In the early years of my existence, a common night in my household involved my mother and I lounging on the couch and watching an episode or two of Forensic Files, a television program highlighting murder-mysteries solved by forensic science. Aside from the malicious content involved scarring me at such a young age, it also ingrained a love of mystery in me, as the feeling persists to this day. And when I say I enjoy a good mystery, I mean one that involves a crime or something grim; I'm fascinated by the finality of a serious incident.
It would be easy to assume that Rainswept would be interesting to me by default with this mental make-up, however it was the promise of an unstable detective that sold me. It's one thing to build a game around a murder-mystery; it's another to have the protagonist have a personal bias to the case at hand. Aided by a unique overall look, Rainswept seems primed to serve an emotional and cathartic experience involving the ultimate finality: death. What I managed to gain through it all will be at the forefront of this review.
Rainswept is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
Rainswept is no visual novel, though one will realize fairly early on that what makes this game what it is is the story and dialogue. The prospect of a murder-mystery, as well as the promise of diving into the psyches of the characters presented, assumes that pure gameplay mechanics will take a backseat. There are some advantages and disadvantages to this scenario, of which I'll get into a little later.
The central narrative revolves around a single character, Detective Stone, from his perspective. We, as the audience, only get to experience the plot at hand from his perspective, at least within the time after the deaths of Chris and Diane, an alleged destructive couple. Occasionally, one will also participate in flashback sequences where one controls Chris, viewing through his perspective his growing relationship with Diane. Otherwise, the characters that appear only surround these two characters and serve as support, a majority of which is presented through Stone.
Such a story is easy to immerse oneself into. The product of mystery and the inclination that there's more to the crime scene than meets the eye brings out an innate curiosity that hooks the player into continuing. Along the way, one meets with a variety of people—most supportive while others are more finnicky—which help create the world that Rainswept hopes the player finds invigorating. The developments that occur early on in the story provide an intriguing foray into the identity of the town one's placed in, as interviewing every new individual was one of my favorite things to do within the game. Predictably enough, everyone says the same thing; only small clues hidden slightly out of reach helps to drive the plot forward.
It's unfortunate to say, with all this initial interest, that the writing involved with Rainswept gets worse as it comes to its shocking conclusion. Closer as it comes to the discovery of what really happened the night of Chris and Diane's demise, the more plotholes I could find within the story, which increase in size simultaneously. Various explanations that many characters simply accept by the end felt fishy to me, so a little Google digging bore fruit to the claim that this world isn't quite as realistic as it tries to be. As tight as a murder-mystery should be, there are loose ends that go untouched within this narrative that has me question the logistics of the central premise.
Moving back from the story, characters, at least a select few, also suffer from a hinting suspicion of hastiness, such that the writer wanted to get on with the story and leapt straight from hostility to indisputable pal. There's one particular character who, initially, butts heads with Detective Stone at every turn during the investigation. After being yelled at for immature behavior by another character, he suddenly becomes accepting of Stone's manner of investigation and suddenly everything is nice. It feels off, to say the least, to have a character written like this.
Some may consider these negative criticisms nitpicks, small details to a greater story that only hopes to entertain. This is where one of the aforementioned disadvantages of having the game be a majority narrative storytelling and minority pure gameplay comes into play. If a story is weakened through the continuous slights that plague a particular player, there's very little to fall back on. Gameplay cannot save the game, as there's so little of it that it becomes (variably) meaningless compared to the scope of a narrative's significance to the experience. With Rainswept, the impact of its final act didn't hit me in the right spots, due in part to the suspicion of the realistic qualifications it tried to sell me on to explain the deaths of the tumultuous couple. I can't think back and say, "Well, at least the gameplay was fun," because there was so little required of me that it almost doesn't matter.
Fortunately, there are advantages to a near-complete narrative focus, too, as it becomes a majority of what's required of a fulfilled experience. Unenthused by the ending as I am, there are sequences within the storytelling I found absolutely captivating, most of which came when centered around Chris and Diane. The relationship between Chris and Diane is a complicated one, but also quite fascinating; the chemistry between these two characters almost mirror a tragic couple in the making, dulling the expectations of something drastically different from what everyone else in the town suspects. When the game focuses on Chris and Diane, the writing works to mystify the perspective of the player, as it paints them as a happy couple wishing to make it work while also highlighting the psychological demons that plague both of them. I adored the conversations they had and the struggles to cope with the happiness they had with each other.
