Dry Drowning Review
This week at 3Bit, we have been playing something different on the Nintendo Switch, Dry Drowning by Studio V. Originally releasing on the PC back in 2019, Dry Drowning is a Film Noir Visual Novel and puzzle game set in a Cyberpunk city. In Dry Drowning, we are thrust into the role of a private investigator with a shady past in pursuit of a mysterious serial killer known only as Pandora. Dry Drowning is filled with drama and tough choices, but is it the right choice to pick up this game? Our review below will tell all as we explore Dry Drowning.
When it comes to visual novels with puzzle elements, I can honestly list them all in one hand as the Ace Attorney series. Personally, I loved the Ace Attorney games; from the investigative gameplay to the cheesy courtroom action, there are hours of fun to be had as you solved crimes and kept the innocent out of jail, no matter how weird you believe it to be. Dry Drowning is very much like the Ace Attorney series in many ways when stripped down to its core mechanics. You will need to solve cases by investigating crime scenes, questioning witnesses, and exposing the villains using "The Living Nightmare System" instead of a courtroom. However, this is where the similarities between the two crime-solving titles end. Dry Drowning takes the Ace Attorney formula and takes it to the next level, filling the game with dramatic choices that can reshape the entire story. You do not need to be the good guy in Dry Drowning, and the ever-branching story means you can take what is already a dark game and make it tenfold darker.
As I mentioned above, revealing villains is done using a mechanic called "The Living Nightmare System". This system adds a unique puzzle element you can use to sum up certain characters story arcs as you expose them for lying. You are given three chances to show the correct evidence in a sequence. Showing the right evidence will remove a layer of their mask, which shows their deception, whilst getting it wrong will close one of your three mystic eyes. If you are successful, you will either progress the story a great deal or bring forward a choice that could shape the moment or the rest of the game. This mechanic makes for some exciting game moments and can lead to some very unexpected twists.
The only issue I did have with dry Drowning is that the game itself is a bit of a feature fanatic. Whilst some features require regular usage, such as the use of "Aqua OS" to recreate a crime scene, there are other features that are used as a one-shot and whilst they add a cool moment to the game, they then fail to appear later in the game at times when you think you would need these features. One such example of this is when questioning, you could pick up on certain words the NPC would say and challenge it in more detail, however in later conversations throughout the story, particularly in more story-heavy moments, you were never given the option to explore the conversation further to get a better understanding of the motives and reasons behind the NPC's before making my choices on what to do with the evidence I have collected.
This leads me onto the best gameplay aspect of Dry Drowning, the end of chapter decisions. Many characters you interact with will be affected in one way or another, which can ripple into others. This moves onto one of my favourite aspects of the Dry Drowning: Choices and how each choice made within Dry Drowning can reshape the entirety of the game. One such example is during your first case, where you are tasked with clearing an extreme right-wing politician's name. You can either bring evidence that proves the innocence of the man as he professes to be, or you can choose to hide the evidence and watch him go down for a crime he did not commit. Each choice carried a severe consequence, as proving his innocence means that his Party will reign supreme in the next election, however in falsifying his guilt, you risk going down the same path that damaged your reputation in the game's prelude. Personally, I love the fact that I could decide the fate of those around me as it led to a more immersive style of play that felt right at home with the games Film Noir themes.
Graphically Dry Drowning is, in its own way, rather beautiful. Its noir themes blend perfectly with is cyberpunk settings, and whilst the game is 2D, the characters are each capable of portraying their emotions, and each room you investigate and explore is able to tell its own story. Dry Drowning uses a monochrome colour palette for the most part but then changes it up with each room, with a classic noir technique, called selective colour, where one colour will be able to bleed through the drab black and white, such as a shabby burgundy carpet or the neon blue hum from a sign or window.
Personally, I have nothing to complain about with the overall design of Dry Drowning, and even when playing in the Nintendo Switches handheld mode, there were no issues with the game's graphics. Whilst I do not have any issues with the art style or the overall design of Dry Drowning, I do believe that it was missing something that could have truly added to each scene, the addition of animation in the background. Personally, I think it would have added to the captivating art style if we saw cars passing windows or grass flowing in the wind, subtle effects that could have given each scene more life.
Personally, I have enjoyed the soundtrack of Dry Drowning its use of the piano to set the often melancholic mood. The music would do exactly what it needs to every time, and honestly, if I was scoring on the soundtrack alone, this section of the review would've been a solid 8. Unfortunately, I am not, as in this section we also like to talk about the other audio aspects from sound effects, which are present within certain items in Dry Drowning and, of course, voice acting, something that is distinctly missing from Dry Drowning. Whilst I understand the game is a Visual Novel, I would have loved to have seen some voice acting within the game in order to give each character a bit more depth and meaning, as reading each character's lines offers only so much depth to the story. The addition of voice acting would have brought so much more emotion into the story, from the desperate pleas to the manic laugh of a serial killer. This is the one key feature missing within dry Drowning that would have made it not just an enjoyable game but an outstanding game.
Dry Drowning's story is dark, gritty, and everything you would expect from a noir detective title, featuring future tech and a dystopian world, everything you could ever want in terms of themes. The story of dry Drowning really plays well on these themes, like you, a detective with a shady past, try to make ends meet for yourself and your partner and lover, who wants nothing more than to be your equal and see you recover from your mistakes. Meanwhile, the ever-changing world around you brings shocking twists with every decision you make as you hunt down the notorious serial killer known as Pandora, whose victims are left displayed in the fashion of Greek Gods and Goddesses.
However, some things are not right with each of these killers. Are we chasing the real Pandora throughout this story, or an imposter using the mythical serial killer's name to get away scot-free? Through a series of tough choices only we are able to find out in what I can only describe as a gripping story that, much like a good book, you will not want to put down. Whilst the story in itself is incredibly gripping, I do wish there was the option to go into a lot more detail, where you could understand each character in more detail in order to make more informed decisions and make each choice that little bit tougher to make when it truly matters.
Overall Dry Drowning is a dark, gritty adventure that will get you thinking as you try to find the identity of Pandora and make some insanely tough calls with dire consequences that will send ripples through each chapter. Whilst the game itself is an excellent addition to the Nintendo Switch family and comes off the back of a recent update for PC. I do wish that Studio 7 had included just a bit in terms of voice acting and reoccurring features in order to make this Visual Novel a genuinely immersive experience. I strongly recommend dry Drowning to anybody who enjoyed the Ace Attorney series from a few years back, as Dry Drowning is a game that truly brings a whole new level to that investigative experience. I also believe that the game's themes are one worth exploring a lot more in the gaming world, and whilst the indie community is shedding a lot of light on both noir and cyberpunk style games, I would absolutely love to see even more titles that combine the two.