The screen faded to white, but quickly returned on a still shot of the four main girls yelling at each other. Playful smiles filled the screen – from everyone but Noelle, of course – as the dialogue changed to address the player directly.
“You know how during metamorphosis, inside the chrysalis…” Gwen began.
“I’m doing the voice of Diya!” Eleanor interrupted. “Get your own character.”
“I have Noelle!” Gwen said. “Sorry, I thought it was still her.”
“Fine,” Eleanor said, before continuing. “You know how during metamorphosis, inside the chrysalis, the butterfly turns to soup?”
“Oh, I see where they’re going with this,” Gwen said.
“Just let the game end,” Eleanor chided.
“This is the end?” Dania asked, distraught.
“Pretty much,” Eleanor said. “I mean, we got the ending we wanted. Everyone is a mess when they’re growing up…”
“I didn’t want it to end, though!” Dania cried. “I want them to keep having gay baseball adventures. Where’s my sequel…uh, who made the game?”
“Brianna Lei,” Eleanor answered.
“Where’s my sequel, Brianna Lei?”
“I know, it sucks,” Eleanor said. “But better for it to end on a high note.”
“Maybe,” Dania groaned. On the screen, Min-Seo was speaking, so Dania read the line: “You deserve to be happy. So don’t give up.”
“This is peak Tumblr confidence boosting right here,” Gwen smirked.
“I mean, that’s literally how we discovered the game,” Eleanor said. She turned back and read Diya’s final line: “…and if an alligator attacks you, go for the eyes.”
“I just wanted to see Noelle and Liz get together,” Dania said. “But now it’s never gonna happen.”
“It’s fine,” Eleanor said. “More fuel for the fanfiction.”
“Tell me about it,” Dania said. “Please tell me there’s a thriving fanfiction community around this game, that has to be a thing.”
“‘Thriving’ might not be the absolute best word ––”
“What about throbbing?”
“There’s more dialogue!” Gwen said, pointing to the screen.
Sure enough, the game wasn’t quite over when it seemed to be. A touch more dialogue – of the girls getting characteristically off-topic – went by quickly, before Min-Seo formally signed off, sending the screen to black. Before anyone could exhale, the first credit appeared on the screen: “Created by Brianna Lei.”
“Ugh, it’s so good!” Eleanor squealed.
“Let’s play it again,” Dania said. “Let’s just start back at the beginning, and make all new choices.”
“I’m pretty sure it still ends with the two girls together,” Gwen said. “None of the decisions you make in the game are so pivotal that they’re going to break that relationship up.”
“Maybe,” Eleanor said. “I mean, we selected everything we could. It’s a visual novel, not a choose-your-own-adventure – there’s not multiple endings.”
“Darn,” Dania said. “I just want more of it.”
“There’s something to be praised in a self-contained story,” Gwen said. “Especially one as endearing as this one.”
“I just love the people so much,” Eleanor sung. “It’s so cute. The dialogue is so true to life, in the awkward way they talk to each other.”
“There’s a real sense of truth behind every dodged topic,” Gwen said. “Like real teenagers. That one moment with Akarsha, where she yells into the empty gym…”
“I’M SAD AND I USE MY HUMOR AS A COPING MECHANISM! I WANNA DIE!” Dania shouted – paraphrased, but the sentiment was accurate.
“I feel called out by that,” Gwen said.
“You’re not Akarsha, though,” Eleanor pointed out. “You’re much more of a Noelle.”
“Yeah, I’m Akarsha,” Dania said. “And Eleanor is…I wanna say Diya.”
“Diya is correct,” Gwen agreed.
“I was thinking Min-Seo,” Eleanor shrugged. “But either works.”
“You as Min?” Dania asked. “I don’t see it.”
“You’re not me.”
“Not the stabby parts of Min,” Eleanor defended. “The parts where she’s in 3rd grade and pretends she has a gun that shoots a gun that shoots knives. That’s very me as a kid.”
“I wish we got more of those childhood scenes,” Gwen said. “They’re very sweet. It’s nice to see a romance with a long, lifetime mileage of buildup.”
“‘Lifetime,’ maybe, they’re in high school,” Eleanor commented.
“But it’s their whole lifetime,” Gwen added. “They don’t have more yet.”
“Hm,” Eleanor muttered. “Maybe that’s why relationships are such a big deal in high school.”
“That, and people are just horny and figuring things out,” Dania said.
“They’re butterfly soup,” Gwen said. “That’s the point.”
The credits, rolling by unnoticed on the screen, ended, and the trio were soon returned to the loading screen. The could hear the gentle glockenspiel score, punctuated with stings of electronic chimes and the occasional guitar strum, as it ran over pastel sketches of the characters.
“Did she do the whole game herself?” Dania asked.
“Most of it,” Eleanor said. “The music was two other people, but all the illustrations and writing were Brianna.”
“She has a lovely artistic style,” Gwen said. “Considering she only used about ten or so different poses for each character – a neutral one, one for shock, an upset one, and so on…”
“The one of Min and Diya when they meet up again,” Eleanor said. “Which is super cute, by the way.”
“I’M GAY. I’M GAY. I’M GAY,” Dania quoted.
