Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Shadows of New York review

     SHADOWS OF NEW YORK is the sequel to COTERIES OF NEW YORK that came out last year. It is a visual novel set in the World of Darkness by White Wolf Publishing. A visual novel is effectively a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book that is played on a computer and a bit different from a video game since there's often no voice acting or much gameplay. Neither game is anything like VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE: BLOODLINES but I enjoyed the former, so I picked up the sequel when it came out last week.

    The World of Darkness is an urban fantasy horror setting where the human race lives alongside monsters. Vampires live in the shadows, hiding under fake identities and preying on the marginalized of society. They have conflicts among themselves, with government assassins, and a handful of other threats. Created in the Nineties, it has a strongly conspiratorial theme to it that focuses on the injustices of society and how much of it exists to serve the interests of the super-rich (as well as undead in this setting). Think THEY LIVE if they mixed it with DRACULA and the LOST BOYS.

Julia is a beautiful character.
    The premise is Julia, a young reporter working for a once-trendy magazine, finds her life destroyed by forces beyond her comprehension before she is Embraced to become a Lasomra. Lasombra are vampires with superhuman strength, the ability to bend minds, and control over shadows as well as the ability to see ghosts. Julia's clan is considered the scum of the Camarilla and she is frequently subject to jibes as well as carrying out the worst work of Kindred society. Her only lights in the tunnel are her girlfriend Dakota, a human who loves her, and the Sheriff of New York, Qadir, that considers her a kid sister.

    Julia finds a chance to improve her situation for the first time since her Embrace by being assigned to investigate the murder of Anarch Baron Callihan. No one expects Julia to actually succeed in her task and it's all designed to placate the few followers of Callihan. Julia is smart enough to find out the truth but should she? Is it better to play the game and see if she can parlay the secrets she uncovers to personal power? Is it better to stick to what little morality she has left? The choices are ultimately yours with each decision affecting Julia's morality meter. At the end, whether she's a hero or monster will determine your ending.

We never do get revenge on our sire.

    Shadows of New York benefits from playing Coteries of New York but works as a stand-alone story. It reuses a great deal of assets from that game (mostly art) but also incorporates plenty of new artwork. The soundtrack is excellent, being a sort of pulsing 90s beat that evokes the Goth nightclub atmosphere of the original game. 

    Julia is a fantastic protagonist and oozes personality that makes it enjoyable to follow her adventures. I really liked her relationship with Dakota, her snarky personality, and complicated relationship with both religion as well as her sexuality.  The trait system means she can be optimistic, ruthless, merciful, or pessimistic depending on your responses.

    I was disappointed with the fact that we don't get a concrete answer to what happened to the Fledgling from Coteries of New York but the game nicely alludes to the possibilities. Seeing what happened to Agathon, Hope, Tamika, and Angelo was all well done. Qadir remains a solid character and we also get a bigger role for the Primogen in the city. I also appreciated the chance to put one over Thomas Arturo.

Some very familiar characters return.

    The game deals with the larger concept of truth vs. propaganda. Some individual gamers may find its take on the subject to be politicized or preachy so let the buyer beware. Julia frequently finds that the truth of a subject is less important than the ability to convince people of your version of events. The cornavrius is also addressed in the story, though I don't mind that since vampires are going to be affected by everyone social distancing as well as shutting down the usual hot spots where they might feed. It's only a minor element to the story, though.

    Fans of the World of Darkness will appreciate all the nods and care done to preserve the setting's continuity as well as advance the metaplot. There are characters like Ecaterina the Wise from Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption, New York by Night's NPCs, and mentioning of the Lasombra defection to the Camarilla from Chicago by Night 5th Edition. I felt like the game missed the ball by not having a bigger Second Inquisition presence but you can't have everything.

I love Dakota. Best minion since Heather.

    The game is based around interpersonal relationships rather than anything big or game-changing. This is less about Gehenna and more about navigating the issues of Kindred politics for personal advancement. Julia and Dakota's relationship is one that analyzes the power differential between humans and vampires. Julia hasn't turned Dakota into a ghoul and, thus, is technically violating the Masquerade. However, it's also kept Dakota relatively sane even as she lives vicariously through Julia. It's these little details that make up the majority of the game's appeal.

    I have a few complaints about the game, such as the fact that the Hunger mechanic of the previous game is now absent. Blood was always a pressing issue for the Fledgling in the previous game while Julia doesn't have to ever bother feeding at all in the game. Still, I overall feel like this is a massive improvement over the previous game (and I didn't dislike it). I wouldn't mind another adventure with Julia as the star either. This isn't a video game, though, more of a visual novel and your choices are limited. That isn't something that bothers me, though, because the story is just that good.

    In conclusion, Shadows of New York is marked down as a must buy if you're a fan of the World of Darkness and visual novels. However, the problem of the game is that if you aren't a huge fan of either then you won't find what you're looking for here. The game is appropriately priced at under twenty dollars and I picked it up as a sale. People expecting much more than a cool story you can influence the details are going to be disappointed.  


Available here

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