Blake: The Visual Novel Review: It’s Blake Both Front-To-Back
The thing about visual novels is that they are often like interactive comic books—a dalliance of art and story partnered with the element of choice. What’s great about them, is that the player is capable of unfolding different parts of the adventure. Ascertaining for themselves the true nature of the game’s character, personalities, and most importantly, tone. In many ways, Blake: The Visual Novel is all about embracing this atmosphere by taking an inside look into Blake’s mind through his interactions. All while being set inside New Stone, a city of mystery and technologically themed noir.
Developed by Ori Mees and published by LegendOri Productions, Blake: The Visual Novel was released on September 1st on Steam. A story about mental health, violence, and destructive behavior — this game is creator Ori Mees’ creative debut and is a fantastically crafted one at that. Featuring surprising twists and revelations you won’t believe, this is a compelling choice-based psychological thriller of a game.
Blake’s story begins at his job at ICC, which is one of the world’s biggest tech companies. After getting to (optionally) know some of his coworkers, including one major revelation about the nature of his relationship with his boss, Jonathan, a slew of mysteries begins to unfold within Blake’s life, beginning with a set of kidnapped owls found in his apartment and a strange riddle left for him to investigate.
Now, much of the story’s outcomes and endings highly depend on the decisions made while interacting with Blake’s colleagues during his investigation. Simple moments like going to the bar together, getting to pet someone’s dog, or even go out on a date — all derive this mixed bag of backstory building while overcoming major threats that Blake has to endure.
Though the best part about this novel was easily the characters, each of whom, are pleasantly are more than meets the eye upon initial impression. There’s Max, the brilliantly nerdy gamer girl with smarts to boot; Orlo, her attractive bestie and brother-figure with whom she often has silly feuds; Jonathan Gordain, Blake’s boss, who is an old fashioned programmer and noir fanatic and in many ways, Blake’s father figure; Chris, a silent but ridiculously strong type in that he’s a gigantic man of pure muscle who apparently loves dogs; and then Lee, the nervous junior tech support who’s compassionate to Andy, the company’s lovable receptionist android. Finally, there’s also Hari, the egregiously happy-go-lucky girl that’s complicated and ridiculously gorgeous. All of these characters play a pivotal role in the game and even feature their own puzzles and even small story arcs.
Beyond Blake’s own story, there is also an investigation of a mysterious streaming killer called KillVR; a controversial killer who hunts dangerous convicts and records their murders through their own bionic eyes. Without ruining the ending, I will say the reveal is pretty fantastic in that the writing sets up the story rather well if players pay good enough attention to the context clues of this world. My only qualms about the overall story are that the arcs seem short for every character, as I think the game could’ve been slightly longer (I really want to know Hari’s backstory!).
The Designs Are Pretty
Much of the art was inspired by western comics, with art by Diego Llorente and Adrian Stone, who’d drawn inspiration evoking comics such as Sin City, Watchmen, and The Walking Dead. At times, the character art is almost distractingly pretty. With impossibly flawless characters that look supermodel pretty, with slender wastes, and gigantic… ahem, lady chest features.
Likewise, the musical tracks by Dan Le Sac and Sam Dudley really highlight the noir vibes and are definitely some of the most ear-candy catchy tunes I’ve ever kept playing in the background. Stylistically, I also absolutely love the Blake logo that’s the same upwards as it is downwards, which seems like a small feature until you get to understand the entire plot of the story (it’s symbolic).
Overall, I believe it’s the written dialogue, which is very in character, that sells this, as does the omnipresent descriptive narration that makes the images pop with descriptive details. I also liked the background art for the game’s settings, including Jonathan’s office, the Saucy Mama’s bar, and even Blake’s cellphone, which serves as a decent transition to the next plot element or setting change in the story.
The Owl and The Wood Mouse Ran Away, In An Elegant Pumpkin Carriage. They journeyed wide and far under the stars, oh what A Beautiful Marriage!
Gameplay for a story that’s mostly narrative and puzzle-driven is not the easiest to do, but Ori Mees does a pretty good job with this game. A playtest coordinator who’d worked on major titles such as Outriders, Control, and Life is Strange 2, there’s a lot of seasoned work here, as Ori not only written the story but also designed and coded the entirety of the game.
Decision-making moments for Blake often boil down to having playful, kind, neutral, or mean responses. There are also many difficult puzzles in the game to keep the audience engaged, where I had to google things like binary translation or how to count to 33 to solve. Although seemingly arbitrary at first glance, some character arcs Blake chooses to explore do affect major life-or-death points in the game’s ending, meaning some actions (especially mean ones) can lock out critical get-to-know-you scenes that impact the game.
The game also is not without its flaws. The element of choice for the sake of frustration did hit me rather hard with some of the puzzles (like the dog game, which for a moment, I honestly thought was impossible to solve), and there were times where the next spacebar or left click progression of the narration would freeze, and as a result, would skip forward. I do strongly suggest using the backtrack button or a second play-through to try and find a happy ending.
Thankfully, the UI is actually well-done, with a good chunk of save slots for multiple save your own moment’s checkpoints, along with some solid dialogue, interface control, and screenshotting. For a narrative game: there’s a surprising amount of control.
A Short And Fun Mystery Where You’ll Want The Happy Ending
A compelling tale about a psychological breakdown and loss brought to life with a vibrant comic book art style, there’s a lot to like about this debut. For a first release, it’s a pretty fantastic job, despite a few minor hiccups.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Steam (Reviewed); Developer: Ori Mees; Publisher: LegendOri Productions; Players: 1; Released: September 1st, 2021; MSRP: $1.99