
I struggled a little bit with coming up with what actually happens in the first half of the game, and it takes a bit to really get going. It’s a little more structured after the split, but the first third—where you’re getting to know all the characters—just feels like a series of small conflicts that don’t really connect to each other or anything bigger. There’s not a very strong thread to pull you through the story. It only really works because the characters are so endearing that you want to see what happens to them next, but I found myself just sort of waiting for stuff to happen or for early hooks to come swishing back through. It all pays off eventually, but it feels a little weak considering how long it takes to finally get there and all the cool mermaid stuff that spends a lot of time getting glossed over until it’s all kind of packed in at the end.
A Fun Experience
Despite its minor flaws, Aquadine is a game that works great as a cohesive experience, something you can sit in and just enjoy reading with fun visuals and a great sense of atmosphere, highlighted by an incredible score. It has a very cinematic quality to it that makes the overall feeling of it very vibrant and evocative and lets you live actively in another world for awhile.
This game is perfect for lovers of slice-of-life with a little extra twist, great visuals, fun characters, and slightly silly fantasy. It’s the kind of game you let just take you along for the ride.
The demo of Aquadine is now available on itch.io, with the full release coming in February.