Newbie developer Steamberry Studios delivers a magical adventure in their debut supernatural fantasy visual novel, Changeling. The game follows Nora, a high school senior who finds herself drawn into the world of the paranormal after moving back to her childhood hometown of Pine Hollow. A community of Cryptics (supernatural beings) operates in the shadows of Pine Hollow, each with their own secrets… After experiencing a number of strange occurrences, Nora discovers that she is also a Cryptic and the revelation sends her world into a tailspin. But, unlike her friends and fellow member of the Supernatural Club, her supernatural origins might be darker than anyone could have anticipated. With danger around every corner, Nora must rely on one of six guys, to uncover the secrets of her past while also helping them deal with their own supernatural issues.
I’ve been following Changeling‘s production for a very long time now, from the kickstarter campaign to tumblr dev updates to the beta testing and I’ve talked with the devs at length about the game on a number of occasions. So, I suppose you could say I am really invested in this game.
Supernatural romances are a dime a dozen with tons of YA books, films, and TV series boasting a fresh take on a genre that is more than a little over saturated. Don’t get me wrong, I love supernatural romances, I was all over Vampire Diaries and Twilight once upon a time and I’m quick to jump on new fantasy otome games when they’re released. They all sell the same story: a normal girl gets drawn into the world of supernatural beings and quickly discovers the world of the paranormal isn’t nearly as glamorous as it seems.
And, on a basal level Changeling is the same kind of story: Nora, a “normal” young woman is drawn into the supernatural goings on in Pine Hollow due to circumstances beyond her control. It’s the same premise we’ve seen over a dozen times before, but, there is one fundamental difference that sets Changeling apart from the rest. Where other titles tend to focus on the big three of the supernatural world (Vampires, Werewolves, and Witches), Changeling expands its scope to include a whole host of often neglected supernatural beings. The world of the game isn’t as restrictive as other supernatural and it makes for a much more inclusive and expansive gaming experience.
But, Steamberry takes it to the next level, not only do they introduce us to a wide range of supernatural beings, they also take the time to delve into their individual mythology and lore. There’s even an in-game journal that catalogues all the information you collect on the various supernatural creatures you encounter, most of which has its roots in real life lore. Seriously, Changeling is worth it for the lore alone, but, not only do they establish this wonderful foundation, Steamberry also builds a great story around it. Most of the ongoing conflict stems from Nora discovering that she isn’t a normal human, but a Fae (though it’s much more complicated than that). She spends a majority of the game trying to uncover the source of her supernatural origins while also navigating the ups and downs of the supernatural world. A lot of what we learn about the supernatural world is through Nora, which she delivers with a certain degree of sass and snark that we don’t see in too many otome games.
Nora is one of those heroines you’re either going to love or absolutely hate. She’s a strong, funny, stubborn teen that suddenly finds herself thrust into a world where magic and monsters exist and she handles it about as well as most people would: she takes it one step at a time. She vacillates between fear, panic, and acceptance fairly often, and it works, in most of the supernatural otome games I’ve played, the heroine is either too accepting of her situation or too fearful, so Nora is a nice balance. However, she can be a bit snarky channeling her anxieties through witty (and sometimes cutting) jibes that I found oddly enough relatable, since a lot of her in game dialogue felt like stuff I found myself saying. Nora is very much a “new” otome heroine, who takes agency in her actions and the events of the game. She doesn’t just sit back and let things happen to her she fights!
Before I get into the romance options, there is a relationship that is much more important to the story and that’s Nora’s relationship with her twin brother Spencer. Now, anyone that has ever had a sibling can relate to some of the interactions between Nora and Spencer. Hiding car keys, fighting over breakfast, petty squabbles over touching personal property… but, there’s deeper antagonism between the two that stems from an incident from their past that left Spencer blind in his left eye and left Nora touched by magic. How the player chooses to interact with Spencer throughout the game determines whether or not they make up by the end of the game and in some cases influences the outcome of the game (for better or worse). Interactions with Spencer are pretty loaded, because telling Spencer too much about the supernatural world puts him in danger, however, outright lying to him or omitting details often incur Spencer’s ire… So, tread carefully with Spencer.
