Join us in this little adventure following Alex through his first days at St. Michaels, an exclusive all-male boarding school during the British Edwardian era.
He will meet new friends, will face an unexpected danger and, who knows? Perhaps he will even find true love. It’s up to you whether Alex leaves St. Michaels with a happy ending or with a broken heart… or still worse.
Ertal Games’ debut title, offers a nice change of pace from some of the other BL/yaoi games on the market. Set in 1910 at an elite all-boys boarding school in Britain, A Hand in the Darkness follows Alex White as he attempts to acclimate himself to the rigid environment of St. Michaels, while also coming to terms with his budding feelings for one of his three male roommates. Amidst the confusion, Alex is also the target of a string of accidents that escalate as the school year goes on.
A Hand in the Darkness is a period piece of sorts, in the vein of Keiko Takemiya’s BL classic, Kaze to Ki no Uta, it’s a BL game set in the early 1900s in an all boy’s school, it kind of writes itself. But, Ertal games takes it a step further, not just depicting the romantic relationship between Alex and one of his three male roommates, but, by also throwing in a murder mystery and a coming of age story into the mix. I will admit that at times the game packs a bit too much into it’s short runtime, but, these additional story elements add more depth to the overall narrative, that I didn’t expect going in.
In the game there are three love interests to choose from: the excitable redhead, Monty; the studious and levelheaded, Rick; and the bad boy of the group, Damian. Each love interest has their merits, though I will admit that Damian was my favorite, since his route had more intimate moments with Alex than the other two. Monty was definitely my least favorite, as I’m not a fan of borderline yandere characters, and his possessiveness of Alex was a huge turn off. On the other hand, Rick’s route was probably the best at utilizing the whole forbidden romance, since it’s established early on that he has a fiance and his parents expect him to follow their strict life plan, so the tension is definitely a bit higher.
As far as BL protagonists go, Alex is pretty solid. He’s naive, but not so much so that he is oblivious to the advances of his chosen lover. In fact, most of his naivete early on can be attributed to his lack of social awareness, since unlike his classmates, he is from a less affluent family. However, when it comes to the relationships, he is cautious due to the society’s opinion of homosexual relationships, but, very much an active consenting party in all of the routes.
In fact, I really liked the way the romance aspect of the game was dealt with as a whole. Instead of glossing over the seriousness of engaging a homosexual relationship, the game handles the topic in a way fitting of the time period, detailing the fears of persecution and even the self loathing of engaging in what at the time was viewed as a taboo relationship.
“‘Sodomites,’ as people called them, weren’t usually sent to jail nowadays, but, everybody still talked about Oscar Wilde and how he ended up with two years of penal labour in prison, despite being famous and influential.”
-In game dialogue from Alex about homosexuality
There is even mention of Oscar Wilde and his infamous imprisonment as an example of the consequences of being caught participating in such an affair. This is not something that the characters enter into lightly, well, maybe Damian, but, even in his case he remarks that his wealth and power allot him some level of protection. Their fears and doubts play a huge role in the progression of their relationships since each of the boys is expected to marry at some point in the future. However, the game doesn’t go as far with this as I would like since the good endings pretty much tie everything up in a neat little bow and the bad relationship endings conclude with the characters parting ways, with no real consequences, but, I feel like a longer game would have had time to flesh that out…
The same can be said for the murder mystery plotline, throughout the game Alex is being targeted by some unknown assailant and while the game does reveal who the culprit is at the end of each route, I wanted more. Yes, there is ample time given to investigating Alex’s attacks and all of the roommates regardless of what route you’re on at the time do help, but, the conclusion just felt rushed, which is a shame. It would have been a great opportunity to give Alex even more depth outside of his relationships and it brought up some really interesting topics that would have been a great addition to the game had they been explored… but, alas…
Unlike most BL games, there are no “NSFW” images in the game the closest we get is the tub scene in Monty’s route and the Forest scene in Damian’s. So if you’re going into this expecting steamy CGs with all the bits and berries on full display… look elsewhere. However, A Hand in the Darkness makes up for this with its writing. Now, I am a seasoned BL fan, I’ve seen and read some nosebleed worth stuff, but, the writing in this story is so detailed and so goddamned erotic, I had to stop and take a breather. Every single intimate moment is so well written you don’t even need a damn CG, the words alone are more than enough! I mean, this is like some next level erotic stuff!
The only downside is that there were a few writing errors that suggest that the developers might not all be native English speakers. It wasn’t enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the game, but, it does take you out of the mood of a scene when it occurs. The game is also available in Spanish, but, since I don’t speak or read Spanish, I’m not sure if the writing inconsistencies are exclusive to the English version or not. The art is gorgeous and despite not having a ton of CGs they do a great job of utilizing the ones they have to the fullest with a lot of close ups and shifting angles. The music mostly consisted of fair use instrumentals, but they fit in well with the overall tone of the game, so no complaints there.
It’s easy to underestimate A Hand in the Darkness, because, unlike many of the more recent BL visual novel releases it doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles. Rather than relying on, (in my opinion over used) gimmicks and features that have become the norm in BL games, Ertal Games let’s their story and characters speak for themselves, and the result is rather refreshing.
This is a solid game, not the best I’ve played and certainly not the worst, instead it just hits the mark. It’s a satisfying game that is perfect for newbies or anyone looking for a solid BL title that won’t break the bank. But, as always, you don’t have to take my word for it! Check out the trailer below or give the game a try, it’s currently on sale until October 31st!
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