The idea of a video game inspired by nature seems somewhat odd on the surface. Games are a technical pastime, one that requires the advances in technology that have provided humanity with much convenience. So perhaps it’s all the more versatile to focus on all that simplicity can provide, away from the hustle and bustle of constant electronic upkeep. And who hasn’t had fantasies of building a new life away from everything, depending on nothing but the world to support you? Peachleaf Valley: Seeds of Love is the sophomore game by Great Gretuski Studios, which attempts to capture the essence of a lifestyle refresh.
Visual novels as a form of gaming are a bit of a niche topic. Otome games, which generally target a female audience, are even more stranded in a sort of island, away from the general populace. Or at least that’s what it seems like from my viewpoint. Still, with the surge of gaming as a viable source of entertainment and profitability, more voices and creators have come forth to make their mark on the world. This demo shows the opening sequences of the latest story by a talented team of female indie developers.
Peachleaf Valley: Seeds of Love is available to play as a free demo between October 1-7 during Steam’s Next Fest. A “Spring 2022” timeframe has been provided for a full release.
Story – Blessing Bessie
In the beginning, there was fallout. A young girl is being berated by her boss for sloppy work. Despite dealing with an inevitable eviction, her employer will not hear any “excuse”; in big business, you either deliver or you don’t. She’s fired on the spot, only after being verbally torn to shreds. Later in the day, she’s informed that she has only three days to leave her residence instead of a month, leaving her dumbfounded—back against the wall.
It isn’t until an older man named Earl shows her a simple kindness that she finds some sense of comfort, and an invitation to find new life in a place called “Peachleaf Valley” calls to her. With nothing left to lose, she tosses her city life aside and joins Earl to rural pastures. A simple place on the surface, is there more to it than the normal eye can comprehend?
Completing the entirety of the demo took me just under 40 minutes. Fiddling around with the options and replying to a couple messages during likely makes it closer to 35 minutes of non-stop reading. Given the average length of a dating sim-esque visual novel is approximately 6-8 hours, this was every ounce of a “bite-sized” portion as the phrase can provide. It provides just enough for the foundational setting and meeting most of the characters that will make up the game, as well as the four main romanceable men. The “meat” of the story likely comes once a route has been established.
Assessing this as a demo, it does well enough to establish the characters, their situations, and the partial chemistry that will end up blooming into something more for the full game. One man, Jude, seems incredibly sensitive to feelings of intense attraction. Another, Hunter, seems oblivious to his own sex appeal, which seems ripe for many awkward situations. Flags that invoke a sense of invigorating romance are very light here, though it cleanly sets up what’s to come. By the end, players are shown all that they need to know… as well as a splash of some fantasy drama?
Like with the company’s prior game, Love Spell: Written in the Stars, the writing in Peachleaf Valley is consistently light and silly. Cheesy rivalries, over-the-top characters, and jolly displays of rambunctiousness are persistent throughout. However, if the former game is to be believed, some rather dramatic events are sure to pop up later down the line. Personal trauma, exaggerated situations, and perhaps some magical madness are in order? The demo felt the need to provide an ending hook that foreshadows something larger behind the scenes.
Based on the introductory sequences, I think it’s progressing into a fun story. Time will obviously tell, as the demo succinctly sets up every introductory element, but does little more. Characters seem expressive and interesting—for a visual novel, this is really all you need. Currently trying to decide if I want to go for Hunter or Naadim first next year.
Gameplay – Peachy Reading
As cool as it would be to tell you that this game goes and does something revolutionary in terms of gameplay for a visual novel, I cannot. Peachleaf Valley‘s gameplay mechanics consist of pressing a button and reading. It’s a visual novel.
Compressing it down to visual novel standards, however, there are a couple things worth noting. The first is a quicksave / quickload feature (bless them), which, if I recall correctly, Love Spell did not have. GG’s debut work was structured by “chapters,” which would autosave upon coming to the start of a new chapter when going down one’s route. While neat in theory, it prevented one from stopping, saving, and coming back to it when needed, which ended up a serious detriment.
They also promise a “navigation system,” which will allow the player to go back to a specific part of one character’s route after it’s finished. It’s like taking the prior chapter system and using it as a form of reminiscence, which is a great compromise. The system doesn’t have much use within the demo itself, though it’s good to note what’s to come. Quite frankly, there’s not much to put in this section otherwise.
Graphics & Audio – Beauty of the World
I need to say first and foremost that Peachleaf Valley has some of the most gorgeous background portraits I have ever seen in a visual novel. Generally speaking, players are looking at the characters and the text, but the variety of settings shown, whether indoors or outdoors, are so vibrant and magnificent. For once, as the MC remarked at the scene in front of them, so did I. A blooming land of shining green, hardly corrupted by the grip of human opportunity. Even buildings made up of simple material look marvelous in illustrations. Some visual novels are keen on using template backgrounds and calling it good; this is a fantastic portrayal of the magnificence of country living.
It’s almost overkill that the character models are almost equal in engaging quality. To note—I am an unflinching heterosexual man, and still I find myself caught up in the chiseled structure of these attractive, romanceable men. How powerful the illustrations are within the game to have almost every character portrayed as entirely what you would expect just from looking at them. And hot. Unfortunately, not all are quite as strong as they could be, particularly with the older cast. Earl, his wife, and Fiona, specifically, look downright cartoonish compared to characters like Hunter, Emilia, and Skyler. Even their vocal performances reflect this, which I’ll get into shortly.
Another new feature for GG’s sophomore work is voice acting… sometimes. Most characters have spoken lines, except the MC, though none have fully voiced lines. Some things you can have audibly told to you, others you need to read. Some simply speak one line out of a few present, which can get a tad disorienting. It’s a fine addition that will add to the immersion, though I only wish they either committed to voicing all lines or none of them. Fortunately, one can choose to turn all voices off in the options menu if desired.
Speaking on the performances themselves, they vary. Like with the visual aesthetic of older characters, their audible interpretations are also kind of cartoonish. Earl, especially, sounds a lot like “Young man tries doing an old guy voice.” His wife is the same. Fiona does, too, though her specific actor pulls it off more naturally. A couple of the romanceable leads also sound a little off, with Jude being the weak link for me, personally. It may just be me not fully integrated with his voice, but initially, it sounded almost muffled, like the mic quality wasn’t up to snuff. I had this same thought a little bit with Emilia, while others sounded more reasonable. In terms of acting prowess, cheesiness of the lines aside, many remained solid.
Then what would a visual novel be without music and sound effects? Said effects stuck out more to me while playing, though, with a lot of natural ambiance and clinks and clanks throughout. I recall Love Spell also being pretty liberal with the sound effects, adding to the overall bounciness of the absurd premise. Peachleaf Valley is more subdued, at least within the events of the demo. A peaceful rhythm to the ears, at least initially, is what one can expect. Outside of the very harsh opening ten minutes, that is.
Peachleaf Valley was previewed via a demo available on Steam.