There are very few games out there on the market that touch base with the sense of despair and hopelessness that accompanies thoughts of suicide, and with that in mind it was the creative idea of Will O’Neill to bring us a visual novel featuring this topic called Actual Sunlight. This game was announced at Gamescom to come out on the PlayStation Vita, after initially being released on Steam, and was declared to be innovative and putting the life of Evan Winter in the player’s hands. But is this a game, actually a story that you have control over like in most visual novels? Although this is a different type of experience for any player to go into as it delves into elements that are very true in our society and age, it should be judged as a video game which is what Mr. O’Neill tried to create.
Actual Sunlight is a story-heavy visual novel, aimed at players who usually play such games as Hakuoki, Steins;Gate, and Norn9. In the story you play as Evan Winter, an adult working in Toronto, Canada at a corporation that struggles with the issues in his life. He works at a job he hates, is awkward in conversations, rarely goes out, and is overweight. Throughout this story players will be able to interact with various items and people in order to bring about a lengthy narrative from Evan. This is the only amount of interactivity the player will possess in this game. The title is only good for a narrative and not something to be interactively stimulating. Players aren’t presented with the choice in order to make it their path like other visual novels, making it feel like they are only reading an essay instead of actually having some significant effect in the game.
When the game was advertised as being “a short interactive story”, they really meant it. Anyone playing this game is able to select every interactable item/character and read it the narrative slowly to complete the game within an hour. If Actual Sunlight was only made a bit longer, it would have been a stellar title. The game had a lot of potential to be something that surpassed any other visual novel out there on the market, but didn’t really hit home as one of the best. Depression and contemplation of suicide derives from a mental illness that usually isn’t curable without any help from medication, and that’s pretty much the pan-ultimate plot throughout the game.
The gameplay for Actual Sunlight is sorely lacking. It’s understandable that O’Neill wanted to present a story for players to read through, but if he gave more choice to the player to try and change the outcome of Evan’s life (or at least venture down a different path to the inevitable ending) then it would have made for an even better experience. It’s difficult to discuss the ways that the developer could have made this game better without spoiling much, but at one point in the game it prevents you from making a choice in order to try and better Evan’s choices. The game is trying to explain that it’s impossible for some people living with depression to be able to make a responsible decision because they’re already on that path, believing they aren’t able to escape. Although I don’t believe in that philosophy, it’s harder for me to understand as I don’t live in the head of someone with depression but this game has done well to present it. But that’s just it, that’s all the game does is present how they live.
Actual Sunlight’s achievements are all story-driven and hard to miss unless you don’t interact with absolutely every item and person. The worst part is that if the player misses interacting with a certain item in the game, they’ll need to repeat the game from the beginning in order to get to the part and get it. Other than this, the game is an easy completion.
Overall to play Actual Sunlight is not something recommended for those actually dealing with depression, yet it’s designed for those who are ignorant to how people living with despair think about things. It’s a shame that the game wasn’t longer, or that there wasn’t more power of choice for the player in order to make it feel like a visual novel.
Actual Sunlight was reviewed on the PS Vita
Disclosure: game copy was provided by developer/publisher