Remember that game Ame no Marginal and Narcissu? Both were well-received when they came out and the latter was actually popular enough to warrant a PS4, PSV, and Switch port, all of which are currently in-development. So given that, one would expect the studio’s next game to at least receive some attention, but oddly enough the game has been out for a month now and has pretty much gone under the radar. It didn’t for me though, so I opted to give the game a chance.
Great combination of story themes. Although Winter Polaris may have its issues when it comes to storytelling (which I’ll get into later), it at least manages to combine a decent number of themes together in a way that I wasn’t expecting. At first glance, if you read the synopsis, you may be expecting some post-apocalyptic drama story with a heavy dose of feels. While that description is technically true, there’s much more to it than just that. It’s hard to describe exactly what I’m talking about without spoiling it, but let’s just say that, while you may have an idea of what kind of genre the game falls under given that synopsis, you really won’t get the whole picture until the very end of it.
The game steadily incorporates all of these themes together over the course of the story, giving you the impression of being about one thing, but actually being about something else entirely. By the end of the game, I was suddenly reading through a story that hardly resembled what I had started with. It was quite cool how the game managed to do so, even if it did have its problems.
Decent art. Along with the combination of story themes, Winter Polaris also makes use of some rather good art. It’s quite unlike what we usually see in the medium, and looks more akin to what I’d expect from a manga or an art book of that sort. The character linework, for example, is rough, yet somehow feels right at home within the game’s setting. The colors are also expressive in ways that actually align with the story.
Half of the story is told through one set of characters and makes use of a darker color palette to match the post-apocalyptic world, while the other half makes use of more vivid colors, to match that story’s more adventurous tone. This can be seen not just in the environments, but in the characters themselves, specifically their clothing and hair. The art, just like the story, may have its issues elsewhere, but it was still cool in how it helped establish the tone of both stories.
Disjointed writing. While I can appreciate the combination of themes that Winter Polaris was going for, it unfortunately trips over itself in its own writing. Here you have a story told in two separate parts, both of which do not seem to have any sort of connection at first, but progressively become more and more linked. This is usually fine as a story setup, but Winter Polaris goes about it in a manner that really makes it hard to enjoy. Not only are you constantly flipping back and forth between these two stories and having to juggle all of the characters and events in both, but you’re constantly jumping all over the place in each individual story.
The primary story, for example, has you jumping not just from place to place, but across entirely different time periods. You’ll read one chapter and then suddenly find yourself in another chapter 100 years in the future, with little in the way of proper transitioning. It does this often enough that it becomes hard to get invested in any one chapter, as by the time you’re starting to understand the characters and events, you’re somewhere else entirely. It made the overall writing feel incredibly disjointed and did not give the characters the growth that they needed in order to have the impact that the story was looking for by the end of it. For how much the game hangs on its ending, it isn’t really doing itself any favors here, leading to an ending that just didn’t resonate with me.
Limited art and music assets. I may have just praised the art, but I was also disappointed with how little of it was actually present in the game. Most of your time with the game will be spent starting at environments, objects, or other backgrounds that don’t really have much going on. The character art, while good, only shows up sporadically and doesn’t stick around for too long. By the time you’ve read three or four lines, you’re back to starting at some blank background.
And again, those backgrounds aren’t even all that bad, but the game uses them so much that it just becomes boring to look at. It also definitely doesn’t help that the same backgrounds are reused again and again over the course of the game. The art is already limited enough being set at such a narrow aspect ratio, so further limiting it in this regard just makes it feel like a lazy effort at times.
The same can be said for the game’s music, of which it felt like I was only hearing the same three or four tracks on repeat for the entire six hour experience. As with the backgrounds, the music isn’t that bad, it just becomes boring to hear the same thing over and over. I can understand wanting to cut costs here and focus more on the story, especially given that this comes from a doujin studio, but there’s a “visual” side to the visual novel, something that Winter Polaris seems to forget at times.
Numerous technical issues. Unfortunately, Winter Polaris is a visual novel that suffers from a wide variety of technical issues. The most notable of these would be with regards the game’s font and UI, which has a few issues on its own. Normally, the font looks fine, but if you ever open the backlog and return to the line you were just on, the text suddenly gets a slight brown outline. It was an annoying issue, but a minor one as the outline would disappear on the next line.
A more annoying issue would be the game’s window opacity option. If you ever touch this option, the game adds in a text box at the bottom of the screen, moves the text from underneath the art to this text box, and doesn’t allow you to change it back. Even if you change the textbox opacity to be 100% transparent, the text remains at the bottom of the screen and now has a nasty outline that looks really bad in fullscreen. To get the text to display as it was before, you have to actually delete your save file, something I had to do about halfway through my playthrough. Of course, you’ll never run into this issue if you don’t touch the window opacity option, but it makes me wonder why such an option was even added if its changes cannot be reversed normally.
Aside from those issues, I also ran into a few instances of the game freezing up after certain lines. These freezes barely lasted a few seconds, but are noticeable in that any animations stop playing during the time and the music track playing in the background suddenly restarts itself. And when you actually look at the settings menu, you’ll find that there really isn’t a lot to change there. You have your usuals like text speed and auto speed (which are both reversed in this menu for some reason), but lack any options regarding animations, font effects, cursor hiding, and controls. It’s not as bad as some other VNs I’ve reviewed, but still not on the level I would consider satisfactory.
Although Winter Polaris has a great combination of story themes, it manages to lose itself in its own disjointed writing, making for a story that doesn’t allow its characters to grow in the way they needed to. The result is an ending that hardly resonates with the player. And the art, while good on its own, is so limited that it just becomes boring at times, especially when you’ve seen the same background 10 or so times within just one hour. The technical issues on top of all of that are also not doing the game any favors. It’s a VN that could have been good, but has some poor execution holding it back.
You can buy Winter Polaris on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.