From developer Ronove, The Morning Star finds us on a deserted highway in the middle of a cold winter night as Alec wakes up from a night he can’t remember. With only a lonely bus stop for shelter, he finds himself quickly faced with a perilous choice. Wait in silence for a bus that may never come or engage with the beautiful stranger that claims they’re here just to wait with him.
A review for this game was requested through the VN Game Den review request form.
The visuals are simply stunning. The art assets on their own are gorgeous. The sprites are moody and dark with an almost doll-like quality to them. The backgrounds and set pieces creep in ominously around our main characters, threatening to swallow them up. And while the cast is small and the locations limited, the art instead is focused on small details and human gestures. There’s blinking and movement and shifting expressions. They make great use of multi-frame 2D and in-engine animation to create a feeling of constant, very human-like movement. With the addition of camera pans, special effects, and sprites that interact with one another even outside CGs, there’s a great sense of framing and cinematography that creates a deeper, fuller visual experience.
It’s a very intimate story, something deep and personal between just two characters. From the start of their conversation, with no background given by design, the chemistry of their interactions is palpable. You don’t know who these people are, but you can already feel what they are to each other, even if the main character isn’t so sure himself. While there’s a lot of “figuring out” to be done, it never feels like the game, at any point, is purposefully trying to obfuscate for the sake of making things dense. The writing wants you to start drawing conclusions and reconsider those conclusions and attempt to pull together your own understanding of what’s happening. As the game progresses, you understand why The Stranger chooses to talk in riddles. He never feels more malevolent than the slight sneer of a trickster god, and he feels more like a warm guiding hand. So as you sit in Alec’s shoes, puzzling it all out, despite the circumstances of his current environment, there’s still a glimmer of hope that the story has the ability to turn out okay in the end.
It has two major ideas it plays with: that of having lost your memory of a major event, and of reliving certain events multiple times. While it does some really great stuff with the first, I can’t help but feel it wasted a chance to do more with the latter. One of the endings plays with it, and I can’t see the game necessarily benefiting from being longer. But I can’t help but wonder if it would have been a great chance to get a better feel for some of the The Stranger’s motivations and appreciate the journey he’s been on to get to where we see him in the story.
The really great stuff it does with Alec losing his memory of a major, life-changing party ties into how they choose to let what will become the central romance play out. Instead of being experienced firsthand, in comes in waves filtered through the lens of memory. What’s left is how that event felt after it was processed through their perceptions, making it feel even more real and nuanced. It’s not a romance of first reactions and bare emotions, it’s a love story of those more lingering thoughts and the things that really stick long-term.
The Morning Star is frequently melancholy, often optimistic, and emotionally devastating at multiple turns in, frequently, the best way. It takes love and loss and the bittersweetness of both and bundles them up with an ultimately sweet emotional punch that lingers long after the story ends.
You can download The Morning Star for free from itch.io.