February 16, 2017

Angels with Scaly Wings

I’ve been spending my latest bit of free time playing the dragon date game Angels with Scaly Wings. Dragons are slowly but surely becoming my all-encompassing brand, so I had no choice in the matter, but also, I was kind of intrigued. It was clearly a very passionate project. And in the end, having played it, I found it really interesting. I really enjoyed it, but I also think it has enough flaws that I probably wouldn’t recommend it. Still, it’s stuck with me, so I want to talk about it for a bit.

First off, I do want to talk about why the game is poorly constructed. The game is clearly pulling inspiration from the likes of things like Zero Escape and Danganronpa. It wants to create this deadly-feeling conspiracy in a world of dragons. The end result of this, though, is something that feels very disconnected. The dragons that you date are only really minimally connected to this main plot, which makes the characters you spend the most time with and care about almost completely incidental to what happens in the “plot” proper. Endings celebrate this plot, and not your connections with characters, which makes it even worse, honestly. And while the game attempts to create a sense of tension by having characters you could date die throughout the story, it doesn’t actually feel driven by the story proper. When someone dies in a Zero Escape game, it is basically straight up your fault, and you have to try to figure out what you could have done better. If someone dies in a Danganronpa game, it’s an important part of the plot. Here, it is literally just an indication that you did not spend enough time with them, and has no real effect on the route you’re working on. Because of how the conspiracy plot makes you loop, you’d think you might also be motivated by having to set up an exacting chain of events to save everyone, but no. Once you’ve seen a character’s good ending, which honestly only feels “good” in a few instances, you can ignore them. They’ll turn out fine.

Perhaps this would be fine if the suspense thriller detective whatever parts of the game were engaging without this character involvement, but it really isn’t. It feels like an author’s early attempt at writing one of those, and while we all have to start somewhere, because the game is set up so everything hangs on it, it just doesn’t land well. The game isn’t really that long, but it still feels bloated, with more ideas tacked into it than was really necessary to get things going. Perhaps this is a “me” problem though, as I’m very much a character over worldbuilding kind of person. However, even if you’re fine with that, there are still occasional immersion-breaking jokes that just should not be there. This whole world has been set up in a specific way, for better or worse. It makes no sense for your character to say lines like “my body is ready.” It’s not even played for humor, like the narrator is making a joke. It’s just kind of there. There are some good things in the writing too, though. The game does some really smart things to establish why your character is of an indistinct gender, for example. But overall: not great.

All that being said, once you finish the game once, a strange thing happens. Usually, in a visual novel, on future runs you can speed up the text to get through parts where you already know the outcome, but you still have to track decisions and many other things. In this game, once you’ve seen it, you’re just given the option to skip sections making all the right choices. It’s pretty fantastic, actually. And what happens is, all that stuff up there, that I wasn’t really excited about? Suddenly it disappears, and you’re just dating dragons.

The game does right by its five lead characters. Even some of the “side date” characters (which I get the feeling were probably kickstarter campaign rewards. I know this was crowdfunded) are treated well. But it’s leads are well thought out, they’re charming, and they feel, for the most part, fully-realized. The passion that I talked about earlier is very clear in these characters. Someone spent a lot of time thinking about them. I really like them all. Once they’re removed from the context of the “main” story, they really shine. Are they the best dategame people ever? No, probably not, but they’re fun.

I want to zoom in most specifically on Bryce, the police chief. I’m not sure if I’ve dated a character quite like him in a dating game before. He’s a horrible flirt and a huge bro, but he really cares about his job and doing well at it. He doesn’t want to settle for “not being good at things,” but instead wants to improve, even if it’s not by much. He’s nice. But what I found unique about him is that you aren’t really dating? I mean, you are. You go on dates, he is the character you most clearly and without a doubt fuck, but the way he approaches it, and the game lets you approach it, is extremely casual. Going on Bryce’s route is not “I’ve found my soulmate.” It’s “I’ve found a fantastic friend and every so often we’re gonna blow each other before cracking open a beer.” It’s this “friends with benefits” dynamic that feels like something that would actually work, and not involve anyone being mislead or being gross. And that’s so rare, I think. You don’t see that kind of thing a lot. I loved it. Of course, if you want more traditional romances, you’ve got those covered too.

Anyway, as I said, I really don’t know if I can recommend the game. If you’re obsessed with dragons like me, you can totally date some cute dragons here! Which is nice! And I really hope whoever made this makes another game, because I feel like there are so many lessons being learned from this that’s gonna make another dating game from them shine. But as it is, yeah. It’s a thing, and there’s some thoughts on it. If that still sounds good to you, go for it, and let’s talk about it!

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