What makes someone human or capable of love? Synergia is a cyberpunk visual novel that explores that very complicated question through the developing romantic relationship between its two main female characters, corporation police officer Cila and android Mara. In so doing, Synergia provides a tale that isn’t necessarily the most original to those familiar with the cyberpunk genre, but it manages to be entertaining and thought-provoking all the same.
So yes, to say that Synergia has all the trappings of a cyberpunk story in both presentation and world-building is an understatement.
First and foremost, Synergia wears its inspirations on its sleeve. You can easily look at the game’s aesthetic and be instantly reminded of such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell. Synergia even uses quotes from Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and other sci-fi greats to drive these comparisons home, and I love how these quotes are featured as a transition between story beats; those familiar with the cyberpunk genre will definitely recognize them. In Synergia’s story, corporations run at the heart of a humanist empire that treats androids as little more than property. Philosophical discussion abounds, such as in regards to the ethical treatment of cyborgs. Technology has become such a huge facet of everyday life in Synergia that it is hard to even tell where it begins or ends, and the colonized planet the game takes place on is more of a wasteland where various factions fight against one another for control. The world is bleak, gritty, and shrouded in various tones of grays, reds, and purples. So yes, to say that Synergia has all the trappings of a cyberpunk story in both presentation and world-building is an understatement.
As stated previously, Synergia is a visual novel. This means that players basically peruse large portions of text while playing the game until a decision point pops up that helps to move the plot in various directions. The narrative occasionally gets broken up by segments in which the player, as Cila, logs into a computer network to check for messages or explore informative topics in closer detail. Truth be told, there isn’t much gameplay to speak of beyond the computer exploratory segments and the few decision points sprinkled throughout, the latter of which I would have liked to see more of. However, the story can be quite engaging and the English script is error-free, which are always pluses for a visual novel!
Given the nature of cyberpunk stories in general, it goes without saying that Synergia is geared towards more mature audiences. This is evident in everything from the occasionally rather suggestive character designs and art scenes to the graphic descriptions of blood and violence that can occur in the story itself and just the overall language of the general dialogue. While the mature and adult nature of the story is in keeping with Synergia’s overall aesthetic setting, I could definitely see it being off-putting to some gamers.
Synergia’s cast of characters are a flawed but ultimately memorable bunch. Cila is an interesting protagonist in that she comes across as a gruff and oftentimes unlikable character in certain instances, but there is a plot reason for her personality that gets explored in more detail later on and makes her understandable. Mara is a fascinating character once the game delves more into her story, and the romance between her and Cila is rather unique and interesting. Cila’s cyborg friend Yoko is complex, as are the Velta operatives Darla and Kyle who start a tentative work relationship with Cila as the story progresses. And then there is the mysterious Sal, a hacker who is interested in Cila for unknown reasons at the beginning of the story. Other characters are equally interesting in how they fit into Synergia’s lore and world.
Visually, Synergia truly embraces the noir aesthetic that cyberpunk stories love to encapsulate. Art scenes are often presented from interesting angles, and there is a roughness to the art that fits the dismal setting of the game quite nicely. I was impressed with how often story scenes were depicted with illustrations as opposed to just static art of characters standing around and talking, as I felt that helped maintain interest in the accompanying text. Sound-wise, the music for the game fits the sci-fi atmosphere and captures the emotions of scenes rather well.
There are multiple endings in Synergia, and acquiring all of them unlocks an epilogue. Routes take about six or so hours to complete, so having multiple endings adds a bit of replayability to the title. However, while the game does contain a history section that allows you to look over all the text you’ve seen, the lack of a story map given the differing routes is something of a nuisance. Also, given how short Synergia is, the narrative pacing can seem a bit off at times. Certain scenes seem to go at a slower pace, while others constantly barrage you with an info dump of plot reveals all at once, especially as you near a route’s end.
I played Synergia with both a controller and keyboard/mouse, though I honestly feel that the game is best set up for the latter. There were several instances where I had to switch solely to mouse usage to flip through options on the screen. I also found that the UI could at times be a bit tricky when it came to discerning which character was actually speaking, especially when first learning the character names.
Despite its flaws, Synergia is a good visual novel for those looking for a short diversion. I would especially recommend it to those who enjoy cyberpunk and romance stories. I ultimately enjoyed my time with the title, and that’s all you can really ask from a game.