Icebound was interesting for me. It was my first experience with a visual novel made by a western creator. In fact it was my first visual novel not made by Key. It was also the first game I’ve played in a quite a while that I knew so little about. All I really knew was it was a steam-punk, fantasy visual novel set during the ice age and there were alchemy puzzles. I thought this would be an interesting way (and the fact its an advanced copy I was playing means there isn’t much I could have found out ahead of time anyway) to review a game and I might try it again sometime. Anyway, on with the review.
If you’ve ever played a visual novel before you’ll feel right at home. Read the text on screen, click to advance the page, read the text, etc. Like most visual novels you’ll be prompted to make choices every once in a while. These choices can appear white, blue or red. Icebound has a notoriety system and picking white has no effect, blue raises your “order” and red raises “chaos” there is another way to change that I’ll get into later but the notoriety system and choices are actually my first complaint with the game. You may remember from my review of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2 that my biggest complaint was despite having choices very rarely do they actually effect anything in the game besides a couple lines of text after you made the choice. This issue is added to a bit in Icebound by having the notoriety system. All it does is if you have higher chaos, will let you use a more “evil” option or higher order a “nice” option opposed to most being in the middle of the road. It has no effect on the story like inFamous with its karma system and honestly, I’m left wondering why it was even added. As I alluded to there really aren’t multiple paths either. There is one spot I found that one choice instantly ends the game while one finishes the story and that is the only time a choice did more than change the dialogue. I’ll get a bit more into this later as I would like to talk about how this effects characters.
As I mentioned earlier there are puzzles. Basically these are prompted when the main character, Dougal, has to do alchemy. You have to cover each symbol on the board with the same symbol you find a piece of. You can’t have two pieces of the same symbol next to each other and you can’t move a symbol once its placed. If you fail (or chose to abort) you get some funny dialogue but other than that get to continue the story. I liked this option as some of the later puzzles I still haven’t beat yet and it lets you continue without getting too frustrated with the game. Skipping them does have its downsides as once you successfully beat an alchemy puzzle you get to chose if you want to add to your order or chaos. As far as I can tell completing all of these is the only way to max out your notoriety.
Now onto the part I’d normally put first in a visual novel review but stuck last because I have so much I need to say. Story. Don’t worry I’m not going to spoil anything too far into the game! The story follows an alchemist named Dougal who arrives into the small town of Isenbarr with his ice bat Familiar, Isaac. The two have amnesia and all they remember is Isaac used to be a human and there was some experiment conducted on Dougal that caused them to lose their memory and Isaac to turn into an ice bat. While checking a town board for word they find a note asking for alchemists to help with a special project. They arrive and are introduced to 3 other alchemists, Zoltan, an alchemist who thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread. He’s a genius which doesn’t help, Kimka, is another race called “Feran”, she has horns and fur and claims to hate humans despite really not acting like she does and Barzul a hunter and appears to enjoy fighting. You are also introduced to Fei a robotic sabercat who was given life by and serves the person running this, Megistus a master alchemist that fled the empire and is asking for help but never shows themselves. Once everyone but Dougal leaves we also meet a spy named Lamia. There are a ton of characters here ( I didn’t even list them all) so I was really excited to actually learn about each of them (as they all clearly have some secret when you first meet them) but that really never happens. As I mentioned earlier the choices don’t effect much and there is one main path. You do learn all the main character’s backstories but once you learn them Dougal really seems to stop caring about them and moves on to the next. Lamia is really the only character besides Dougal that gets flushed out and other characters are mostly stereotyped which really sucked. The other interesting character was the doctor, Maia who also becomes flushed out later on which makes me wish even more that all the characters got that.
The main game looks interesting. The backgrounds look pretty good and all the characters are drawn well enough all with different stills for multiple emotions with all their reactions matching the displayed text perfectly fine. For the most part everything looked good. The issue with with the CGs.
They look ok for the most part but they seem to adopt a different art style which is kind of weird. It wouldn’t be too bad but some of the CGs later look like they were meant as placeholders until the final ones were done as you can see outlines left on but I can’t find anywhere implying that this is the case or that there are plans to patch in new ones. Its really sad as outside of the CGs the graphics are nice to look at.
The soundtrack was nailed. I don’t think was a single song I didn’t like and most of the songs I’d rate fairly highly. An issue I’ve noticed with some VNs is the songs don’t look properly so they end then restart. Icebound never had that issue and all the songs looped fine (or I never heard a song play all the way to the end but I don’t think that’s the case). Sadly there is something that just kills it for me and that is lack of voice acting. I knew it wasn’t in there before I start but I didn’t think that would be a big deal as all my previous visual novels were Japanese voice acting so I couldn’t understand them anyway but it just felt kind of empty without it. I know there are plans to bring an update with the voice acting but all I could find relating to this was a forum post stating the deadline for voice work is October 31st. 2013. Everywhere else just states “in the future” without even a planned date. I was going to pass this off as I was playing a version before the game actually released so it is probably just not added but even though the Steam Greenlight campaign is still going on you can buy it on their site through Humble. If it was promised to be with the Steam release I might have been more lenient but the last official word I can find was from a year ago so sadly I can’t just ignore it.