Developer – Nuclear Fishin
Platforms – PC, Mac
Before when talking about the short preview I played of the Nuclear Fishin’s Four Horsemen, I detailed the game’s expertise on the subject of being a young immigrant. The full game is so much more of a journey that made me care for the struggle of 4 teens and their hangout space.
Four Horsemen is a visual novel game about 4 refugee teens who discover a abandoned WW2 gunner bunker and decide to turn it into their own space. The game then lets you go free to work on the four teens projects and social lives, which in turn decide where your story goes. I got to craft the experience I wanted and it felt so rewarding.
So in discussing the plot I haven’t said the teens names or even where they are from. That is because in a bit of designing brilliance the characters names change per play though and even their appearances slightly differ each time for not only them but for things like side characters and even the uniform of the government. That is something I really enjoyed.
Usually during narrative choice games, you get attached. Your replays are stained with how you perceived the characters at the end of you journey previously. But this game I got to treat every version of Denver, Takeshi, Franklin, and Sadako (the names my first play-through gave them) differently. They have set starting personality traits but the game lets you take it beyond that. During my first play-through my characters began to shape into a strong yet also deeply vulnerable Denver, a rude and crass Takeshi, a scavenging empty headed Franklin, and online recluse Sadako. Those were traits I didn’t have the next play through and the game. I even found that the appearance differences between my saves effected the way I played them. During my first save, I feared giving my immigrant characters more things to worry about by performing a petty theft scenario. My second play-through I did it, not just to see what would happen but because thats the characters I now had.
These characters exist in a world filled with style that made them feel familiar and real. It is rarely that I get to gush about how much a games art style fits the story, but this game is one of them. While the outlines may seem harsh, as you progress you understand as to why that is, as tense scenes are rougher and the relaxed scenes seemed to lose the edge.
Outfits contained small details like little accessories and splashes of personal attachment. It was evident that the artist cared greatly. The backgrounds changed as the game continued to show how my choice effected the world.
The soundtrack helped paint this world as well. When the kids were hanging out after school they left me with mellow tones and rhythms. When of the characters spoke to his father about what it means to be a refugee in a land that questions why they are there, the game slowed the music down,it made the question and the answer imminent and ominous, yet not noticeably at the time. I had to wait till my next play-through to actually notice they were doing it, thats how fitting and seamlessly the music works for this game. That is a mastery of story telling that many games overlook.
I don’t want to give away the endings I got during my two play-throughs (mostly because I plan to save those points for a discussion article on the game’s themes). Four horsemen is a very vivid story of hardships, but one of my stories was less than the other. In one I did what real teenagers do. I sometimes hung with my friends, did my homework, and thought about making a band. In the other save, I started what I can only call a movement, but again no spoilers for this one.
I will say (and yes I have said before) that this game understands the subject matter of being young, being uncertain, and feeling like you don’t belong in the land you live despite it being your home. During our original discussion with the game developer during PLAY NYC, he informed us on how much research he put in. There is a line of dialog that I resonated with immediately. It was Takeshi asking his father what to do when he is asked where his allegiance lie. His father in turn tells him to say wherever it takes to come home safely, after all…
Four Horsemen is a great game that I absolutely recommend. It is available on Itch.io and Steam. Please do check it out and follow Nuclear Fishin as they celebrate Four Horsemen’s nomination for IndieCade 2017.