Romance is a focal point for a lot of visual novels and naturally dominates the genre in terms of popularity, whether that be a typical high school match-up or simply a fated fantasy encounter. Synergia, the cyberpunk-stylised visual novel from the team at Radi Art, does something a little bit different by taking inspiration from sci-fi heavy-hitters such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, all whilst implementing a bit of tech-romance amongst it all.
Tech-romance, I hear you ask; you think falling head over heels for an android is a bad idea? Well, it’s a taboo theme that’s questioned in Synergia and it makes for an intriguing discussion – even if the game itself could feel a little drawn out and uninspired in places.
Synergia has you donning the cap of Cila, an introverted and unsocial android-expert that works as a negotiator for the police, in a story that explores the ethical complexities of ownership of other sentient beings in a world run by high-tech corporations. The world is in turmoil, with various elements of war taking place while everyday people indulge themselves in cybernetic enhancements and androids are a commonplace purchase for anyone who has enough cash to own one. It’s a setting that has certainly been explored before and it did leave me to wonder whether Synergia would be guilty of being a little bit shallow with nothing new to offer.
To begin with, you need to get ready for plenty of text. Synergia is a fair bit heavier than your standard visual novel with much of the experience being supplicated by sizeable text walls. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing; the game needs it to explain the more convoluted points and interactions of the world after all, but it may be something that you’re not used to if you regularly partake in visual novels (I definitely wasn’t prepared).
Much of the game plays out in a typical fashion with players running through conversations between characters and occasionally receiving an underpinning thought from Cila herself about what is happening at any given moment. Admittedly, I did find the UI to be a bit of a nuisance at times thanks to the fact that there isn’t always a clear visual identifier in place to let players know who is speaking, but it’s something I got used to the more I played the game.
You have the occasional ability to take a more interactive approach with choices that can affect different characters’ outlook on Cila, whilst there are also opportunities to access a computer that allows you to read through emails and messaging to give more scope to the overarching narrative. These are flecked throughout the game’s various sections and whilst they were a welcome reprieve from the sometimes-unending text, I rarely felt that they really expanded on the plot too much or taught me more about the characters.
There are various characters within the narrative, with each having their own set of quirks and a means to bring the story together. Once you’ve made it through the beginnings of the story, Cila gets the chance to meet Mara (a replacement for her initial broken android Elaine). What follows is an interesting and ‘outside of the box’ romance that is wholly different to the typical stuff you might come across in your standard visual novel. It honestly made me breathe a sigh of relief, considering that I was worried about how shallow Synergia might be at the beginning.
Where Synergia really stands out is the wonderful aesthetics of its illustrations. Rather than run-of-the-mill static sketches, we’re treated to some fine pieces of work with varying poses and situations played out on the screen to accompany the text. Laden with a bleak grittiness, they pair well with the darkness of the world and made the heavy text more palatable for it, even if, much to my disappointment, they were not fully animated. The game’s soundtrack was more than adequate to fit each scene with its synth vibes too, with the sci-fi cyberpunk theme ever-present across the whole of Synergia’s presentation.
There are two endings to achieve in Synergia and once each has been completed, you’ll have unlocked the game’s epilogue. The game is relatively short so it didn’t feel like a chore to experience both, whilst the fact that the plot itself takes some intriguing turns ensures that you’ll want to see how events could have played out differently. Don’t get me wrong, Synergia’s text-heavy experience could see it taking a long time for the cogs to get turning with certain plot points, but when the threads of the tale DO start weaving into place it’s easy to find yourself absorbed in what’s going on.
Synergia isn’t your typical visual novel and that both works for and against it. It is nice to see a sci-fi twist to the romancing that you’d see in your average release in the genre, whilst the excellent visual style really embraced a desolate cyberpunk vibe.
On the flip-side, the walls of texts could feel a little overwhelming at times (especially with the sometimes awkward UI) whilst the slower pace of the tale meant it could take a while for some of the more interesting aspects of the plot to kick into place.
Whilst Synergia is definitely a slow-burner as far as visual novels go, the final pay-off made it feel worthwhile. It has its flaws and it’s a far way from perfect, but the interesting avenues it takes within the genre certainly make it stand out as something a bit different.
Developer: Radi Art
Publisher: eastasiasoft, Top Hat Studios
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Click here to visit the official website.