Story 390880043

Yeah, yeah, I’m a bit late with this one. Homesquared is already well on its way and all anyone wants to talk about is its questionable character choices and whatever nonsense its writing team has got up to this week. But to celebrate the end of the school year (and because god knows I can’t do anything else right now), I decided it was about time to dip my toes into Pesterquest, the successor to Friendsim.

I enjoyed Friendsim a good deal, so I had high hopes for Pesterquest going in. Each character has their own chapter with only three endings each, with two choice points throughout. Except in a few special circumstances, there’s only one way to get to the good end, with the other two leading to bad ends with various levels of badness- it ranges from simply not making a friend to some pretty brutal deaths. In short, it’s exactly the same as Friendsim, which is all I really wanted anyway.

Some of the choices can be pretty counterintuitive, urging you to go against common sense, human decency, and the basic drive for survival in order to end up making a friend. In some visual novels this would be frustrating and leave the player feeling like they have to guess their way to the good end, but because this is a comedy game, most players are going to want to see every ending anyway. The simplistic nature of each chapter,as well as the fast forward button means it’s easy to get every ending with no guesswork whatsoever.

Naturally this leads to a lack of challenge, so if you’re the type that likes playing VNs and figuring out how to get to the good end like a puzzle, this certainly isn’t going to satisfy. There’s a few achievements that require going down specific paths, but with such a limited number of paths to go down you’ll probably unlock them all on a casual playthrough. The main strength of Pesterquest is in its comedy, and for me it hits all the right buttons. It reminds me a lot of the early acts of Homestuck, fairly lighthearted humor based off character dialogue (or monologue, a lot of the time) with the occasional really dark joke thrown in there when it starts to get a little too easygoing. While some of the dark stuff is played for laughs, quite a bit of it isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Before talking about the characters, though, let’s get into presentation. I already made a whole article about how much I love Homestuck‘s music, and it continues to deliver here. In the typical HS style, there’s some repurposed old tracks, some remixes, and a handful of new ones. While some of the remixes (Jade’s route especially) weren’t necessarily my favorite, and the title theme sounded unnecessarily depressing, most of the music was pretty great. A good chunk of it was by James Roach, who worked on the music for Hiveswap and Friendsim, and he reaches the same standard of quality as always. He even manages to use the music to add his own brand of humor: John’s theme is “I’ve been calling Andrew Hussie “Andy” for years and he hasn’t corrected me yet”, and Aradia’s theme is a soft cover of Megalovania titled “Yeah it is”.

The art is solid as well, there was a uniform style throughout the game despite the number of artists and no one looked too radically different from anyone else. I enjoyed the way they adapted homestuck’s style, everyone still looks like their original sprites while having human proportions. The only one that stood out as a little weird was Roxy, mostly because of her hair. Most characters look like cartoons of real people, but Roxy’s hair leaves her looking a little bit like a caricature even though her face and clothes look perfectly fine. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the background artists. All the kids’ rooms look wonderfully busy, cluttered and messy but able to showcase each kid’s interest. The inside scenes are full of personality and the outside scenes are colorful (except when necessary) and detailed without being distracting.

The writing isn’t quite as uniform, Dave’s route breaks the fourth wall repeatedly and overtly bringing up “more work for the artists” while most other routes either make subtle references or just act like the fourth wall still exists. Most of the humor is modeled after Homestuck, specifically the early parts because all the beta kid routes take place when they’re 13, but what parts of that humor is present depends on both the writer and the setting. Gallows humor is much more present on Alternia than when hanging around with a goofball like John. Some routes are much less humorous than others, though, and prefer to lean on drama and emotional beats to entertain. This isn’t to say any chapter is all humor or all drama, just that some lean more on one than the other, and when all of them are put together it leads to a very nice balance.

One last gripe before moving on, though, the writing is oddly self-congratulatory at times. A couple routes bring up the epilogues and content in it like Ultimate Dirk and laud the writers (some of whom are also involved in Pesterquest) and talk about what a great job they’re doing, and not in a way that strikes me as tongue-in-cheek either, especially since some of them have talked on social media about how grateful we should be for them for making homesquared, and it’s a bit eye-rolling to see. It’s not exactly common, but if you’re going for 100% completion you’re going to run into it once or twice.

