Sometimes, reality bleeds into our gaming experiences more than we expect it to. This fact is incredibly accurate for those gamers playing MMORPGs! The free-to-play visual novel Emberfate: Tempest of Elements seeks to capture the previously-mentioned sentiment through its clever MMORPG-sim storytelling. The result is a game that isn’t always the most cohesive experience but manages to be a solid VN with a unique presentation overall.
Emberfate starts with you, the player, logging into the popular fictional MMORPG “Emberfate” for its newest expansion, featuring a raid where you and your party battle against fierce elemental dragon bosses. There’s a character creation screen to help you get ready for your adventure. With it, you can choose your character race, job class, and playstyle preference for your “Emberfate” journey. Alongside these features, you designate a player handle and RL name for yourself, establish preferred pronouns, set your comfortableness with online gaming, and pick your employment status. None of these options come across as redundant, either. The amount of times these player choices are mentioned throughout a playthrough is impressive!
Following your character creation, the story starts properly. You’re the guild leader and an officer for a small, diverse-friendly player guild in “Emberfate” called Serendipity, taking a role in the guild’s Raid 1 group. At the narrative’s onset, Raid 1 attempts to get through the new expansion’s raid battles when plot-relevant events inevitably happen, resulting in the group calling it a night without surpassing the trial. You get a week in-game until Raid 1 attempts the event again, but will your party be sufficiently prepared by that time, or will victory continue to elude you? Your guildmates all have stuff going on in both their gaming lives and real lives that can potentially impact the raid’s outcome, and you might find a potential romantic bond on the side depending on how things play out regarding your decisions in the game’s “Emberfate” and outside of it.
In many ways, Emberfate: Tempest of Elements is a story splintered into three segments. There’s the fictional MMORPG and its guild work, and then there’s all the real-life issues of the guild members, not to mention the potential romance that can develop between yourself and another “Emberfate” player. Often enough, elements of these three segments bleed over into others to create a complicated tapestry that you must try to navigate to the best of your ability. Sometimes, you might succeed; in other instances, you might fail spectacularly or get mixed results. Emberfate‘s choice-making component is unpredictable, a chaotic mess that fits the notion that reality remains unscripted even at the best times. In that regard, Emberfate succeeds in mimicking someone navigating an MMORPG.
From the romance angle, there are three character storylines to pursue. Nathan is a helpful fellow officer in Serendipity suffering from depression with a cat named Wobbles. Khanyisa is a shy newcomer to Serendipity, prioritizing the fashion appeal of her equipment while being overworked in real life. Chris is your friendly rival, the leader of a well-established guild that may be poaching members of Serendipity, though he might not be as in control of his guild’s inner workings as he believes. It isn’t long before you must choose which of the three romance routes to follow, causing the other two characters’ story involvement to take a step back. It’s a shame, as I wanted to see resolutions to all their plots since they’re likable characters. I followed Chris’ route for my first playthrough because his rival guild storyline is interesting. Still, I didn’t spend enough time with any of the three romance options to feel strongly about them by the time Emberfate wanted you to pick one. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely the potential romance developed!
Aside from mingling with your potential love interest through video chats, phone calls, and email “in-game,” there are your separate responsibilities as a guild leader to consider. That means keeping the various personalities within the guild’s roster content so that the next raid attempt hopefully goes smoothly. Doing so includes dealing with drama inside and outside the fictional “Emberfate.” Some of these issues are relatively simple, such as deciding whether or not to let a guild member borrow money from the guild bank or if you should allow the younger brother of a guild member with a unique and not ideal playstyle to join Serendipity’s rankings. Other issues involve how you handle a guild member with an increasingly lousy attitude and reputation, whether to encourage two guild party members to get together romantically, how to fill a spot in the raid when someone steps away for a family emergency, discussing someone’s potential drinking problem, or just how to handle the aftermath when the marriage between two guild members falls apart. Depending on how you deal with these scenarios, the outcome of the following raid attempt can go in very different ways.
I’m impressed by how accurately Emberfate mimics an actual MMORPG. The UI for chats, private messaging, video calls, dungeon exploration, email, and inventory are all quite fitting and well done! There are different chat menus to peruse, and you watch the other characters’ messages progress until you get dialogue options to choose for yourself. The sheer amount of interactivity through character dialogue and “in-game” actions like inviting party members or handling inventory is impressive. I never found myself bored or going through long swatches where I had nothing to do while playing. The optional hint system based on your preferences is an excellent way to ensure I knew what to do next to advance the plot. In the long run, that’s a good thing, as having so many “in-game” conversations going on at once and multiple menus to navigate means the game borders on being somewhat overwhelming and distracting until you get your bearings. I also feel that some actions you take, such as utilizing the guild bank to distribute and store loot, seemed superficial as they don’t occur enough to become much of a gameplay mechanic.
Graphically, Emberfate: Tempest of Elements is quite a beautiful VN. I enjoy the fantastical elements of the character and monster designs alongside backgrounds in the fictional “Emberfate” proper. The amount of detail put into the UI, real-life character designs, and VN illustrations is quite remarkable. The limited voice acting is believably emotive whenever it occurs, and the music and sound effects are fitting from an MMORPG angle. The script is also top-notch, with nary an error found. There’s even appropriate use of online terminology and chat speak, complete with emojis!
There’s both a romance outcome and a raid outcome to consider when playing the game to completion. On my first playthrough, I received a “good” romance ending based on my choices concerning Chris’ plotline and a typical raid outcome where the guild didn’t necessarily emerge triumphant in the second raid attempt. Still, they remained optimistic about future tries based on progress made, fitting nicely with my character’s overall mindset of “We’re playing this to have fun!” I don’t think the raid storyline increases replayability as much as the potential romance routes do. You can take an extended break from the game and probably enjoy the experience more than if you dive right into it again for a second or third playthrough as you see the same or similar guild story beats each time. Still, despite some minor quibbles, Emberfate: Tempest of Elements is a creative visual novel with a unique storytelling approach. Being that it’s also free-to-play, it’s worth a look for any VN fans who have a fondness for MMORPGs!