Dry Drowning opens up to a loading screen with the somber notes of a piano that crescendo into a theme that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood film. Developed by Studio V and published by VLG Publishing and WhisperGames, Dry Drowning is a take on a psychological thriller set in a futuristic dystopia. The neo-noir setting of the fictional Nova Polemos, and the private eye adorning a cigarette are elements that seem familiar, but the visual novel adds enough of its own flair to set itself apart from the cliché.
You play as the disgruntled investigator Mordred Foley. After being accused of falsifying evidence in his previous case and putting two innocents on death row, Mordred’s struggles to keep his agency’s reputation afloat. His only partner against crime is Hera Kairis, a balm in comparison to Modred’s brash personality. An offer for a case comes to them in the form of a corrupt political party leader, who’s looking to get his name cleared against charges of murder. With Foley Investigations nearly out of commission, and the duo’s names soiled, they accept the case as a means of getting their names cleared.
What follows is the resurfacing of Pandora, a serial killer from Mordred’s past whose fascination with the Greek myths goes a bit too far. Caught between Modred’s past and the politics afflicting Nova Polemos, you must work your way through this thriller and uncover Pandora’s identity.
In theory, Dry Drowning seems like a compelling story. Serial killers have been all the rage with the Zodiac Killer and Jack the Ripper being a couple few that come to mind. The game seemed like almost the polar opposite of my previous tango with a serial killer in the form of Paradise Killer. A cyberpunk city set in 2066 ought to add some flavour as well, shouldn’t it? Plus a private investigator seeking the path of redemption seems like an alright character to fill the shoes of, right?
At least, for a while, that’s what I thought, but the more I played on, the more I felt exhausted by the narrative. The political conflict going on in Nova Polemos with the racism towards immigrants and the corruption plaguing the city while addressed in a relevant manner is a bit too tropey and feels weighed down with there being a serial killer on the loose.
I’m not sure if this is a result of the game being translated from the original language, but more often than not, the dialogue and text seem too unnatural and awkward. This being coupled with the grammatical errors and typos rampant throughout the game, calls for a rough experience, especially for a game that is heavily dependent on text. It’s a pity considering that the cast of characters seem really diverse, whether that’s the police officer, Freya, with a mysterious past and loathing for Mordred, or the despicable innkeeper trying to rank her way up in the city.
Let it Rain Over Me
For the most part, Dry Drowning relies on a point-and-click-based system to investigate your surroundings and gather clues. You’re armed with a personal investigation device, called AquaOS, that records all necessary documents and character profiles. The concept would have been executed perfectly if it weren’t for the fact that in between interrogations, you’ll be provided with pieces of data that require you to go back to AquaOS in order to completely be in the loop of the conversation. It seems like a minor detail to nitpick about, but some of the information provided ends up being an entire paragraph providing lore or even the backstory of an entire character who we’ve just met. You end up getting a bit of whiplash jumping from one plot point to the other.
The core mechanic of this game is all thanks to our protagonist’s nifty ability to see a mask on the other person’s face when they’re telling a lie. Whilst interrogating a character, you have three chances to come to the right conclusion, so arriving at it requires a bit of deduction on your behalf. It’s not the most taxing penalty when it comes to mystery games, but for players not well-versed in the genre it’s comfortable enough.
What will sway the unfolding of events, is the choice-based system of Dry Drowning. While there isn’t a right or wrong choice per say, they do end up affecting the ending you’ll get in the story between the three different types. I ended up not exploring the further routes that could be obtained, but the game boasts up to 150 different story branches.
Apart from this, there are a few puzzles here and there that need to be solved in order to further progress with the story, but for the most part, these seemed forced and weren’t incredibly intuitive.
Visually, Dry Drowning is easy on the eyes with its digitally painted art style and neon-lit streets. At times some of the key visuals that appear briefly for certain scenes seem a bit rushed, but it’s definitely not offensive. A detail that I especially appreciated was the subtle world-building through the loading screens and the little blurbs of information that they provided. One of the game’s stronger suits is definitely in its music that ranges from the piano that can be heard as you enter Foley Investigations, to the intense beats as you walk through a crime scene.
If there’s one thing I have to complain against, it would be the painfully tiny text that riddles the UI. Again, as the game is heavily text-based it makes for a lot of squinting, especially in handheld mode.
Sink or Swim?
For the most part, Dry Drowning is an engaging visual novel that keeps you on your toes with its decisive elements, but leaves a lot to be desired. Story-wise it makes for a solid 8-10 hours of time spent and provides replay value in the form of its other endings. However, the lackluster gameplay and unpolish can make it a drag at times. Overall, the game is definitely more swim than sink. Dry Drowning is now available on the Nintendo eShop at $24.99.