Digital: A Love Story – PC
Developer: Christine Love (Independent)
Publisher: Christine Love (Online Distribution)
Release Date: February 2010
Genre: Kinetic/Visual Novel
Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Darth Omix
Who out there remembers the good old days of dial-up BBS? I honestly don’t because it was a few years before my time, but for those of you who do remember might want to give Digital: A Love Story a look. “Set five minutes into the future of 1988,” Digital is a kinetic novel about digital love, if the title didn’t give it away. However, this probably isn’t what you’d expect. Instead of falling in love with someone over the internet across the world, you have a rather unexpected encounter with a quirky girl going by *Emilia.
To clarify for the uninitiated, a kinetic novel is roughly the same as a visual novel, though there are few, if any, real choices to make in the game. The story is there for you to follow and experience without much – if any – variation. However, this does not make Digital a bad game. For what it sets out to accomplish, it doesn’t need the fluff of extra routes and frivolous choices.
Digital: A Love Story was developed in 2010 by Christine Love, the woman who would go on to make the Hate Story visual novel duology on Steam. Though those games are technically set in the same canonical universe, they are centuries removed from each other in the timeline and are not direct sequels in any regard. It wasn’t the first kinetic/visual novel that Love had developed, but it was the first to be widely popular and set in motion her drive as a game developer.
Compared to its successors, Digital doesn’t stack up very much. However, it more than makes up for it in surprising ways. While you never see your actual replies to emails you receive throughout the game, you can find yourself immersed and intrigued over what’s happening, even in the little side details. I personally found the opening rather dry and was iffy on even continuing, but after another 10 minutes I was clawing at my keyboard to keep going to the end. This was magnified by the somewhat clunky navigation. However, not only are you hacking into BBS servers, but its also the late 80s and things were fairly clunky back then. Though, you do get some plugins that streamline things a little bit later on in the game.
Aside from giving yourself a name and handle at the start of the game, everything else about who you are is completely left up to your own discretion. Though, your interaction with *Emilia is fairly scripted because as I said before this is a kinetic novel, there is little to no variation. Regardless, I found *Emilia adorable and quirky enough to take value of her and enjoy ‘conversing’ with her. It honestly made her sudden disappearance with the collapse of the BBS you met her on all the more jarring. Multiple other users from that BBS migrate over to others you find access to, but *Emilia stays missing.
I probably bloated my playtime by 5 minutes repeatedly flipping back to that initial “Lake City Local” BBS to see if anything had come back, or if I could find a way to hear from *Emilia. No dice. It isn’t until you get a message from the System Operator about a distress message from *Emilia with your handle in it that starts to cue you into things picking up.
As more boards start crashing, everything starts falling apart and your search for *Emilia, and for answers, gets more frantic until there’s just one uncorrupted board left, ARPANET. ARPANET, you find out through your snooping around, is the BBS created to hold Mother, an advanced AI who wanted room to expand, and was the origin point of the *Creeper, one of the first major computer viruses along with its destroyer the *Reaper.
Talking to some of the “child AIs” from after Mother’s time gets you some information, the biggest detail being that every AI’s name is prefaced with an asterisk, including our darling *Emilia. Looking for a way to restore her, you find *Paris on ARPANET, and he – as inhumanly as possible – helps you revive *Emilia, only for ARPANET to be obliterated like everything else, but not before helping you confirm the theory that what’s destroying all the BBS’s is the *Reaper. Taking an Anti-Reaper Payload from the AI BBS, *Emilia confronts you about a plan to utilize it, with herself as bait. However hard you may protest – by repeatedly replying to her messages without running the program, it gets pretty depressing actually – *Emilia stands fast that it is the only surefire way to stop the *Reaper and save AIs and the internet as a whole.
Digital: A Love Story may not be Christine Love’s best game, but it’s a damn fine one. Each BBS has its own unique track, until they’re destroyed by the *Reaper and share the same track, and each of the users you – albeit limitedly – interact with has their own way of going about the world, some of them even ignoring you and wanting to avoid the issue with *Emilia altogether. One of the AIs even repeatedly kicks you off their board until you get on too many times for it to be worth the effort.
The soundtrack has a generally “techy sci-fi” feel overall, but each track has a nice feel of its own and complement the mood where relevant. The pixilated artwork for each BBS’s homepage adds a splash of color to an otherwise primarily white-and-blue interface, Facebook and Twitter anyone?
In terms of mechanics and gameplay, for reasonably taking place in the late 80s it can’t get much more streamlined without becoming less believable. Though, it is an adjustment compared to modern computers. As a kinetic novel, it tells a nice story and lightly touches on concepts that Love explores in greater depth and detail in the Hate Story duology.
As a whole, Digital: A Love Story is a great first step in Christine Love’s career and a fantastic first kinetic/visual novel for someone interested in the genre. It runs smoothly and, though short, is a worthwhile experience to take an hour or two to do. In fact, Digital: A Love Story is completely free! So, if you’re in for a quick 80s adventure of love, mystery, and hacking, go download Digital: A Love Story and HACK THE GIBSON!
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