- Genre: Mystery, Steampunk, Action, Romance
- Playtime: Medium (10 – 30 hours)
- Developer: Liar-soft
At the turn of the 1900s the world has been plunged in darkness. The massive steam engines that power every aspect of modern life have also covered the skies in thick dark clouds blocking out the sun and stifling nature, but people aren’t letting that get them down. Especially at the prestigious Academia, where the brightest and best get to enjoy artificial gardens and simulated sunlight. Neon Scalar is just happy to be a part of it all, as a future engineer she will be able to have a hand in the miracles this technological world has to offer. That is until the arrival of the mysterious (and possibly insane) exchange student Nikola Tesla. Neon suddenly finds her whole world turned upside down as the inner workings of the Academia are revealed and the entire world is forced to change.
Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning is a Visual Novel with a difficult name that apparently, I alone have played. I’ve tried to bring it up before. I’ve included the title in visual novels that would make good adaptations and mentioned it in random reviews but you guys aren’t fish, just likely to take any lazy bait I dangle out there. I guess if I want to properly get you interested in this title, I’ll have to properly write about it. This post won’t be it though. I’m still pure pooh at reviewing visual novels. Enjoy!
As far as structure goes, Gahkthun is much closer to an actual novel than a game. The only mechanic consists of very occasional (less than a handfull per chapter, at most) interludes in which the player is given a single choice. The “right” answer will simply unlock extra optional scenes which can be viewed at the end of chapters while the “wrong” choices will either lead to an immediate end game screen or just have no effect at all. The experience is really entirely linear and there’s not much illusion that you have any control or impact over the storyline.
The art is absolutely wonderful. The huge number of varied sprites and painted backgrounds all created with a detailed steam punk flair are lovely to behold. CGs are generously peppered through each chapter and the supposedly grim world of Gahkthun is alive with colours and light. Of course appreciation of art style is up to individual tastes and this one happened to align with mine, but you can’t fault the quality. Attention to detail, proportions and angles have been carefully maintained in each image.
Admittedly sound design and voice acting is a bit more lackluster. It’s not bad by any means, it simply doesn’t stand out in any way. This said, there IS voice acting and it didn’t make me want to ram a screwdriver through my eardrums so Huge Win?
As stated above – Gahkthun is essentially a virtual manga rather than a game in any true sense of the word. The art, characters and story are all it has to offer. And it knows it. Considerable ressources and effort has been poured ino each, and the payoff is obvious.
The universe of Gahkthun is rich with history and lore. Visible pains were taken to build a world that would feel vast and complete. One that easily expands beyond the boundaries of the game and its restrained narrative. Even after playing the entire game, I cannot get enough of the world itself and consider it one of the biggest assets of the story. It’s also one of the main reasons I would personally love to see it explored in different media. Ok guys, let’s make a Gahkthun anime/manga/movie happen! I’m sure we can do it. I suggest we all stay home playing video games and watching anime until it happens! You’re with me, right?
The menagerie (and I believe the word really fits) of supporting characters is not only vast, but each is given a distinct personality, background and role. It’s unusual to come across such a large cast where each character has been well-developed without knocking us out with exposition. I was hard pressed to pick a favorite and I’m probably going to be changing my mind another six times before finishing this post.
Before I get any further, I guess I should mention the game is 18+ for sexeh fun times. I keep forgetting that because quite frankly these are very few and very far apart. You may get some extra hardcore scenes if you unlock all the optional scenes but honestly, it’s a very small part of the narrative. It might be even less prevalent than in the Fate/Stay Night game. What I’m saying is that the game is clearly story driven and the few adult scenes are a fully integrated part of the narrative. If you’re looking specifically for an 18+ game this will probably be frustrating. There’s a reason I keep forgetting it’s even in that category.
The story itself is a sweeping adventure epic, full of mysteries and plot twists and just a tiny dash of romance added in for good measure. It incorporates some classic anime tropes, such as the ridiculously powerful student counsel, the parentless kids (although everyone is in their 20s so it’s not that odd) and the obligatory beach episode, but it also borrows from early 20th century American pulp fiction with its paranoid futurama setting and classic superhero leanings. By futurama I mean those works that blend futuristic elements with very old school settings, like what people thought the year 2000 would be like in the 1950s. Did I just lose you? Do you no longer have any idea what to picture?
Ok, let me try to give you the general gist of it. Gahkthun takes place in an alternative 1908 where the world has heavily invested in steam power technology and ruined the environment as a result. The narrative blends light touches of environmental warning with an obvious love of machinery to create an oddly resonable appeal for balance with our world. Supernatural elements are dusted throughout to fill up plot holes with unexpected efficiency. What you are left with is a completely different high action, character driven story with a good deal of laughs and a unexpectedly touching resolution.
Neon is an endearing heroine, hardworking, intelligent and capable but still young and with a lot to learn. For once, an attractive female lead is actually naïve rather than stupid and the effect is endlessly appealing. Tesla is your classic likable weirdo but once the weight of responsibility and regret begins to tear him down, you are left with a surprising deep character that is suddenly painfully relatable. And that’s not even getting into the members of the student council who would each be worthy of their own spinoff.
And then there’s the real gem, the actual writing. I played the English version but from what I’ve read, the original Japanese is quite peculiar as well. In any case I am in awe of the translators for this game because they created something truly remarkable with this story. Sentence structure is peculiar and obviously deliberate. Frequent repetition of phrase fragments and expressions, creates a palpable rhythm that you will feel even if you aren’t reading it out loud. On a purely grammatical level, this game is peerless.
If you like Visual Novels, or just plain novels, and are not allergic to steam punk, I would definitely give Gahkthun a try. It is unusual and may be trying if you are not up for this particular type of experience but I also found it to be rewarding. It may have even improved my writing a little (you don’t want to know how bad it use to be).
Make sure you check out the official website – it will be way more useful than this post and you can play the free demo: http://mangagamer.org/gahkthun/
Favorite character: Berta Mori Wiegert
What this visual novel taught me: smart is sexy
Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut
Suggested drink: a Smokestack Lightning
- Every time Neon gets annoyed at Tesla – take a sip
- Every time Tesla is arrogant – take a sip of water
- Every time Jo is really friendly – take a sip
- Every time anyone worries about Neon – take a sip
- Every time the Acadeia is mentionned – raise your glass
- Every time you’re suspicious of Wilhelm – take a sip
- Every time people are in awe of Florence – take a sip
- Every time Tesla is saddened by the state of the world – agree
- Every time Tesla uses lightning – cheer