While I criticized some characters within the story, there are also characters I found to be well-rounded and perfectly likable. I liked Detective Stone, Officer Blunt, and the previously-mentioned couple consisting of Chris and Diane. There are definitely those that one can rely on to create that sense of immersion, and these characters are written well enough to qualify. Some characters provide comic relief while others have sinister intentions to their helpfulness. There tends to be a little more throughout the entire population of the town, which is a nice touch.
On one last note, as this section is starting to get far too long, I found the presentation of Stone's tragic past to be hit-and-miss. Like with the main story itself, I found it well-executed near the beginning, but dragged as the game grew closer to the end. It began to feel too predictable, too scripted in that it would always come at a certain time. Near the beginning it was less predictable, and played a notable role within the sequence of events that transpire. It creates some interesting use of presentation, though it could've been done a little bit more chaotically.
As evidenced by earlier paragraphs, there isn't really much to do when playing Rainswept. One can control the player, click (or press "enter" on) various things to inspect or interact with, and make choices with dialogue. That's about it. Definitely a step up from the standard visual novel, but nothing so expansive that one will confuse it with, say, God of War. As such, whatever I do criticize won't mean too much to the overall experience the game provides, though it wouldn't mean I'd wish for it to be ignored, either.
Initially, I found the control scheme to be a little unintuitive. Pressing "shift" to run, "A" and "D" keys to move left and right, "enter" to interact with things and the arrow keys to pick choices based on what's available. (It's never more than two options, regardless.) As I started to experiment, I found myself more comfortable with it, and began to see what the creator was going for. Nevertheless, it's still a wonky control scheme, though one is able to change it in a pop-up window prior to the game launching.
Based on certain achievements, I'm under the suspicion that this game has more than one ending (I only played through it once). That would imply that dialogue choices have some measure of control to dictate where the story goes, which is a good thing. Some dialogue choices are obviously comedic, serving to get people to react accordingly, though others have a lot more under the surface—apparently I chose correctly, as everything ended without a hitch for me. This adds a little spice to the game, as the player will become more motivated to look at every possible circumstance.
Finally, traversing the town, when applicable, is a bit of a pain, too. The map system is very small, and doesn't tell the player where they are exactly, which has the player rely on knowing where they are to get to their destination. In a way, with the story taking place in 1996, this feels appropriate, though I would've liked at least a "You are here" cursor. Not a huge thing, but a thing, nonetheless.
Graphics & audio
I've seen a lot of praise go to the artistic direction of Rainswept prior to my own review for it. I'm willing to agree, as aside from some wonky moving animation, I quite like the detail of presentation relegated to a doll-like fashion. It evokes this sense of wonderment that works very well with the bright colors and the simplistic designs of life in easy-to-grasp pictures. When characters are designed to look more realistic, particularly when things get serious, they genuinely look disturbed, much like the characters should within the present moment. The backgrounds, the camera tilts, the presentation of cutscenes; everything feels like it's at the helm of a film director who knows what they're doing. Instilling a sense of emotion through vividness of color and expression, Rainswept definitely looks the part, and is well worth the praise it's already received in that category.
I also quite liked the musical score by micAmic. Very dreary, gloomy, and occasionally uplifting (in an ironic fashion). I love the minimalist approach to such a dire narrative, one that prances on the darker aspects of human emotion and life. There's a particular track, which plays during one of the final scenes in the game, that got stuck in my head for a long while after the game was finished. I almost feel like I underappreciated the musical score while playing, since I was so zoned in on the story more than anything. Looking back on the launch trailer, I got an immediate wave of "Oh, this was actually a great track!" upon listening after the fact. Works well with the story—almost so well that one eventually ignores it—and also outside of it.
Even with flawed execution, the games that become ultimately worthwhile are those that manage to evoke a positive emotional connection. Rainswept is a game that fights its way to the end with more than a few broken limbs, taped together in a last-ditch effort to keep it together. It's not the crude display that encourages and inspires, but the effort to strive forward against all odds. It's not a great game by any means, but it's a game with indisputable heart. That, in the end, makes it worth it.
|+ Art style and soundtrack are great||– Ending lacks satisfying crunch|
|+ Most characters are well-rounded||– Many plotholes in the explanation of the crime|
|+ Relationship between Chris and Diane is fascinating||– Various instances in storytelling and character development feel rushed|