I love settling down with a good Visual Novel at night, casually reading through the text and becoming absorbed within the story just before I doze off to dreamland. Usually, the VNs we’re provided are anime or light-heartedly fantasy-based, so when I saw that this weeks novel was a dark, gritty story about murder and deceit, my interest piqued even higher than usual. The game is Dry Drowning, originally launching on the PC back in 2019, it came out on the Switch in America this week with the EU release delayed at the last minute.
Dry Drowning was developed by Studio V and published by VLG, who seem to now publish as ‘Leonardo Interactive‘. Since it’s launch on PC, the game has had a few updates which added in new languages and various tweaks to the UI to make the game more usable with a controller. However, if you did play the game on launch via Steam or GoG, the developers had a massive overhaul with the English translation post-launch, making the dialogue more natural and fitting for the situation you’re in. The Switch version has all of these updates on day-one.
After completing the game and reaching one of the endings, what do I think of the game? Did it captivate me and have me hooked on what happens next, or was it generic and hard to get into? Let’s take a look and find out (don’t cheat and look at the score I give it first!)…
Dry Drowning is the story of Mordred Foley, a private investigator who feels the consequences of his dark past on a daily basis. Six years ago, he and some police colleagues tracked down and arrested the infamous Pandora, a serial killer who arranged his victims to match Greek mythological characters. However, our story begins as he’s just left court after it’s come to light that evidence may have been tampered with or falsified in order to make these arrests.
It may have been six long years of trying to cope with the memories of what really happened back then, but it’s not about to get any easier as there’s been a murder that looks very familiar – Pandora is back, killing people once again. Did they really arrest and sentence the wrong person? As an expert on this mysterious killer, the police enrol you as their support in figuring out if these new deaths are from the same person and how to track them down once and for all. However, you don’t only have the threat of a maniac toying with you, you can easily become a target for various groups and people based upon how you choose to progress within the story.
The game boasts over 150 paths to follow, three endings, and over 20 hours of story. Although 150 paths may not be worded very well, I believe it means over 150 dialogue options, I’m pretty sure you’ll spend over 20 hours if you aim to unlock and view all three endings – which will probably each have a trophy when it comes to PS4 sometime in the future.
Dry Drowning is a Visual Novel – I imagine you’ve gathered that already – but it’s not ‘just’ a visual novel. I’ve been calling it an adult version of Ace Attorney, to those who I’ve been telling to buy it. Although you don’t actually go to court as you do in that game, you do investigate the crime scene, question the suspects, have to pick the right evidence to back up your claims, and even make some moral choices which ultimately change the narrative and outcome of the entire game. The last point may not be in the Ace Attorney games, but it is a cool mechanic as it opens up the game for replayability despite being a linear Visual Novel.
At the end of each chapter, the game does a ‘Telltale’ and displays all the Moral Choices you made, each with a small description of how you changed or affected the story so far. I liked this as it made me wonder how things would be different if I went back and chose another outcome. For example, at one point there’s the option to shoot the killer or save your friend, I saved my friend but would it have been an early end to the game had I shot the killer instead? There’s only one way to find out – I’ll have to play the game again and see if it pulls a Far Cry 4 and rolls credits very early into the story!
The game is split into a few segments, Visual Novel, Investigations and questioning, and puzzles. Let’s look at each part as there are a few things I’d like to mention.
Dry Drowning‘s Visual Novel segments run as you’d expect – you tap A to speed up or skip text and hold X to skip the text if you’ve already seen it (or you don’t want to read). There is literally no voice acting – which is a big shame. So, every single VN part is silent, other than the amazing soundtrack in the background. I imagine this is due to the developer only being a small indie team, but I would have loved some English vocals. The text also moves around the screen, to sit under the person who is speaking, which is a good idea but it ended up making me a little dizzy as playing in portable I had the screen right near my face due to an issue I’ll talk about shortly.
The game itself is quite linear, once you’ve made the moral choices, so even though you have a few locations to visit, you have to go to them all and talk to anyone you find in order to progress – they’re not really a choice of where to go, it’s just an indication of which places you have to go. However, the story itself is really good, subtle things change each time, depending on your choices, so I’d highly recommend replaying the game numerous times in order to see how the events change.
Every now and again you’ll get the aforementioned Moral Choices, an option of two outcomes that will not only alter the immediate events but it’ll also affect how certain characters feel about you throughout the game and what ending you’ll get upon completion.
Also, as a side note, this is the first game I’ve played that has a transgender woman within it, something you don’t tend to see a lot in games here in the west. I did notice that the game does mention her ‘dead name’ at one point, it’s when your character is explaining that they used to be a man. There is no malicious intent or negativity around it, it’s one scene and tells you everything you need to know. As such, I probably didn’t need to bring it up, but some people can get sensitive over things like that, so I thought it would be best to mention it now.
Investigations and questioning
On almost any screen, you can activate investigation mode. This allows you to click on various objects and see what the protagonist and his colleagues have to say about them. Sometimes it’s just for fun, others its because you’re investigating a crime scene or an important place as you gather clues and things to question your suspects over.
