One beautiful thing about visual novel games is the pace at which you can play them, whether it be fast or very slow. It encourages you to move at your own pace and take in whatever you can as you uncover new details about the story. You don’t really need to be a huge fan of the genre to truly enjoy it, but you do need to have a lot of patience as the story unravels. Much like any novel you read on your way home from work, or perhaps as you lay down in bed on a rainy afternoon, visual novels share that same aesthetic but instead of just words, you have characters that you can interact with, and hear them communicate with you as if you were part of the narrative. ISLAND is a great example of a visual novel that’s well executed and really involves you in the progression of the story, seeing how character relationships evolve and depending on your decisions over time, where the direction of the story can go.
The series exploded in popularity when it originally released in Japan, back in 2016, and since then the series has become one of Frontwing’s most prolific titles on its roster. A PS Vita port was made in 2017, and just recently a PS4 version (JP) released with high praise. It’s great to see the Frontwing team localizing the game so that fans in the west can get a taste of greatness! Those who have watched the anime version will most likely feel at home, because the game is a direct reflection of it entirely, but with a lot more dialogue to help better define the plot and flesh out every character respectively.
What to Expect
Like any visual novel, there will be a lot of reading that you’ll need to do, which means that ISLAND will require a great deal of your time. Whether this is a good or bad thing will most certainly depend solely on the individual, but fortunately, the game does permit you to speed things up with its fast forward and auto functions, which we’ll touch on later. Basically, ISLAND is meant to be enjoyed and not rushed since there’s plenty of things to experience and be surprised by as you communicate with the other cast members. We won’t spoil anything in this review but, just as a heads up, if you’re watching the anime at the moment, there’s still a lot you may not have seen later in the game. Of course, if you’re coming into this game with a fresh pair of eyes then there’s really nothing to be concerned about, so you can enjoy ISLAND and its beautiful narrative all the way through. With multiple routes and endings, there’s a plethora of things to explore!
The story begins with a young man who wakes up to find himself on the beach of an island named Urashima, totally unaware of what’s going on and why he’s there. After being questioned by the police and encountering a young girl by the name of Rinne, his memory starts to come back slowly and he comes to find out his name is Setsuna. Setsuna was thrown onto this mysterious island to save the world from peril, or at least that’s what he thinks, but as he stays on the island other parts of his mysterious journey start to unravel. As you discover more about your past through the interaction with other characters, pieces of the puzzle start to come together to finally unravel the truth, both past and future, pertaining to Urashima.
Frontwing is no slouch when it comes to presentation and anyone who’s watched their anime will most definitely understand. The same can be said about this game, because everything looks exactly the same from the anime in terms of overall design and location. From its stellar opening movie to the smooth transitions between scenes as you play, ISLAND is a game that reels you in with its soft spoken characters and visually stimulating appearance. The overall UI is very clean and doesn’t rob you of the immersive experience, which is a huge plus. The buttons to interact with are located at the bottom right corner, giving you a much bigger screen to work with and truly enjoy what’s happening without distractions. If you ever want to save the game you can either click on “Quick Save” via the bottom-right corner or very conveniently press the “Esc” button on the keyboard, which will bring up a new menu with load, save, and other options to choose from.
As stated earlier in the review, ISLAND feels very much like its anime brethren but definitely much slower to really flesh out the story better. In regards to sound and music, the same voice actors from the anime are in the game, and they do an excellent job of portraying their respective characters. There were never any moments other than —of course— when you’re talking that the game lacked any voice overs at all, which is outstanding. Everything is fully voiced from start to finish, which only adds more authenticity to ISLAND’s compelling story.
The background music as you play is soothing to the soul with its harmonious melodies that just put you at ease, and truly never disappoints. Its use of comedic sound effects also adds more flavor to the already delicious selection of the audible buffet, and it’s an “all you can eat” (or hear) experience. Never did we feel like the music or background tones were too overwhelming or too monotonous; it really created a nice balance in terms of tempo, and that really helped to develop a stronger emotional connection to all that’s happening throughout the game.
Gameplay in a visual novel sounds very foreign, especially since most of the time you’re just either reading dialogue or experiencing branching paths, which could directly affect the story and its endings. We will say though that decisions do play a role in the game and there are multiple endings that you can experience, depending on the choices you make with the three main girls, Sara, Rinne, and Karen. This of course goes off the trail from the anime a little bit as some of the endings and scenarios surprised even us as we played it, but luckily you’re able to revert back to the last decision you made if you want to stay on track. This very organized flowchart system is what really makes playing ISLAND so endearing, because it all revolves around you, which only encourages you to dive deeper.
Going back to what we stated earlier regarding the speed at which you can play, ISLAND allows you to speed up the dialogue with a multiplier. You can speed things up to 32x but at that point you’re most likely not reading, since everything moves at such a remarkably fast pace. We imagine that option will be used to skip sections that maybe you may find a bit too boring, or perhaps you forgot to save and so catching up to where the story last left off is the main target.
Just having the option to choose the speed at which the story is displayed is a big plus and a quintessential part of the visual novel experience. We’ve added this part in because we’re assuming that those reading this review have perhaps watched the anime, but are not entirely familiar with how visual novels work. Of course, visual novel connoisseurs will find this option to be no more than a normal occurrence, but it’s still good to know that the game does include these features which are pivotal to the overall enjoyment of the game.
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
In the end, ISLAND serves up a wonderful dish that’s abundant of flavors and really hits the palette incredibly well. It does so with a nice assortment of impactful music and an array of branching paths that add more spice to the mix. Its delightful cast is lovable and never feels contrived when it comes to character development, with each decision that you make opening up new doors of exploration and overall excitement. As you start to uncover new territory and are bedazzled by the attention to detail with regards to design and narrative, ISLAND always provides a breath of fresh air and leaves you wanting more over time.
Fully voiced and done so with the highest quality.
Well organized branching paths which make things real exciting.
Being able to go back to your previous decision to change the path is real nice.
Visual novels may not be for everyone.
Honey's Final Verdict:
If you haven’t had a chance to watch the anime then we highly recommend doing so, because ISLAND is a really great drama/sci-fi experience. It’s currently 8 episodes in so be sure to keep up if you’re new to the series! Also, be sure to check out our other visual novel reviews and let us know your thoughts in the comments below! We always do our best to respond and it’s always nice to see the community come together to share similar passions! In addition, follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest gaming news from around the world, and find us on Twitch to see us playing our reviewed titles live!
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Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.
A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and watch me play on twitch.tv/honeysgaming ! Take care!