Familiar Travels: A Sublime Subversion — furry game review by Enjy

by Dogpatch Press Staff

Familiar Travels is on sale until September 30! This post is timed to help Halftone Studios and Balin (with no compensation). Thanks to Enjy – Patch

Have you ever played a visual novel with characters that you might end up hating?

Familiar Travels is a furry visual novel created by the team at Halftone Studios for the PC. After success on Kickstarter it was recently released on Steam, and we at DPP were given a copy and a chance to review this game as it hit the market. This story follows a nameless human (you), who transfers from the world of Midgard, what we might know as modern Earth, to the world of Vanaheim in order to attend magical college. It is unknown why you as the human are accepted into this college, since Midgardians cannot use magic, but the player character surmises that it is because of his work in robotics. Your first night, you are plopped into a speak-easy bar and given a chance to meet the extremely diverse cast of characters, and that very moment is where this game begins to pull ahead in the seemingly over-saturated market of furry VNs.

The writer Balin and his co-worker Ben instantly separate themselves from many other fandom writers by giving you a cast of characters that are deeper than an archetype, characters who force you to take a much more realistic route as you try to win their affections or friendship. You do not pick who is the hottest or has the hobby you like and work down from there, every character has glaring flaws that present themselves multiple times and take some working past in order to understand what the person truly is about. Indeed, you must work past much more than a time constraint to get the relationship you want with the character you like, and it is a refreshingly realistic take on personal growth that transcends the genre’s usual trappings of “talk to someone until they sleep with you”.

Balin and Ben’s work is so pitch perfect in fact, that it nearly seems like he purposefully attacked every cliche you could think of to twist it into something new and exciting. Yes, you have the rock band character in Tsitsi. You have the douchey jock in Nil. You have the pompous character who everyone seems to have an issue with in Po. What lies beneath these characters, however, is a sterling example of what this genre could become if more writers tried as hard as Balin and Ben to create believable personas with zero compromise. Every time I expected something to happen, I was glued to the screen as it veered off in a completely rational yet unexpected direction, making me hungry for more and more with every interaction.

What brings this novel squarely to the forefront of its peers is that every part of a person’s personality is played realistically, and not just merely accepted as an archetype. Nil, for example, is a misogynistic asshole, but this isn’t written off for laughs with people saying “Well, that’s our Nil, I suppose”. Characters routinely call him out on it. He shows some truly disgusting behavior. You, in fact, may end up hating him if you do not get to know him and the true reason for his behavior, a fact that applies to all of the characters you meet along the way. Some moreso than others. 

The most important lesson that Familiar Travels taught me is that people are worth more than their issues. Men who are extremely disrespectful to women like Nil usually have a dark reason. People who others see as the cool kid, like Tsitsi, may have deep-seated problems that nobody knows about. It is a long road to work past these problems, but when you do, the relationships feel deeper and more genuine than any novel I have played. Even the characters cannot work past each others’ problems when they interact, leading to some tough choices at times that you, the player, must make.

If there is any problem with Familiar Travels it is that the overarching story of you being transplanted to Vanaheim, and a larger conspiracy afoot with characters who are being kidnapped, is largely ignored in favor of these simply brilliant character studies. The cast sucks you in to the world so deeply that it is hard to notice, but when you force yourself to pull back, you can begin to see the cracks. Organizations are mentioned like The Truth Front and The Nameless that seem like passing lore-bites, but crash together in an admittedly confusing final 10 minutes of the chapter that feels like a huge blindside out of nowhere, and not in a good way.

You receive more information in some routes versus others, but no matter which one I took, I never seemed to fully grasp the bigger picture even if I spliced each run together. There is a second chapter being made, so I hope to see the author fill some of these holes in the sequel. There were some bugs which were a tad serious but with such a small team, it is amazing there were so few, and the music was a bit bland and sparse, but these flaws pale in comparison to the work of art as a whole.

The artistry is top notch as well. There are very interesting 8-bit cutaway sections, and some hand-animated bits as well which surprised me. The backgrounds created by Nexivian are crisp and fit well with the seemingly High Nordic aesthetic of the realms and town, solid colors and harsh lines bringing images of Norse tapestries and paintings. Gillpanda knocks it out of the park with their character designs, making every member of Vanaheim feel unique and easily identifiable throughout. They bring their signature style here as well, so it goes without saying that those who enjoy the big girls will love this game.

In conclusion, Familiar Travels is a journey through a world that you will want to explore every nook and cranny in, with characters that you will either hate or genuinely care for, and should be looked to as a master-class in what a Visual Novel could truly be, furry-centric or otherwise. Familiar Travels digs a hole underneath other paint-by-numbers dating novels, simultaneously highlighting their flaws, and twisting them in a triumphant display of what they should be doing. It is available right now on Steam and I wholeheartedly recommend it, waiting with bated breath for Chapter 2.

I give Familiar Travels: Chapter One a 9.5/10.

– Enjy

TOMORROW: Interview with the creators.

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