Now, the romance options, there are six hot studs to choose from: Elliot, a sweet, adorkable Infected Vampire; Danny, the upbeat and friendly Werewolf; Corvin, the surprisingly popular klutz… and he’s a Wizard; William
the one that must be protected at all costs a sweet kind of quiet Psychic; Marc, a Natural Born Vampire; and Ewan, a Fae with a tendency to lose his head. Each route touches on a different aspect of the supernatural world offering a conflict that is specific to each love interest, so I strongly recommend multiple playthroughs to get a good grasp on everything, especially if you’re interested in solving Nora’s secrets. Ewan’s route reveals more about the Fae and their involvement in Nora’s supernatural origins, while Elliot’s route… not so much.
All of the love interests their merits and I definitely went in with a favorite. Elliot was my number one pick in the beginning, he’s sweet, clearly crushin’ hard on Nora and just so approachable. But, even I can admit that his route was the weakest for me story wise, since everything seemed much more in line with the “usual” vampire romance story. I actually enjoyed Marc’s story more because it had a bit more substance to it delving into the social hierarchy of vampires and… you know… Marc is a super tsundere… BUT, the biggest standouts for me were Ewan and Corvin, I LOVE THEIR ROUTES!! Ewan’s route explains a lot about the Fae, so a lot is revealed about Nora here than it is in any of the other routes, but even more than that, Ewan is just a big ol’ softy underneath all that leather! It was the most well balanced route in the game, the romance was spot on, the conflict was inventive with believable stakes and consequences, and there were some big payoffs for Nora’s past. It was the perfect route.
The only other route to come close to this was Corvin’s and it’s a close second. Corvin’s stakes were pretty high from the start, due to the nature of his powers and his role in the supernatural world. He does help Nora figure out her past, but, it’s secondary to his own issues, which are arguably more important… But, as a character, I loved Corvin, he is just so damn endearing, and the romantic tension between the two of them was perfect! I wanted them to end up together at the end, because the route did such a great job of just building it up and the payoff was WORTH IT!
Changeling also has a pretty large cast of side characters that have a significant role in the overall plot. Most notably is Nora’s best friend Ally, a witch who serves as a confidant, cheerleader, mad shipper, and encyclopedia of weird, depending on which route your currently playing. She was one of my favorite characters in the game, because not only does she tell it like it is, but, she is genuinely invested in helping Nora navigate the supernatural world. Special nods to Brenna, the Murder crew, and Dracen, the unicorn, because they stole the show for me whenever they were on screen. It’s not often that a game takes the time to flesh out the side characters, let alone giving them their own story arcs and motivations, so kudos to Steamberry for getting me to fall in love with each and every one of them.
But, before I close this review, I do want to touch on the artwork. Unlike most English otome games, Changeling doesn’t employ the usual anime style art, rather it uses this really cool painted style that really makes it stand out from the rest of the games I’ve played. Despite most of the characters being really really, ridiculously good looking, each one has a style all their own that is distinct from the rest. But, the biggest draw for me were the unique designs of all the supernatural creatures which lends itself well to the painted semi-realistic art style. No two creatures look a like and while most sport human like qualities, there are just enough stylistic choices to give them that otherworldly feel. The CGs are a bit hit or miss, some are stunning and others… eh, not so much, but, Steamberry makes up for that with their solid character sprites and lush vibrant backgrounds. For a debut game, Changeling has a lot going for it.
I covered the demo two years ago during the early stages of development and I was enamored with the rich fantasy world and imaginative storytelling of the game. The full game has been out for a few months, but I really wanted to spend my time with this one, and boy is there a lot to discover in Changeling. The game borrows elements from folklore and myths from around the world to create the mystical world of the game, Steamberry Studios gives the various myths and legends a modern twist, breathing new life into the supernatural romance genre. I highly recommend giving Changeling a try, this is a labor of love created by a talented team and it is well worth the price of admission.
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