That’s right, once you have enough evidence, you can question suspects and see what they’re hiding. This is presented within Dry Drowning as a hideous mask that appears on the suspect (or person of interests’) face, indicating that they’re lying to you. As you present the correct items or facts, their mask will break and they’ll start to adjust their statements.
This process reminds me of the courtroom in Ace Attorney as you only have three chances of getting the evidence right before you fail and cock up the investigation. You can also present the same items casually as you’re in a scene with others, sometimes provoking new dialogue or information about what’s going on.
The Puzzles in Dry Drowning are clever and fun to work out. Some of them are simple, like the one you unlock in your PDA which is a simple tile-rotation puzzle that supposedly unlocks a special event (which I’ve not found), and others are more elaborate environmental puzzles.
I won’t spoil it, as it’s one of the last things you’ll do, but there’s one which requires you to find a key piece of evidence, then obtain rules from people by travelling through time and reliving your memories to question them, then reading cryptic passages to work out how to solve the next set of puzzles.
It sounds complicated but it’s not, it’s lots of fun to complete and a nice distraction from the Visual Novel segments.
The one issue
I have one ‘big’ issue with Dry Drowning, an issue which may have been overlooked when porting to the Switch – the font sizes. For the most part, the size of the font is fine, when looking at the subtitles, but elsewhere… not so much. I play my Switch games portable, not on my TV, so fonts need to be scaled to accommodate the handheld device, yet there were some dialogue choices that were comically small – around 1mm or less in height (pictured above). As such, I had to squint and move the Switch right up to my face in order to read them – even whilst wearing my glasses.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only instance of ‘Honey I Shrunk the On-Screen Text’ which I saw, some of the ‘hint’ and ‘new mechanic explanations are also very small (but not as small as the above image). I imagine it’s because the game has simply been ported from PC to the Switch, but the small 7″ 720p screen wasn’t taken into consideration or the source code didn’t allow for easy text scaling. It’s not unplayable or game-breaking, but if you have trouble reading very small fonts, you may have to play this one on your TV (which it’ll be fine, still small, but fine).
Another observation, I guess you could call it a request, is the lack of touchscreen support. The game works fine with the controller – the Steam version had improvements regarding the controller, so this version feels perfect when using the Joy-Cons. But, the touchscreen capabilities of the Switch in portable mode would have worked great within this game as it has big, defined buttons and icons just begging to be poked by my fidgety fingers! Again though, it all depends on how much the team who ported the game had access to, maybe they couldn’t implement the use of touch with the code they were given?
Counter the negative with a positive
I love the way Dry Drowning looks. The game is presented as a black and white noir-style mystery, yet it’s set in the future so there’s lots of machines and technology. So, instead of having all the visuals as greyscale, the machines are coloured and, obviously, the blood is a striking red. The whole game has a very adult-orientated look to it, which is very different from the other Visual Novels I’ve played recently, emphasising the serious tones the game plays out whilst not being too realistic or gory to put anyone squeamish off playing it.
I also have to mention the brilliant soundtrack. There are over 2 hours of original music, comprised of over 40 audio tracks that dynamically adjust based on the situation and events which are playing out. It may not seem like much for a game that claims to be over 20 hours long, but the dynamic nature means you’ll often hear a similar score but it’ll adjust differently as it pulls you in and fully immerses you. I would have loved vocals, as I said above, but as someone who reads a lot of English text on Japanese Visual Novels, it didn’t bother me too much.
My one little complaint, which isn’t the games’ fault, is that Nintendo doesn’t appear to facilitate the distribution of soundtracks. The Steam version of the game can be bought with the official soundtrack, or you can buy it as DLC, so I hope when it comes to the PS4, that the developers will also put the soundtrack on there. On a side note, I did see today that there’s a physical version of the game coming to Switch and PS4 which supposedly has the soundtrack, but it’s on LP – I don’t have a record player!
If you’re looking for a dark and gritty murder mystery, filled with suspense and crime-solving, Dry Drowning is for you! With multiple endings, lots of Moral Choices that alter the narrative and events, and creative puzzles to solve, this is much more than a Visual Novel, it’s an interactive serial killer hunt with you in the driving seat. The soundtrack builds the atmosphere, pulling you into the futuristic dystopian city, but the lack of voice acting means you’re not fully absorbed by the immersion. One thing to note, some of the text is comically small, so if you have bad eyesight, playing it on the TV may be your best bet.
The American eShop has the game on sale now, it’ll be coming to the EU store very soon – it had a slight delay just before the planned release earlier this week.
- - Very dark and atmospheric visuals
- - Great soundtrack
- - Clever puzzles
- - The 'masks of lies' mechanic is interesting, requiring you to 'break' them to find the truth
- - Very long narrative, especially if trying to get all the endings
- - The text is far too small in some places, you almost can't read it if playing in portable mode
- - The story is great, but it felt like it came to an end rather suddenly, I wish it had an extra chapter or two
- - Not a negative for me but others may be put off by the lack of voice acting