I’ve come to really enjoy visual novels that delve into deep philosophical or emotional issues, and do so with gorgeous art backing that up. It’s a fantastic medium for telling a story, and up until a week ago, were you task where to start, I probably would have suggested you start with Along the Edge or The Mind’s Eclipse. However, Nova-box’s new tale Seers Isle may just be one of the most gorgeous, intricate and engaging visual novels I’ve had the pleasure to play.
A group of shaman apprentices set foot on the shores of a sacred island to be initiated to magic.As they progress through the wilderness, looking for the “Seers”, their spirit-guides, they realize they’re not alone. Who is this strange horned woman they are seeing in their dreams?
Seers Isle begins simply enough: Seven young aspirants are on a boat headed for Seers Isle. This remote and mysterious island is a sort of testing ground where young nominees come in search of the Sacred Flame, a magical power that will gift the worthy with the powers of divination and healing.
The group is incredibly diverse: Arlyn the headstrong fisher with a past full of heartache, Jennyver the healer whose much older than the rest of the group, Brandon the kind and quiet carpenter, Connor the out of place thief and city-boy, Freya the bold huntress, Erik the headstrong warrior and Duncan, the young wolf with something to prove. Such a diverse and varied group of characters must have been a struggle to depict fairly and evenly, but Nova-box have done some wonderfully. Each character gets their time, even if Arlyn, Connor, Freya and Duncan take center stage as the game progresses. Every character is shown to have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s easy to empathize with these characters, which will be important.
There’s actually another major character that needs to be discussed: Rowan. She’s the mysterious antlered girl seen in the art and trailer of the game, and she’s a spirit trapped on Seers Isle. Rowan is used in an incredibly interesting way, and could easily be considered the narrator of the game and the protagonist, though you won’t see why until much later in the game. She’s also the source of a bit of a fourth wall break, acting as a “Little Voice” telling the different character what to say or do; a.k.a. you.
We won’t spoil the specifics of the story here, but the important take away is that your choices matter. Just like in their previous title Along the Edge, Nova-box have constructed an immense branching story with twists and turns and a huge number of different resolutions and endings. There are some incredible hooks at the beginning of the game hinting at the “something more” going on, and the game’s later twists are jaw-dropping. Add to this some harrowing moments, some incredibly tough and emotional decisions to make and the fact that character death is made a clear possibility early on, and you’ve got the makings of gripping adventure story with a emotional core. It’s hard to know if the fact that there were more characters made it easier to pull off a story full of choices that made a real difference, or a harder one, but regardless Nova-box has done a incredible job in constructing a visual novel where the choice do actually matter.
As complex as the story is, mechanically Seers Isle is very simple. Throughout the story, you’ll be deciding the actions of numerous characters, jumping from one to the other as the persepctive shifts and flows through the group. Sometimes, you’ll be deciding the tone a simple response, other times you’ll be making a choice that’ll shift the entire direction of the tale, but your choices will always be assigned one of four symbols that represent the character of that answer.
These symbols, The Eye, The Hand, The Man and The Deer, serve as a kind of measuring tool for your actions and choices, and play a major role in determining which ending you’ll see. On my first playthrough (again, no spoilers), I unlocked the Hand/Man ending, as well as a host of smaller decision acchievements. In fact, the method in which you learn what ending you got is one of the most clever mechanics (if you can call it that) in Seers Isle. When you finish the game, it brings you to a screen showing all the different options, only revealing those you achieved, but blacking out those you haven’t yet discovered. It made me want to play through the game again almost immediately.
Seers Isle‘s aesthetic is gorgeous and painterly. The island has a host of different environments, from rocky coastlines to wide-open grasslands to dense forest and frigid peaks. Each act to have it’s own specific pallet in a way, which is a very thematic way of keeping the game organized. There’s a lot of clever use of color in Seers Isle: the text and text boxes of the different characters is color coded, and certain objects and elements can quite easily be connected to these characters personality by these colors.
Seer Isle once again proves that Nova-box know how to make a visual novel with choices that matter. It’s rich, artistic, emotion and mysterious, and it draws you in quickly and holds your attention rapt. The twists are surprising, the characters are relatable and the environments are gorgeous. Seers Isle is about as perfect as visual novels can get if you ask me.