“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?” – Chuck Palahniuk
Blake: The Visual Novel is a story-rich, choices-driven psychological thriller in which players take on the titular role. After encountering an unknown nemesis Blake must deal with a series of mysterious events that will make him question his own sanity.
Developer: Ori Mees
Released: 1st September 2021
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Available on: Steam
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
Content warning: “Contains some violence, offensive language and themes around mental health. Not suitable for those easily disturbed. Player discretion is advised.“
Blake: The Visual Novel has the sort of gameplay you’d expect from a piece of interactive fiction. It utilises mostly mouse-only controls to progress the narrative and make choices. However, there are some optional puzzles and mini-games that require some keyboard input. These are a really fun addition and include things like a counting game with a dog and having to use an external binary code converter to find a password.
The dialogue options and other choices usually include a vast spectrum of options that often range from one extreme to the other, for example, enthusiastic through to insulting! This implies a similar range in the results and the game does indeed have a wide variety of potential paths and endings for players to explore.
The game’s narrative is its stand-out feature, the futuristic story spans multiple genres including drama, psychological thriller, mystery and sci-fi and is full of unexpected twists and turns. As Blake, players must try to navigate his new job at tech firm ICC whilst also dealing with a mysterious nemesis who seems determined to make his life hell. A series of strange and troublesome events unfold, it is up to the player to decide if Blake will rise to the challenges set before him or succumb to questioning his own sanity. The downside is that the somewhat abrupt ending buys into and therefore potentially perpetuates negative stereotypes about certain mental health conditions, dissociative identity disorder (DID) in particular.
The writing is excellent and the engaging dialogue feels very natural, with each character having its own distinct personality and voice. The game’s world is built comprehensively through detailed narration, clever characterisation and visuals. Blake: The Visual Novel does a fantastic job of establishing its futuristic and cyberpunk setting, with fun and subtle reminders such as a paper copy of something being referred to as a handheld screenshot!
Blake: The Visual Novel has a vibrant illustrative art-style reminiscent of graphic novels. Detailed character avatars overlay various intricately drawn backgrounds that really help build the game world and immerse the player. Certain scenes are shown in black and white and others have no artwork at all, featuring only written narration, both work really well at adding a sense of drama to the scene. Overall, the aesthetic really fits the themes and style of the game and is one of the highlights of the experience.
There is no voice acting in the game and few sound effects but the eclectic music is a welcome addition. The game starts with a kind of futuristic jazz with a saxophone solo playing over a digital backing track. Other sections of the game feature gentle and jovial piano or a bluesy bass guitar. Some tracks seem to play more often than others and can get a little repetitive but for the most part, the music really helps bring each scene to life.
Overall Blake: The Visual Novel is a gripping narrative experience with diverse and distinct characters, detailed narration and engaging and believable dialogue. The graphic novel aesthetic fits perfectly with the themes of the game and was a particular highlight. It will take around 4-5 hours to complete a playthrough and as the story is very intriguing and sparks curiosity about the multiple other paths, missed dialogue and variations on the ending there is some replayability. The only negative was the reliance on mental health tropes, which was really rather jarring and disappointing at the end of an otherwise enjoyable experience.
If you like visual novels you may also enjoy reading about these games:
A YEAR OF SPRINGS – Hard-Hitting Visual Novel! – Three Visual Novels from Nikita Kaf! – Pumpkin Eater: A Disturbing Tale of Death and Decay!