I absolutely loved Ertal Games’s debut BL visual novel, A Hand in the Darkness, so you can bet I was super excited to get my hands on their sophomore title, steampunk sci-fi visual novel, Chasing the Stars. I’ve said this before, but Ertal Games has a knack for storytelling, with their intriguing characters and immersive narratives, each of their games is a rare treat. This time around Ertal Games delivers a rich cyberpunk fantasy that is out of this world!
Follow Tirs Abril a young college student who has always dreamed of going into space and helping usher in a new age of colonization on one of humanities satellite cities. When Alaya, a new planet is discovered and proven to have the right conditions for human colonization, Tirs’s dreams are suddenly much more attainable. After getting dumped by his longtime boyfriend there is nothing holding Tirs back from pursuing his dreams and he decides to take position as a scholarship researcher in the lab of his professor and renowned Environmental Engineer, Marc Rossell, who is currently heading the team working on the Alaya terraforming project. However, Tirs soon discovers that things are much more complicated than he ever imagined forcing him to decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to follow his dreams…
Chasing the Stars is pretty far removed from Ertal Games’s debut title, A Hand in the Darkness, but in a good way. This is a completely different story that comes with its own unique characters and experiences. Unlike most games the side characters aren’t just one off character, but play a significant role in the story, like Tirs ex Nil or the members of the Alaya colonization team. Ertal Games really takes the time to build a world around these characters, giving depth to the story. I really love the steampunk fantasy aesthetic so I really enjoyed the character designs in this game, lots of belts, corsets, and leather. but there’s an added sci-fi fantasy element to the game that I don’t think I’ve seen in a BL game.
There are three love interests to pursue: brilliant, but aloof PhD student Biel Ferre; Tirs’s upbeat and easygoing best friend, Pol Sans; and Tirs’s professor and leader of the Alaya terraforming project team, Marc Rossell. And of course, who could forget the game’s leading man, Tirs Abril, an ambitious Environmental Engineer undergrad. I have played a lot of BL games, and I have to say that Tirs is my favorite BL protagonist, not only is he relatable as hell, but even in spite of his flaws you never feel like his actions are out of character. There’s also the added bonus of him having relationships with characters outside of the love interests. Early on in the game, Tirs breaks up with his boyfriend Nil but he doesn’t just fade away into the background. Rather, Nil is still a part of Tirs’s friend group so there are plenty of awkward interactions between them as they both deal with their split. Then there are the members of the research team Tirs works with and Marc’s terrorist team, they each have their own unique personalities and mini character arcs that are independent from the events of the main plot line.
Ertal Games took some risks with Chasing the Stars, which has garnered a bit of a mixed response from some gamers, however I personally loved the direction the team decided to go in with the story. One of the biggest complaints is the nature of the relationship between Tirs and his professor Marc Rossell. While the game does give players the choice to opt out of the sexual content of the story, there is an event that negates that choice and can’t be avoided if you want to get the game’s best endings. Early on in the game Tirs is propositioned by his professor Marc and regardless of which love interest you’re pursuing you can’t turn him down. Choosing to reject his advances automatically locks you into one of the game’s many bad endings, which can be frustrating to many, HOWEVER, in context it completely makes sense that Tirs would agree to sleep with Marc.
Yes, it is a huge abuse of power on the part of Marc, since not only is he Tirs’s professor, but he is also the leader of the Alaya project team and he KNOWS Tirs will do anything for the chance to go into space and he uses that to his advantage. He should never put one of his students in that position, on top of that Tirs is still coming off of a big breakup, he’s emotionally vulnerable and looking for something to distract him from his feelings. This is exactly the kind of poor decision making you’d expect from a vulnerable and emotional 22 year old (heck, I’ll admit to making some questionable decisions during my college days). Tirs is a consenting adult who willingly enters into a casual sexual relationship with Marc, which he continues throughout the majority of the game and the resulting downward spiral is an integral part of the story. However, by locking players into the choice it undermines the players agency in the story fairly early on. The developer has since stated that they are going to release a future update that will allow players to turn Marc down without effecting the story outcomes, however I feel that would completely negate the message of the game.
Chasing the Stars asks one simple question: How far someone is willing to go to pursue their dreams? Each character is faced with choices that not only change the trajectory of the story, but also challenge their morals. Do the means justify the ends? The characters are constantly being pushed to their limits as they purse their dreams. When Marc discovers an issue with the terraforming project he resorts to extreme measures in the name of preserving the greater good, dragging Tirs into his schemes. But, in doing so Tirs must decide whether the pursuit of his dream of traveling to Alaya is worth sacrificing innocent lives.
At first it feels like Tirs is an unwilling participant in some of the shadier aspects of the game, but in reality he is in complete control of his actions. It’s only after he has to deal with the consequences of his choices that he questions whether or not he’s been making the right decisions. And trust me when I say, sh*t really hits the fan in this game, but part of what makes Chasing the Stars such an enjoyable game is that even at their worst the characters and their actions are believable.
There really isn’t much in the way of variability between the routes, they all hit the same major plot points with minor differences here and there specific to whichever love interest you pursue. There were a few scenes that play out differently depending on your choices, like the date scene with Marc. You can choose to go alone with Marc OR invite Biel and unlock a threesome sexual encounter, it doesn’t really effect the plot all that much but it is something that expands on the story (even if only slightly).
There is sexual content in the game, however, like I mentioned earlier, you can choose to opt out of seeing the sex scenes. They get pretty steamy and unlike A Hand in the Darkness the CGs for these encounters show everything, you get the full Monty with this game. There are only a handful of CGs, but the ones we get are totally worth it and were well used, especially those used in the sex scenes. Speaking of, Ertal Games really knows how to write their smut scenes, the writing is very descriptive. I made this comment in my review of their first game, but the writing is so good that you really don’t need the CGs, the words are enough on their own!
But, what I really liked is that the mature content never feels tacked on (well maybe the threesomes), the sexual encounters with Marc are plot relevant and the scenes with Biel and Pol only occur towards the end of the game, once a meaningful relationship is established with those characters. So, it’s not really smut for the sake of smut, there’s a purpose to it. On the other hand… the threesome scenes feel like a gimmick, since I couldn’t seem to unlock a specific poly ending.
It’s clear to see that Ertal Games has grown since they released their first game, Chasing the Stars shows a complexity and cohesiveness that I think was missing in A Hand in the Darkness. Romance takes a bit of a backseat in favor of the narrative, but once again Ertal Games proves that they know how to tell a really good story with interesting and well developed characters. There are some questionable story elements, but rather than turning me off, they drive home the underlying message of the game. Sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices to reach your goals. Sometimes making a “bad” choice is the right choice, it’s really a matter of perspective.
If you weren’t already a fan of Ertal Games, you really have been sleeping on a great indie BL game developer. So, if you are a fan of unique and immersive stories with nuanced characters, look no further than Chasing the Stars.
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