Visual novels are, in my opinion, a complex genre to review. And it’s safe to say that Pesterquest doesn’t add any clarity in that regard. Something between a book, and a game, whilst simultaneously being neither absolutely, it’s tricky to know what standard to measure against. Is the bar raised to the dizzying heights of Dostoyevsky? Or should we hold Pesterquest against the modern, interactive media we celebrate at ABG?
Quite the poser. And after just a short while with it, it was fairly apparent that it wouldn’t stack up particularly well against either comparator. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. I will ask you, however to bear in mind this is the first visual novel I’ve ever played/read. So with that revelation out of the way, and in light of the middle ground this…experience presented, let’s review Pesterquest with a slightly modified list of criteria.
This review was done on PC, using a provided copy of the game. Or book. Gamebook. Bame? Goo…? No, probably not that.
Story and Characterisation
In the words of What Pumpkin Games, Inc, Pesterquest will see you “embark on a quest of epic importance, presenting a grimisical episodic visual novel adventure set in the darkly funny Homestruck / Hiveswap universe.” I’m not sure what “grimiscal” means exactly, but what I can tell you is that you play as a deliberately vacuous sprite, whose sole motivation seems to be harvest friendship like a crack-hungry addict harvests that sweet, sweet brown rock. If that strikes you as epically important, then this may be the game for you.
The adventure kicks off with your introduction to the four leading characters who will become your friends and allies in the adventure ahead. Each is attributed their own “episode”, in which your nameless avatar attempts, in a series of very, very long conversations to ensnare each individual into his web of omnipresent, insatiable lust for friendship.
His name is John. You’ll find that out in about 17 pointless screens’ time.
John is your first victim, and presents as a rather nice 13 year-old boy, easily lulled into the delicate web of lies you spin, inching every closer, and inevitably into your grasping arms. He is the geek of the bunch, and through him you meet victim number two.
Rose likes purple. It’s one of her more interesting characteristics
Rose is a little cannier, and see’s straight through your elaborate backstory. She’s quick, suspecting and as you play cat and mouse with her alcoholic mother, reveals herself to be marginally more interesting than John. Just.
I really wish the writers had indeed “got with the fucking jokes already…”
Dave is your third stop, and, by god this is where my patients was tested. Dave is a bore, both as a product of deliberate character construction, and less fortunately, through god awful writing. He likes the sound of his own voice, and as you read though yet another 5 pages of his impromptu rapping, you begin to form a mental image of the writer behind this, extremely lengthy, needlessly laborious “chapter”.
Your final stop is, it seems a world away from the former three to the ethereal residence of Jade. She is, I’m not sure how to put this, bat shit crazy? Jade starts with a gun in your face, only to melt at the suggestion of a life lived alone, in the next breath embracing adventure to as yet unexplored parts of her proprietary island. She is up and down like a fucking Yoyo, and, you would hope that the writers sneak in a bit of Prozac later in the novel, for your sake and hers. Yikes.
Jade, the absolute fruitloop takes about 30 seconds before telling you of her Furry obsession, which really speaks volumes.
After this, you and your four friends embark on an adventure (adventure honestly seems generous. A roughly chronological sequence of things?) that sees the rest of the narrative though. We won’t go into spoiler territory here, but rest assured, its very, very similar to the first four episodes, seeing our latent protagonist slime his way into more, yet increasingly emotionally confused characters that are, sadly, about as two dimensional as the art style chosen to portray them.
Gameplay and Choice
This is, in my opinion where Pesterquest really misses the mark. Balancing yourself betwixt and between mediums means, by definition that you take on certain attributes of each. Whilst we have revealed, there is a LOT of dialogue as you might expect in a book, there is very little when it comes to gameplay and interaction.
The typical “episode” will go like this. You turn up in front of another character in the story. I would call them an NPC but, in this instance your character is barely playable, so that descriptor seems generous. Dialogue commences. About what seems like 14 hours later, your first choice appears, which will be almost exclusively a choice between two options is. Shortly after it’s likely you picked the wrong choice and boom, game over.
A successful choice inevitably leads to a new friendship, and some of the better art in the game
Back to the start. You click a little faster to get though the dialogue, your discovery of the fast forward to the choice functionality is still at least 4 chapters away. Finally, you arrive at the choice, and you select, mercifully, the only other, and so correct option. Dialogue re-commences in a barely differentiated narrative, and about an hour later comes your next choice, which you inevitably get wrong. Your click speed gradually increases to RSI levels, dialogue becomes a blur, losing what little meaning it had in the first place.
We get it, it’s a book. There’s bound to be a lot of text to get through, and perhaps for many that’s the hook. But for me it became tedious all too soon, and what little “choice” was presented simply acted as an unnecessary, and trivial barrier to continuing the story.
Visual Aesthetic, Music and Sound Design
In Pesterquest’s defence, the game/book does look quite nice. Visual style is bright, the colours vibrant. Characters are drawn well, if animated seldom. Each chapter typically contains a selection of what appear to behind drawn back drops, with some character animation matching the dialogue on screen.
That said, animations are really just the on screen charter changing positon, or facial expression. Usually this denotes whether they like, or dislike the diatribe of drivel currently coming from your protagonist’s mouth. In short, whilst it looks pretty nice, it really does the bare minimum when it comes to adding any sense of movement, expression or, well animation.
Music, too is Ok. Electronic beats act as anthems for the various people you talk to, each of the four main kids owning their own particular sound. But, again this falls victim of the overly long, needlessly meandering dialogue. Quirky and catchy at first, after repeating for the umpteenth time the rare beats become anything but. Fortunately, there’s a mute button on hand.
At this stage it’s very unlikely that there’s any doubt which way this review is going. What I will say, however is that reviews on Steam are unanimously “very good”. Perhaps it’s because this visual novel follows in the footsteps of prior releases, Homestruck and Hiveswap, and so satiate the need to further progress characters and plot lines from prior novels. A quick scan of the comments reveals that this is indeed the case. So perhaps if you enjoyed them, or indeed if visual novels are your cup of tea then by all means give it a go.
Alas, this was not the case for me. In comparing Pesterquest with a book I found the dialogue needlessly draw out, the jokes overblown and lacking depth. The characters were flat, transparent caricatures of teenagers heavily stooped in lazy stereotype, soulless and utterly forgettable. The narrative is, quite frankly dull. The writing style too, is much like the genre going through something of an identity crisis. Grammar is god awful, lacking capitalisation and proper syntax. This would be forgivable if it wasn’t so packed with expletives as to categorically position itself for an audience old enough to read without smirking every time the f-bomb is dropped, which is constantly.
As for a game, it misses the mark further still. Choices are rarer than sections of interesting dialogue, which is saying something. The results of poor choices, if you can call them that are meaningless resets, adding no depth or branching narratives to speak of. At best, this could have been likened to a 90’s Chose Your Own Adventure book, but, well, it’s more than a few chapters short on that score. Choice felt artificial, there simply to tick a box on whatever the hell check-list this genre uses in self-identification.
I said at the start this is my first visual novel, but if this is the best the genre can provide, then, god willing, it’s my last.
Pesterquest is available on Steam, priced £3.71 with a 60% reduction.
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- Overall - 3/103/10
+ A lot of content for under £4
+ Looks nice
– Utterly uncompelling
– Pointless choices bring nothing to the experience
– Lazy stereotypical characterisation
– Overlay drawn out dialogue that feels like padding, if I’m being complimentary