Visual novels have enjoyed steadily popularity despite their somewhat niche status—they’re not quite novels, but they’re not exactly fast paced enough to be adopted by the mainstream. Still, there have been quite a few popular visual novel type games, and they have a unique ability to tell stories that can’t quite be told in traditional adventure games, or just in text alone.
Dry Drowning is a neo-noir cyberpunk investigative thriller set in the dystopic near future city of Nova Polemos. As a visual novel, it is light on gameplay mechanics, but very heavy on text-based story. You play as private investigator Mordred Foley—hard boiled, with a checkered past that has left him in need of redemption. Accused of falsifying evidence and only acquitted due to lack of evidence, Foley is seeking redemption while also obsessively tracking a mysterious killer known as Pandora. You will have to confront Foley’s past while navigating the sociopolitical hazards of Nova Polemos on a road to redemption, and justice.
In Dry Drowning there aren’t any correct answers—the story plays out based on the decisions you make. While there are many choices you can make throughout play, there are certain binary choices that you make that will impact which direction the story will branch. These important decisions are obvious, marked with pulsing veins and music that emphasize the weight of the moment. The story can play out in multiple ways—with three endings possible. As a visual novel this is about the norm, but as a detective game, I was hoping for more chance to fail. This would undoubtedly be a massive burden for a development team and therefore not fair to expect, but it’s a little immersion breaking to have to present specific evidence at a crucial moment only to go through each item in your inventory until you get the right one.
There is more to Dry Drowning than dialogue—there are moments where you have to investigate as well as interrogate—but dialogue is Dry Drowning’s core experience. Unfortunately, Dry Drowning’s dialogue is often interrupted by new documents or pieces of evidence. These documents are important to the story and the context, so they’re best read immediately—but it’s jarring to have to stop talking to read a long backstory or information dump to get context. This is worst at the beginning of the game when you’re just blasted with world building lore that will leave you confused if ignored. It also doesn’t help that the game’s English translation is a bit wonky, but that’s a small annoyance more than a genuine grievance.
Extremely narrative focused, Dry Drowning’s story is competently told. But when I reached the end of my playthrough, on reflection, I didn’t really enjoy it. The story leans heavily on multiple established tropes, and its cyberpunk dystopia has a lot of promise, but lends little weight to the overall story. The story is full of twists and surprising revelations—but I was never compelled to seek out the other endings once I finished my first playthrough.
If you do want to replay Dry Drowning to get its other endings, you may have a bit of a tedious time at it. There is an option in the menus to speed up dialogue, but even so, many parts cannot be quickly skipped over so you can get to the story changing choices faster.
Dry Drowning made its way to Switch with a few issues. It seemed like a no-brainer as a candidate for touch controls, but there are none. Instead, there’s a user interface that is slightly clunky, but serviceable. When playing in handheld mode the lack of touchscreen isn’t the most egregious issue, though– its small text is. While I can read it, the text is tiny and there’s no way to adjust it—a shame, since most of the game consists of reading text.
Dry Drowning is a competently made visual novel. I didn’t personally care for its story, but it’s full of interesting characters and hard choices. Its Nintendo Switch port does a pretty good job, but I wish there was a way to adjust the text since it’s a bit small. Overall Dry Drowning is a competent visual novel that breaks no new ground in a major way, but is a competent example of the genre.
Dry Drowning is available on Nintendo Switch and Windows.
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