CW/TW: Spoilers, mentions of sexual assault and pedophilia.
I recently got the Fanatical anime bounty bundle (which ends tomorrow, by the way!), focused on games with an “anime” aesthetic, most of them visual novels. I thought this bundle could be a good way to find stuff to play and review; so, after looking through the game selection, for my first game I settled on Synergia.
Synergia is a sci-fi yuri visual novel published on 2020 by developer RadiArts (Francisco Pérez Molina), focused on a love story between a human and an android. If I had to define it in a couple words I’d say “80s/90s anime”, both in a good and in a bad sense, as you’ll soon see.
The nice stuff
The first thing you’ll encounter when you play the game is an animated intro sequence, which is quite awesome in my opinion. After this introduction, the game doesn’t disappoint visually: it’s stylish and polished. It has a well-designed interface and the background art is good and varied. There’s PLENTY of backgrounds in this game, every little scene has its own background, which does a lot for immersion.
There’s also another thing I really liked, and it’s the fact that you don’t only interact with the text in the usual VN way (through dialogue), but also through different interfaces depending on which machine the main character is currently logged into. At certain points of the plot, you can read e-mail, request a copy of your house’s key card, check the news, use a virtual avatar to interact with other people… it’s pretty cool and well-thought-out, a neat piece of world-building. Definitely one of the game’s strongest points.
The character art is in your typical mainstream anime style. I find it a bit bland/expressionless personally, but it’s good for what the game aims to be, so I have no complaints on that front. Also afaik all the art and writing in the game was made by its author, which is impressive. The music is immersive, and great at some points – I really like the track that sounds during tense moments, it’s very unnerving and it fits the genre 100%. So, visuals- and sound-wise, the game is professional and, as I mentioned, very 20th century anime in a good way.
The not so nice stuff
The issues begin to arise when you pay attention to the writing; which is indeed a problem, since a visual novel relies on both good art and good writing, to make up for its lack of gameplay. I believe this is in part because the game’s developer is not a native English speaker (he’s Spanish, like myself), so the English translation feels unnatural and stilted – but I tried playing the game in Spanish and the writing was full of spelling errors and quite badly written as well, so I think it’s also a case of an amateur writer who couldn’t afford editing and proof-reading.
It’s a shame, really, because the bad writing definitely hampers the experience: sentences go on and on, dialogues feel unnatural, characters react in childish or unexplainable ways and have no personality, plot twists are predictable and make no sense, there’s WAAAAY too much exposition, etc. It’s not so terrible that I had to stop playing, you definitely can look past that if you like the genre and still enjoy the game. However, don’t expect a professional work of literature.
(also, note that the best part of the game narrative-wise (the epilogue) is locked until you finish both endings of the game, which means that most people won’t get to read it. Probably not a wise design choice…)
The outright horrifying stuff
However, my biggest gripes with the game aren’t related to its mediocre writing style (I can appreciate the effort put into it, and the fact that it’s been created by a single person – no shame in making and publishing a personal project, even if it’s not perfect), but to certain deeper aspects of the plot that are very very problematic, the kind of stuff we should have left behind decades ago, which just shows a total lack of critical thinking and self-awareness from the author’s part.
The entire game seems to be built around mechanophilia, and more specifically around the typical male otaku obsession of having sex with female-presenting robots. That’s fine, this kind of game is usually directed to a niche audience and I don’t mind (and even enjoy them myself) such topics in fiction when they’re treated with proper care. Unfortunately, while this VN isn’t as full of rampant machismo as the anime and manga that inspire it, it still has a lot of glaring issues, which I’ll summarize below:
- Childish/”lolita” aesthetic for the female androids, and more specifically the main love interest. She looks like a child, she acts like a child, and she is presented in provocative and sexual situations. Sorry, but no. This entire genre is disgusting and should be eradicated from the face of the Earth.
- Objectification and sexual assault as normal developments and plot points. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD: The main love interest is forced to strip and treated like an object (even though she’s fully sentient and basically indistinguishable from a human); other androids (mostly female-looking) are also shown naked in background art and treated like objects, and the main character basically assaults her love interest (breaking into the bathroom when she’s showering, touching her intimately without permission) and that’s… not condemned, but instead treated like this is Ranma 1/2 or something, with some blushing and some screaming and “you’re so mean” energy, and then everything’s forgiven. Seriously? Have we really not evolved at all in the past 30, 40 years? I was expecting better from a game that advertises itself as “story rich” and “LGBTQ+”. The fact that the main couple is wlw doesn’t make the game any less sexist and rape-apologetic.
- Stalking, lying, “celebrity-crushing” and manipulation… equated to “true love”. OK, there isn’t a non-experience-breakingly-spoilery way to say this, so if you want to play the game for yourself, just skip this bullet point, OK? OK, great. BIG SPOILERS AHEAD: in the end, the cute android was actually manipulating you and everyone else in the cast. She “fell in love” (?) with you before she knew you (by stalking you), artificially implanted her “love” for you (?!) into the minds of all her sister androids so they would help you against their will (!), and basically lied to you during your entire relationship. But this is all magically forgiven and forgotten in just a few lines of dialogue. Yay! It was at this point when I realized that not only the entire plot of the game made no sense, but it was also incredibly fucked-up from beginning to end.
- “Villainification” of social change and insurrection. OK, this may seem somewhat mild after the objectification and apology of assault and whatnot, but it really irks me when writers, in order to make the opposing forces in a story appear “equally good/bad”, just turn rebels/leftists/anarchists/whatever into mass killers or outright evil people for no reason. MORE SPOILERS: In this game there’s a huge Empire that’s evil, and fucks with the main character’s mind by giving her apathy pills basically. There’s also a group of rebels that are trying to destroy this Empire. The main character is pro-Empire, so as to make this stance appear a bit less ridiculous, the writer turns the rebels into evil would-be-genocides that would willingly kill (??? Whatever for?) the entire population of the Empire in order to win the war. Because this makes total sense and is how social revolution must work irl surely. To paraphrase Pop Detective, since the author found no better way to handle this, they “pulled a Marvel” (go watch this video essay, it’s awesome).
So, what’s my final verdict? Do I recommend this game…?
Absolutely NOT. Unless you already own the game (for example, because you got the same bundle I did) AND you’re a big fan of cyberpunk and/or wlw stories, this game isn’t really worth your time. You can definitely overlook all of this and still enjoy parts of it, I know I have, but I’d really recommend you go play something else. If you want a good visual novel set in a not so distant future with queer romance and heavy political plots, I really recommend the Arcade Spirits series (I recently wrote a review on part 2).
OK, I think that’s all I wanted to say! Thanks for reading. When I have the time, I’ll keep playing more games from the bundle and reviewing them here, hopefully with more positive results. Until the next time!