“That’s a separate kind of illustration,” Gwen said. “There’s also the supplemental images to spice things up. Min pitching, or the amazing one of Akarsha and Min skateboarding.”
“I lost it – you saw me lose it,” Eleanor smiled, recollecting the scene again. “It was so funny.”
“Even images like them walking to school, facing away,” Gwen continued. “There’s attention paid to ensuring the visuals don’t get static.”
“Hehe…” Dania chuckled quietly. “Semes…”
“I was not going to let you name us that!” Eleanor shouted at her friend.
“Okay, but next time, when we replay it,” Dania said. “We’ve gotta pick that option for the team name.”
“I don’t see what was wrong with the Monarchs,” Gwen said. “That’s what’s on the jerseys.”
“Yeah, they don’t even give an option to keep it the same,” Eleanor said.
“Well, duh, because you’re supposed to pick ‘Semes.'”
“We are not picking that.”
The two stared at each other intensely, before Dania reached out to poke Eleanor’s nose.
Eleanor emitted a guttural noise, before collapsing into her chair.
“Do you think she’s gonna release DLC or something?” Dania asked.
“It’d certainly be natural to make a sequel,” Gwen said. “Choose a new couple to focus on, within the same universe.”
“Can’t be easy,” Eleanor said. “All those drawings, and the branching options for writing.”
“I just want more of it,” Dania said. “That’s my one big criticism of it, is that it was so good at setting up a love story and then it just stops the love story. Like, I want more of them just being a couple.”
“It’s similar to Gone Home, in that regard,” Gwen said. “Although it has more focus than Gone Home.”
“Right,” Eleanor agreed. “The problem with Gone Home was that it set up expectations that there was some kind of mystery or horror element, but once the truth about it being a sweet love story was revealed, the foreshadowing had nothing to do with the real ending.”
“There are still tangents and side-stories here,” Gwen continued. “But only an amount that fleshes out characters, not to the level that makes you search the game for more backstory.”
“Although a walking simulation does story differently than a visual novel,” Eleanor pointed out.
“I forgot about Gone Home,” Dania said. She thought, then crossed her arms. “Now that’s two delightful lesbian stories in video games that end right when they’re getting good.”
Eleanor shrugged. “Anything you want to see more of has to be doing something right.”
“I was wondering – you play more visual novels than I have, right?” Gwen said, looking to Eleanor.
“Well, how many do you play?”
“Okay, then yes, I do.”
“What is usually the ratio of decisions to stretches of just dialogue?” Gwen asked. “Because it felt like there was a lot of dialogue and fewer choices to make.”
“This was pretty typical,” Eleanor said, looking back at the screen. “Maybe a little on the dialogue side, but it’s only got one couple to deal with.”
“Okay, that’s interesting,” Gwen said. “I didn’t mind it, though there were definitely moments where I wanted more decisions in the conversation.”
“This is definitely one of the few I’ve seen that jumps between different characters in the story,” Eleanor added. “That might throw off the ratio, since people have to act a certain way to establish backstories, and things like that.”
“Maybe. It didn’t drag, I’m only wondering.”
Eleanor returned to her save files, and picked out another one, just at the start of Akarsha’s chapter.
“I want more Akarsha in my life,” she murmured.
“Can do!” Dania said, her grin wide. “If you bit into a fist-sized Gusher, would it be gross or delicious?”
“We’re not having this argument again!”
“Can I click back?” Eleanor asked. She tapped the Back button, and the screen darkened. The sound of a coin dropping into a slot was heard, and the screen showed the game toggling between different characters, before – again – landing on Akarsha. The pastel image smiled, her knees tucked to her chest with her sandaled feet in the forefront.
“It’s stuff like that,” Gwen said out of nowhere. “Little decisions like that. Brianna Lei could have simply jumped to Akarsha’s story, or done some other simple transition action to get there. But the use of that slot machine sound, and the extra art assets. There’s something about that dedication that helps to set it apart. You can see the effort.”
“I’m honestly impressed she released it for free,” Dania said. “She could have easily thrown it on Steam and people would have loved it. Might give it some legit cred, too.”
“It’s – well, firstly, it’s pretty legit,” Eleanor said. “Lei’s a game designer and writer beyond just this success. And two, I read an interview with her where she said that she wanted to make it free so questioning teens could play it, without having to ask parents for money to buy an LGBTQ+ game.”
“That’s real cool,” Dania said. “I love that. I could have used this.”
“I do hope she released something else soon,” Gwen agreed.
“Yeh, you and the entire fandom, Gwen,” smirked Eleanor.
“Well, why are you waiting?” Dania urged, pointing to the screen. “Let’s play Akarsha again!”
“We’re not actually playing the whole second half again.”
“Why not? Do you not want to?”
“Sure I do, but I have things to get done!”
“Ugh, okay fine.”
Gwen walked away, with Dania following – but not before Dania could add “you are such a Diya.”
Eleanor glanced up, catching Dania’s eyes before she left. To Dania, they said “I will not hesitate to stab you.” For Eleanor, however, the emotion was closer to “if you were ever about to be hit with a car, I would drive another car into it to protect you.”
Image Credit: Game footage, art by Brianna Lei