Aquadine

 

Review by · October 4, 2022

Stories of mermaids and underwater cities like Atlantis have long permeated cultures the world over. In the visual novel Aquadine, set in a fictional city of the same name, they have their own lore on the subject, though that lore is arguably closer to fact than many skeptics believe. Centuries upon centuries ago, the humans of the region prayed to the sea god Levios for aid during a severe famine. He agreed, but under the condition that the humans allow merfolk to live among them. For a time, things were peaceful, but the differences between the two peoples eventually led to a schism. The merfolk retreated to the safety of the sea, where Levios constructed a beautiful underwater kingdom for them that he called Aquadine. A forbidden love affair later on between a mermaid and a human sailor eventually brought about the abandonment and subsequent destruction of Ancient Aquadine, and the mystical kingdom and its former inhabitants became the stuff of legend, their existence debated heavily into the present day. To commemorate this mythic history, the human settlement of Aquadine was established.

This second Aquadine is where the lion’s share of this VN’s plot takes place. Players fall into the role of Robin: a young man trying his hardest to support his ailing mother, a much-beloved gondolier of the seaside community who developed a mysterious disease that is now threatening her very life. Robin’s life isn’t easy, and he suffers from the harsh, critical eye of many of the townspeople who don’t believe he could ever fill in for his mother. The anxious Robin adopts the disguise of the more outgoing and cordial “Ciel” to continue giving gondolier tours after the city writes him off, and it isn’t long before Ciel becomes something of a celebrity. As Robin tries to balance his double life, his mother’s condition steadily worsens, and events begin to occur throughout the city that may prove the merfolk lore behind the town’s founding is more accurate than most believe.

Elisabeth talking about her hometown to Ciel in Aquadine.
The character art is gorgeous.

Because Aquadine is essentially a kinetic visual novel, to delve more into the story would be a disservice. Suffice it to say, aside from a few jokes played for laughs, this is a very wholesome story that delves most into family, friendship, growing up, carrying on through loss, and falling in love, all with fantasy undertones. Aquadine is definitely a fictional city I’d love to visit at some point, and the visual novel is comprised of a colorful cast of characters with extremely relatable story arcs.

Robin (or Ciel) is joined in the main cast by the gloomy artist Anya, the determined athlete Cameron, the perky cafe waitress Diana, and the sweet-natured singer Elisabeth. The group of friends are front and center throughout the game’s common route. Eventually, in the only real “choice” you make throughout the title, you pick one of the other four characters’ individual story arcs to follow through to completion. Each one has their own personal outcomes, with a supporting cast of characters that make appearances in differing ways throughout the individual routes. I liked the main cast quite a bit. I found their personal struggles very relatable, especially Diana’s search to find herself, Anya wanting to feel like she belonged somewhere, and Robin hiding who he truly is by putting up a fake persona in front of others. The supporting cast is colorful and exciting enough in their own right, making me curious to see just what they’d do whenever they showed up next. After completing each of the four character routes, a new story segment called “Memories” will open up on the game’s main menu. Memories serves as Aquadine‘s “true” ending, and I was surprised by the bittersweet-yet-ultimately-touching direction the story goes in it.

A group CG from Aquadine featuring the cast playing in some shallow water with the city in the background.
Our main cast of characters (plus Banjo the Cat!) having fun.

Given its more static nature, gameplay essentially consists of pressing the button prompt to move the title along to each next bit of text. Aquadine’s storyline is where players will either get hooked or not, and your degree of enjoyment might depend on how you feel about romance and the title’s various themes in general. I’ll say that I was surprised by the lack of strong romance in Memories particularly, but what is there makes sense for the way the plot develops. Plus, I thought the character routes themselves had plenty of romance for the romantics, so it wasn’t totally lacking in that area!

There isn’t much I can criticize Aquadine for. It has a story to tell, and it does so admirably with a core group of characters who grow on you. There isn’t a story map to speak of, but once you reach the character route choice portion of Aquadine, the game automatically returns there without having to navigate the roughly three-hour common route to reach it again, which I found extremely helpful. However, Memories clearly focuses on completing one particular character route. While the other routes are neat “what ifs” that add a bit more perspective to their featured characters, they almost come across as superfluous by comparison. Playing through them again to reach the true ending could be construed as an unnecessary step. The game also doesn’t have credits readily available even after seeing the true ending, which is a shame since I would’ve liked to know who was involved in such a heartfelt project!

The character route selection screen from Aquadine.
Which character’s story route will you choose first?

The UI is decorative yet simple and fits the colorful aesthetic of Aquadine well. I love the detail in the CG art and character portraits and was amused by how the portraits would shake on occasion to show more emotion. Visually, the background and character art is quite pretty! The game features partial voice acting with characters saying stock phrases that sometimes match the script or don’t but still fit in context, and I thought the actors did a good job with their limited lines. The BGM tracks often repeat from scene to scene but fit the setting well. I especially like the three vocal songs featured throughout the game. The standard gallery options to view unlocked CGs or listen to music tracks are found here as well, though I did find an odd bug with the Switch port where it says I can view two movies but (for some reason) can never access them. Maybe that’s just me, though! It’s a shame, however, because I quite like the opening movie.

Aquadine is a solid, primarily kinetic visual novel that has a surprising amount of heart. I enjoyed the time I spent playing it, and now I’m even more tempted than ever to ride on a gondola! Aquadine is the type of VN that buoys you on gentle waves from beginning to end, no matter what might be stirring the waters underneath. It has a calm, soft quality to it even when it pulls on your heartstrings, making it the perfect type of visual novel for those wanting to see where the tide may ultimately take them.


Pros

Lovely art and setting, likable cast of characters, surprisingly heartfelt conclusion.

Cons

Kinetic VNs are not for everyone, storyline might be too much of a slow burn, lack of romance in true ending could be seen as an odd direction for some.

Bottom Line

Aquadine is a thoughtfully soft kinetic visual novel about carrying on and living life true to yourself.

Graphics
81
Sound
79
Gameplay
80
Control
80
Story
81
Overall Score 80
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Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling is a reviewer for RPGFan. She is a lover of RPGs, Visual Novels, and Fighting Games. Once she gets onto a subject she truly feels strongly about, like her favorite games, she can ramble on and on endlessly. Coffee helps keep her world going round.