As I was playing the game and planning my review, there was one question I realized I had to ask myself: What do I want out of this game, aside from entertainment? If this was an original IP, I’d want to be introduced and get attached to all the new characters, but considering I’ve already read 1,358,808 words about them (per readmspa), I think I’m already pretty well acquainted. In this case, what I want is to see is a different side of familiar characters. For the most part, it provides.

Sometimes it’s something goofy, like Dave secretly loving Olive Garden because when you’re there, you’re family. Sometimes it’s bittersweet, like the protagonist helping Rose hide her mother’s alcohol or allowing Roxy to have a too-short meeting with her mother. There’s happy and victorious moments like allowing Jade to finally spend time with her friends and a surprisingly moving moment when you fail to help Equius in the same way. In terms of the story, I’d say there’s really only two issues.

Spoilers begin

At the start of the game, you accidentally destroy John’s copy of sburb, stopping anyone in universes A and B from being able to play it. You meet everyone in the time they would be playing sburb, making the game’s canon a doomed reality. Naturally, you end the game by going back in time to allow John and friends to play, undoing every action throughout the game. On its own, I don’t really mind this. You spend the entire game knowing that this is in direct contradiction to Homestuck’s canon, and that somehow every character arc in the game must be undone to allow them to play the game. In Aradia’s route, though, you’re promised something bigger. She’s the only one who realizes you’re in a doomed reality, and as a middle finger to the “powers that be”, the two of you together start to screw with the timeline just to see what happens. The route hints at some potential fallout from this, but it never happens.

Major spoilers end, Vriska’s route spoilers follow

Pesterquest continues the weird relationship HS has developed with content warnings, listing them for each individual chapter but mocking them in-universe. Vriska’s route has tags relating to “gender identity” and “stimming” (I don’t see why either of those require a content warning, but sure), implying neuro- and gender diversity in the route (and therefore in Vriska herself). This is where I start to get a little torn: if this was a completely new character, this would be fantastic, I’d love to see a badass transgender and autistic character introduced into the Homestuck canon. The problem is, this isn’t a new character. It’s Vriska, whose traits and identity have already been incredibly well established. The Vriska in Pesterquest just isn’t Vriska.

When I say that, I’m not just talking about the retconning in of diverse traits into an established character (as a Harry Potter fan, I’ve already complained enough about that for a lifetime). Both the dysphoria and the stimming are integrated pretty well into the story, neither of them take the forefront, they’re just parts of her character that show up in her actions while her actual arc is about something entirely different. Again, if this was a new character, this would be great rep. She just doesn’t act like Vriska. When I play through the route, this character does not seem like the same Vriska who paralyzed her friend, who blinded Terezi, who got Aradia killed. The Vriska in Pesterquest isn’t gleefully violent, she isn’t grandiose, she isn’t controlling, she isn’t Vriska at all.

The same goes for the player character in her route as well. MSPA Reader is defined by being two things: they are pathetic and they are 100% incompetent. On the occasions where they try to do some grand heroism, it’s supposed to blow up in their face and get them hurt or killed. Vriska’s route ends with MSPAR throwing her spider into a volcano. While normally I’m massively in favor of over-the-top revenge fantasies against abusers, that isn’t MSPAR’s thing. In any other route, they’d either decide against trying to kill her or they’d get gored and eaten in the process.

The only other character that feels “off” in this way is Terezi, although not nearly to the same extent. She’s in a much lower mood than when she’s introduced, more brooding and hopeless than the gleeful and maybe a little unhinged character in the comic. It’s more believable than Vriska, we do see this side of her a bit later on as well as in the epilogues, but I was hoping for more “ laughing legislacerator” than the discouraged rebel we ended up with. Her route also involves her friendship with Vriska a bit more than her personal arc, and it feels like Vriska’s taking up a little too much space her.

Spoilers over

Aside from that, though, Pesterquest was pretty much all I wanted. Not only does it show us the characters we’ve grown to love in new scenarios, it also gives characters that were killed off too early some much needed time in the spotlight. I really loved getting to see new sides of Equius, Nepeta, and Feferi, and hell, I even grew to like Eridan some more. If a game can make me invested in Eridan Ampora, even out of pity, you know it’s doing something right.

 

This review of Pesterquest was based on the PC version of the game. A review copy was provided.

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