When it comes to the science fiction genre, there are many VNs that fall under that, some good, some bad, but the bottom line is they are quite numerous. Sadly, there aren’t very many commercially available in English, so any addition to the genre is welcome provided that it’s good. Thankfully, the addition that arrived on December 12, 2009 by Mangagamer was indeed a good one. Originally released in Japan on December 17, 2004 by Navel (who some of you may know as the company that made the well known game Shuffle! And/or its anime adaption), Soul Link is an interesting blend of mystery and science fiction that is well worth the read. Your choices of where to go and how you handle a situation can lead to victory or death for your character and his friends, mysteries surround some of your companions and their true allegiance, and strange events that occur over the course of the story make you wonder just what is truly going on in this space station you’re trapped in.
Pros: Excellent story with mystery and plot twists abound, characters are all interesting and likable (not to mention well played), genuine difficulty in your choices as your character can die if you make the wrong one, excellent artwork, very good music.
Cons: Darker story elements may turn some people off, overall ending feels abrupt and leaves you with quite a few unanswered questions.
WTF: Barely a month after this comes out in English, Navel announces an expanded edition that adds more story and answers the aforementioned unanswered questions. Why must you do this to us, Japanese game companies?!?!
One thing that I can say with confidence is that Soul Link’s story is never slow. Sure time is taken at the start to introduce you to the characters, but soon after that the action begins and a small group of military cadets and civilians are in a struggle to survive as they’re the only thing standing in between a terrorist group and its plans to unleash a devastating attack on the Earth below. Yet it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists aren’t the only threat, as a strange presence also seems to be on the station as well, and it doesn’t seem to be human.
The plot for this game really succeeds in drawing you in as you see the characters do what they can to survive through their wits alone while at the same time investigate the mysteries that crop up around the station as the story progresses. Not only does the story draw you in, but the characters also help to make this an enjoyable experience. Each character has a well written and distinct personality with quirks to match, and each one of them has something to reveal as the story goes on be it a major twist or a secret they’ve been keeping. Another aspect of just how character driven this story is would be how the story is told from the point of view of three characters: Shuuhei, Ryouta, and a surprise character. Shuuhei’s story is linear and basically serves as the introduction to the story; being linear his only love interest is Nao which I actually believe they did a good job with portraying as their relationship I found to be both believable and even cute. Ryouta’s is the meat of the overall plot where we see the group figure out how to combat the real threat that emerges at the end of Shuuhei’s scenario while we also see our new main character develop into an effective leader; unlike Shuuhei, Ryouta has the option to romance Sayaka, Aki, or Yuu. The third scenario involves a surprise character and is basically to wrap the story up and lead into the ending of the game and explain how things turn out for Ryouta and whichever of the three heroines he romanced.
Sadly, this is where we come to the main flaw for the plot, the ending. Now don’t get the wrong idea, the ending isn’t by any means bad, the problem is it leaves you with some unanswered questions mainly having to do with the fate of a few of the minor, but still significant, characters. While their fate is hinted at, a more definitive answer would have been preferred. Also, the ending does feel a tad abrupt in that one would sort of like to see some of the characters reunite considering the events and outcome of the last act.
While this game doesn’t have any gameplay like most VNs, in Soul Link you choose what parts of the station your MC will head to. Wherever you go is actually important because there are quite a number of bad endings that result in your characters death (or worse) if you visit the wrong places.
In the area of presentation, I found the art style to be very good as each character is drawn in a distinct way that matches their personality. Also well drawn is the CG as it helps to capture the mood of the scene for which it was made and all in all just looks pretty at some points. Another very good point would be the music; I don’t know who Navel commissions for the music in their games but whoever they are, they did a great job for the score for this game. Every piece in this game does the right job in setting the mood for each scene, but also manages to be memorable, or at the very least recognizable almost as soon as you start to hear it again, through how well played the musical instruments were when these tunes were recorded. Believe me, it takes quite a bit of talent to make the music in a VN leave that much of an impression.
Now one more bit I should mention is the voice acting. It’s excellent, especially since a number of well known anime voice actors feature among the cast. For instance, Shuuhei is voiced by Kentarou Itou, who some of you may recognize as Renji Abarai of Bleach; also among the cast are Takehito Koyasu and Norio Wakamoto.
Now before I finish this section, I should point out that Soul Link has a darker storyline in comparison to Shuffle!. What this means is that you are going to see a few ero scenes that involve rape on the bad guys’ end which are unavoidable, though thankfully none of them involve the main heroines (unless you count two bad endings which are skippable). Don’t worry, though, the majority of the ero scenes in the game are consensual ones between the heroines and the heros, and I have to say those are pretty good.
In Conclusion: Soul Link is an excellent science fiction/mystery adventure that one should definitely try if they like this genre. While certainly not the deepest of stories, it still has enough depth to it to keep you entertained and is certainly worth the time (10-30 hours) and money. I’ll admit that some of the darker parts of the story may be off putting to those new to eroge and the ending may be the story’s weakest point, but if you can look past that, this is a game with an overall very good story that should not be missed. I highly recommend this game for purchase.
Final Score: 8/10 Awesome
Author recommendation: Buy it now.
The game can be bought here.
The game can be bought here.