Akash: Path of the Five is an otome visual novel by Truant Pixel. Visual novels, which are basically Choose Your Own Adventure games, have become more commonplace in recent years, and the otome subgenre, where you play as a heroine and pursue storyline paths with various guys, has become more prolific. I recall a time when these types of games were so few and far between, genre fans had to take what they could get. Now, fans have their pick of the litter and games need to have a special “something something” to stand out. Akash: Path of the Five is another entry in this crowded field, so let’s take a closer look at it.
The game takes place in the titular forest village of Akash, where magical hominids called Al’Wan (or elementals) live. You take on the role of 20-year-old Aurora (default name) on the cusp of her coming-of-age ceremony. As the only female elemental the village has seen in generations, she is both exalted as a savior and objectified as a commodity by, well, everyone. While Aurora understands the importance of choosing a suitor to propagate her race, she still wants to live her life on her terms and not be a slave to societal pressures.
This “Smurfette Principle” is also why elementals have an uneasy armistice with neighboring human settlements. The elementals’ superior power and need to procreate with human women or face extinction are what keep the tenuous peace. “Mudblood” male offspring are better than no offspring at all. But with the armistice set to expire soon, the humans are poised to revolt, and their superior numbers could turn a potential uprising into something far worse. The humans are well aware of the elementals’ predicament, and Aurora’s presence may fuel their own machinations. In essence, Aurora is both the protagonist and the MacGuffin of this tale.
I’ll admit, the premise and storyline are not the strongest or deepest. Some plot threads felt shoehorned in, and despite the fantasy setting, I still needed to suspend my disbelief at times. That being said, Akash is not trying to be King Lear or anything. At its heart, this game is primarily about pursuing and hooking up with impossibly handsome, vividly colored, magical guys who fall into standard (and somewhat predictable) otome archetypes. The decision trees are fairly straightforward, so getting one of the good endings is not too challenging. The game has appropriately dramatic moments to keep things interesting, but it’s not some heady or serious-minded game you need to get out of your comfy pants for. A single playthrough lasts about 3-4 hours, the game’s myriad endings give it plenty of replay value, and the ability to fast-forward over previously seen content makes it a nice weekend binge.
Every line of dialogue in the game is fully voiced, and the acting itself is quite good. The experienced cast includes folks like Morgan Berry, Brandon McInnis, Ray Chase, and others who have lent their talents to several anime and video games. Not only do they deliver their lines smoothly and effectively, but they also use vocal effects quite judiciously in their recordings. For example, the use of reverb/echo when a character was stuck in a dungeon’s garbage chute really brought that scene to life and made me feel like I was there. Some players may find Andrew Love’s performance as the smarmy casanova character a bit much, but given some of the trashy lines he has to deliver, his over the top performance totally works.
So far, it seems like Akash is a fairly straightforward otome game, right? So what’s its special “something something” that makes it stand out from the pack? Akash’s ace in the hole is its gorgeous art direction. The game is appropriately M rated, due in no small part to its suggestive visuals, but nothing is ever distasteful. The character designs are appealing to look at due to their lush colors, shading, texturing, and use of gradients. These are ethereal, magical beings, so the artists could go for broke with unconventionally colored skin and hair.
The locations, consisting of 3D polygonal environments, add depth and motion that are sometimes lacking in traditionally “flat” visual novel backdrops. The polygons themselves are not the prettiest or most refined by today’s standards, but they do a good job of adding dimension. During some cutscenes, the camera pans through these 3D environments, really giving a sense of movement in the game’s progression before smoothly segueing into the static scenes. I first saw this transition technique in the PlayStation RPG Thousand Arms, and I thought it was quite slick.
An important element in any visual novel is having scads of cool CG stills. Akash has plenty of those, a few of which utilize nifty art styles different from the game’s default style. My favorites of these are the greyscale flashback scenes of young Aurora conversing with her dad. The art style used there appeals to me, and I hope to see that style utilized more in the artist’s future works. Between the stunning visuals, terrific voice acting, and composer Fat Bard’s evocative soundtrack, Akash: Path of the Five is an artistic feast.
It’s clear that Akash: Path of the Five was a labor of love by all involved, and their joie de vivre is quite palpable throughout the game. I liked its 3D polygonal environment design cues and hope to see more developers use this technique to craft more visually dynamic and less flat visual novels. Although it’s not the most original game, Akash: Path of the Five is an enjoyable romp whose killer art direction exudes a refined cool. I look forward to seeing what the artists at Truant Pixel come up with next.