Developer – Kidalang
Publisher – Culture Select
Length – 2-10 Hours
[Review copy kindly provided by Kidalang]
[Kidalang has had no input into the content of this review]
[This review assumes you have read An Octave Higher, or read my review of it]
A little over a year ago I reviewed An Octave Higher, which is an Original English Language Visual Novel (OELVN). I praised it for its world-building and exploration of interesting societal issues, so I was more than happy to pick up One Small Fire at a Time (hereafter OSFT) when asked. While I have no major complaints about this prequel, it takes a narrower view of the world its predecessor built, choosing to focus on a smaller aspect of the whole. While it is still enjoyable, and continues to introduce interesting issues and themes, Kidalang would have done better to pursue a more ambitious storyline.
Janis has lived in the madhouse known as Eclipse for much of her life. Living with those who lack the ability to engage with reality itself, hers is a truly pitiable condition: Magical Deficiency Disorder. In a society whose very foundations are built upon its citizens’ ability to use magic, being denied that skill is one of the most debilitating lunacies imaginable. Eclipse may not be all that it seems, however, as it is visited by the Commander of the elite Dragoons, Aidan Woolf, and his compatriots. Janis may not be able to use magic, but her clever mind and determination catch the attention of the powerful magic policeman while his investigation leads him to think deeper about what exactly it means to be insane.
After the numerous interesting concepts introduced by the original tale set in Overture, I was a bit disappointed to see OSFT take a step back from it all to tell a story that didn’t take advantage of the foundation that had been set for it. While many of those unique ideas are referenced throughout the course of the novel, the majority of the tale is one that could have been told in a variety of other settings. The writing is still pleasant and the narrative once again explores a variety of issues that parallel our own society’s past, this time focusing on psychiatric illness (or lack thereof) and, to a lesser degree, scientific method. Janis’ deficiency of magical ability also makes for an interesting discussion point, though the feeling that the story was lacking the kind of spark I was expecting didn’t leave me even once I had reached its conclusion.
Speaking of conclusions, OSFT’s felt a tad contrived to me. As mentioned in my previous review it’s difficult to craft truly three-dimensional characters in such a short period of time and this is one case where that particular difficulty stands out like a sore thumb. As well as not feeling any particular connection to the characters this time around, one of them makes some odd decisions near the ending, and though I can see where the background behind those decisions had been laid down they don’t fit with either that individual’s previous actions or the society in which the novel is set.
One improvement that has been made for OSFT is that its art is of higher quality. It may still leave a fair amount to be desired, but the character sprites are better off and the backgrounds have retained the charm I enjoyed previously. The BGM is made up of several repurposed classical tracks and complements the tone of the production without standing out on its own. As with An Octave Higher, there is no voice acting, though this doesn’t hurt the production in any way.
Summary – One Small Fire at a Time feels like a step down from An Octave Higher. It holds onto some of the aspects of the original that I enjoyed, like its style of writing, pleasant background art and exploration of historical yet still relevant themes, but doesn’t add a great deal to the world its predecessor introduced us to and focuses on a smaller scale overall. While One Small Fire at a Time certainly wasn’t a bad novel, and I would still happily read more about the city of Overture and its residents, this particular instalment didn’t offer me anything particularly exciting or noteworthy.
Score: 6.5/10 – Average