Thinking back on it, I can’t recall any visual novels explicitly stated to take place in the United States (save for a scene or two). Even with the abundance of western writers releasing their stories into the medium most still take place in Japan, a fantasy world or just a generic, unnamed area. So putting aside the surprisingly unique setting, how was Highway Blossoms? If you follow me on Twitter you should already know, if not let’s get started!
*A review code was provided by Sekai Project
You play as Amber, a lone girl traveling through New Mexico in a beat-up RV when she spots a cute girl on the side of the road. Enter Marina, your typical ditzy anime girl whose car has broken down and phone battery died. Amber decides to bring her to a gas station where she finds out about a supposed treasure recently discovered in a journal by a participant of the gold rush. The clerk took a liking to Marina and gives her a photocopied version for free (Marina was originally searching when her car broke down) and the girls leave to fill Marina’s car, discovering it missing. Marina manages to convince Amber to take her to the first location and before she knows it, they’re hunting for the treasure together.
The only other reoccurring cast is a rival group also looking for the treasure, Mariah, a loud and bossy girl that doesn’t believe in shirts, Tess her younger sister that doesn’t talk much but is very determined with certain things and Joseph who is a relative of the gold prospector and Mariah’s childhood friend. A few other characters get sprites and named such as a redneck family and Jumbo who is some perverted trucker they meet at a rest stop. I found both to be kind of weird inclusions especially Jumbo as we have a scene with Amber leaving Marina with him to let the air out of his tires so I was expecting him to show up again (you even get an achievement for meeting him called “Met Jumbo” and the description: “Let’s hope you don’t ever again” which makes me wonder if he was planned to show up again but didn’t for whatever reason. Overall though, I didn’t have any characters I disliked with most being really enjoyable.
The soundtrack was amazing. I added maybe 30-60 minutes to my playtime because I kept just sitting there while the music played. Thinking back, there wasn’t any bad tracks either. You can purchase the soundtrack as DLC too which I will probably do as soon as I have the money just so I can listen to some of those tracks again (plus Marina’s mixtape is apparently a track on it so I gotta get that). There’s no voice acting but like usual, I don’t consider that an issue.
Graphically I’m a little mixed. I don’t think anything looks bad, quite the opposite, some of the CG look stunning and are even partially animated with fire flicker or characters rocking. My problem is how the CG had a lot of different styles. Marina’s hair colour also varied from a light to dark pink, sometimes more red, sometimes (like the image at the top and her sprites) looking blonde. Again I don’t think any of the CG looked bad but it was a little off-putting for me. There’s also a neat little gallery with some fan-art you can see after beating the game with links to the relevant artist’s profiles.
Once you beat the game you unlock Goofball mode which gives EZ Mode and Normal mode (The Steam page says these are writing by the programmer) . EZ lasts less than a minute and I was laughing the entire time (there’s even an exclusive sprite!) and Normal is the full game with some jokes (a lot of 4th wall breaking) thrown in between some lines for good measure. There’s also a new character that I didn’t recognize but going by Amber and Marina’s text I’m guessing she was from one of Alienworks’ other games.
This last paragraph will talk about sex so if you don’t like that kinda thing (or are under 18) skip to the summary box below. Anyway during the 18+ version there are 2 sex scenes and I found these really well written. I mean this. They both lead to some major character development as well as develop the relationship between Amber and Marina. If you’re of legal age I’d recommend finding the patch on the Steam forums and installing it.