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Love In The Time of Hypothermia, August 31, 2012
One of a small but important subgenre, the single-NPC conversation game. Games of this form inevitably have a romantic subtext: you are, after all, focusing intently on a single person for quite a while. ("I think I can fall in love with anyone," a friend once said, "if I spend enough time looking into their eyes. Hairdressers are a problem.") In Snowblind Aces, the subtext stops being subtext and dances around in the foreground.
During a war roughly analagous to WWI (but with more steampunk-fantasy elements), two fighter aces on opposite sides collide, crash in a snowbound waste, and must work together to survive; this is the climax of a long flirtation based on being honourable to one another in dogfights. The attraction is obvious: the question is what you do about it.
Pacian is consistently good at creating characters who are, if not particularly deep or complex, at least memorable and attractive. If IF fanfic were a thing, Pacian would be the genre's biggest ship-baiter. I've always felt that this character-design approach feels much more like a visual medium, and that of comics in particular: and the first impression that I got on examining Imelda was "man, this feels like a Phil Foglio character."
So the game succeeds at the first hurdle of romance-oriented plots: the audience should like the leads and want to see them get together. At the second requirement (there should be serious obstacles to the relationship) it's a little more shaky. As in Walker & Silhouette, the leads begin the conversation totally eager to jump into one anothers' pants, and largely remain thus throughout. This, combined with the highlighted-keyword conversation system, makes the flirtation feel like an effortless glide rather than a dogfight or a fraught landing. You have opportunities to disrupt it if you want, true, but doing so by mistake is unlikely. And because the game is so centrally focused on the romance, you're not really given any motives to do so, except to be perverse: I never felt as though Lucas' love of flying, or for his homeland, were evoked strongly enough to make for character conflict. You do not feel as though you're sacrificing a great deal by spending the rest of the war in prison. And of course, that frission is the obvious point of the game's premise -- so if it comes across weakly, that's a big problem.
Though generally strong and efficient, the writing is conspicuously less smooth than in Pacian's later works. There were a number of moments in the dialogue that broke the tone for me. The cutting banter is good at times, but less convincing at others; and the tone doesn't shift enough in response to key events in the conversation.
The game states that there are a good number of endings, but I didn't find myself wanting to seek out more than a couple. I can't help but compare the play experience to that of Galatea. There, conversation was much more of a struggle: finding enough topics to discuss in order to reach an ending can take a while. But because you have to search for them, there's a stronger feeling of things to find. After one playthrough of Snowblind Aces, however, there's a pretty strong sense that you've exhausted the great majority of topics.
But there's much to like about Snowblind Aces: a satisfying epilogue section, mostly fluid play, a distinctive and engaging premise. Like Pacian's output in general, it's overtly pulpy, but it's tasty pulp. (For me, this was one of those games that you save up for when you want to play something that you can be sure is going to be pretty good.)