Dragons. Sex. Science fiction. In case you were wondering, no, this isn’t Khaleesi Drogo’s origin story set in space; it’s Angels with Scaly Wings, one of many crowdfunded visual novels that have recently been released on Steam. I was actually looking forward to playing this one, as the synopsis seemed to promise a game that would break free of all the tropes and clichés that plague the visual novel genre. However, rather than break free of the chains of terrible love stories and poorly paced plot, Angels with Scaly Wings merely paints them in a different color.
Sometime in the future, humanity discovers a portal that leads to a civilization of sentient dragons. Curiously enough, the dragons live in a society that very much resembles humankind’s, but more importantly, they have figured out a way to produce completely renewable energy. The opening text scrawl that proceeds to talk about humanity’s first contact with the dragons and the diplomatic relationships that were established in order to obtain the new technology is written in great detail and provides a solid foundation to a pretty zany premise.
The credibility of the world and the characters is further enhanced by how self-aware all of the cast are. They mention how strange it is for the dragons to have built a human-like society despite all of the inconveniences, such as stairs or chairs, which some dragons can’t even use due to their physiology. This actually becomes an integral plot point in the main storyline later on, and while the explanation for it is quite lackluster, the fact that the writer addresses the usual suspension of disbelief is commendable.
Unlike most other visual novels, you’re actually given some customization options for your character, even if they are very bare bones. You get to choose your own name and a color to represent yourself during dialogue, but strangely enough, not your gender. Not that it ever becomes too big of an issue, as all of the characters simply call you by your name. It nonetheless feels strange to create a character without even getting to select a gender.
Once you’re done with the awkwardly lacking character creator, you hop right into the main story. You and another human, a man named Reza, are ambassadors who are supposed to negotiate a trade for the Dragons’ energy technology in exchange for PDAs that contain information about the human world. Unfortunately, things go awry within the first day of your arrival as Reza decides that the best course of action would be to shoot one of the dragons and go into hiding. From then on, your goal becomes to find Reza while also unraveling the secrets of the new world.
Despite the fairly trite sounding plotline, playing through the story itself is a fairly enjoyable experience, for the most part. Minigames and puzzles dot the dialogue in a very organic manner, usually involving opportunities to help one of the characters and subsequently earning a bit of favor if you decide to help them out. I found this to be a pretty smart way of making the whole “pick the right dialogue options to bed this character” gameplay pattern a ton more interesting, and it does deserve particular praise for its sound execution (although the romance itself has more than a couple of issues of its own; more on that later).
The impact of your choices is also nothing to scoff at — at many points throughout the game, whether you realize it or not, you hold some of the cast’s lives in your hands as you thread your way through the banter. The lack of filler also certainly helps, as you aren’t bogged down by endless amounts of small talk as you make your way through the story.
One of the biggest flaws surrounding the game’s concise dialogue, however, is that the game itself ends up being VERY short, especially compared to a lot of the other visual novels out there. My first playthrough took around five hours, and subsequent playthroughs were even shorter because the game cuts out quite generous portions of the shared moments between the individual routes. The pacing of the overarching story suffers tremendously as a result, as the plot goes from a slow burn to a raging inferno in a timespan of about thirty minutes before ending in the most abrupt, deadpan manner. It’s as if the game couldn’t find a way out of the rabbit hole it dug itself into, resorting to the cardinal sin of answering almost every major question in the game through an incredibly long exposition dump near the end.
There is, at least, an attempt to patch up the tumultuous pacing by tying in the replay value of seeing multiple routes with the central storyline. For the most part, this works fine. The large interlaced story across multiple playthroughs is certainly interesting, but this design decision just didn’t sit right with me because it felt like an artificial way to extend the playtime of the game. Multiple playthroughs of a visual novel should be for pure enjoyment or achievement hunting, NOT because the main story itself is wholly incomplete.
I’d also glean much more entertainment from the multiple playthroughs if anything even remotely related to sex didn’t read like it came straight from a fetish novel. Innuendoes are dropped constantly, even during some of the more serious moments of the game, and the conversations feel very unnatural once things become even vaguely heated. The typical visual novel tropes that Angels with Scaly Wings had avoided so well up until these moments come back with a vengeance, and severely detract from the overall experience.
Perhaps the biggest slap in the face would be that despite all the awkward sex jokes, there isn’t an actual sex scene, as far as I’m aware. Even some of the bluntest sexual confrontation immediately transitions to the next day after a short black screen. It makes me wonder why the developers even decided to put all this crude humor in if they weren’t even going to give the reader a remotely satisfying payout for trudging through some fanfiction level “romance” scripts.
Adding onto this would probably be how bland the characters feel overall. Yes, the dialogue is fun to read, and I got more than a couple of good chuckles from it, but there is very little to establish characters outside of their archetypes. The reclusive nerd, the aloof genius, the ‘normal’ person just trying to get by, and the jock are all present. The main cast doesn’t develop beyond these themes, and the extremely brisk pacing of the game towards the end certainly doesn’t help matters.
Indecision and hasty writing is what ultimately brings down Angels with Scaly Wings. Although the game starts off promisingly enough, the quality of its opening is definitely not reflected in the rest of the writing, least of all the romance scenes, which mars the overall journey despite the very interactive nature of the story. The novelty of a setting can only carry a story so far, and without a solid cast of characters or a well-developed plot, Angels with Scaly Wings is, unfortunately, quite a mundane experience.