Milky Way Prince - The Vampire Star is an interactive visual novel with branching paths, multiple-choice dialogue options and even some dating sim elements both traditional and unique. However, it's far from your standard love story - there's definitely a "meet cute," lots of blushing, and plenty of romantic and sexual tension, but there may not be a "happily ever after" waiting at the end.
Players take on the role of Nuki, a lonely boy with a fondness for astronomy. One night, Nuki follows the path of a falling star and encounters Sune, a gorgeous, mysterious stranger. Nuki is immediately drawn to Sune - not in the least because the circumstances of their first meeting evoke his favorite book, Milky Way Prince, a romantic adventure about a human man saving and falling in love with a prince from the stars.
Sune's attraction to Nuki is just as instant, and soon the two are sipping milk and visiting exclusive space-themed clubs as they flirt by discussing destiny and complimenting each other's souls. Refreshingly, Milky Way Prince doesn't try to hide its true nature with a "starts out happy but is secretly dark" twist popularized by titles such as Doki Doki Literature Club. It's plainly stated in the game's Steam summary: this isn't just a love story, it's a hard-hitting, realistic portrayal of an abusive relationship.
This impressive title was written, designed, programmed, illustrated and scored by a single individual: Lorenzo Redaelli. Redaelli was inspired to create Milky Way Prince after experiencing a relationship with a partner suffering from bipolar disorder. The game seeks to explore an attraction so powerful - yet also potentially damaging - that it is compared to the bond between binary stars.
While the demo I played only covered Nuki's first meeting with Sune and part of his first date, the portrayal of their relationship as a not entirely healthy one was evident right from the beginning, primarily communicated via Milky Way Prince's simple yet brilliant writing. When choosing answers to questions , the player (as Nuki) often had the ability to simply fully agree to what Sune was saying, or to exaggerate or cover up the truth to sound more appealing to the strange prince.There were also moments when it felt like there was no good dialogue option - whatever Nuki said would make Sune angry, anxious or otherwise respond negatively.
The story's most striking feature was definitely how intense things got so quickly. Nuki and Sune had only known each other for a few hours at most when they were already talking about how their lives were changed and they could see each other's souls. I could see the red flags unfurling before my very eyes as the two men talked - but I could do nothing to warn Nuki or prevent him from pursuing Sune. The ultimate effect was a strange but intriguing feeling of powerlessness, an unusual reversal from video games' usual strategy of giving the player the power to change and affect the entire world surrounding them.
Milky Way Prince's gameplay was quite simple, although a diagram in Nuki's apartment hints that the game will later on feature branching paths and multiple endings. Before going out to see Sune, Nuki can get ready in his apartment, interact with hygiene items, his pet starfish and a few other things. Once he and Sune are together, the game proceeds in very much the standard visual novel manner, with multiple-choice dialogue options directing the flow of conversation. One unique mechanic was Nuki's ability to use his five senses, represented by five icons on screen, in order to gather more information and react to the situation in different ways. The demo only featured the mechanic once during a kiss, so I was left wanting to try it out more and see how it could affect the pair's relationship as it progresses.
While the dialogues with Sune were well-written and compelling, the sections in Nuki's apartment fell a little flat. While the player was given a few options for things to do, such as have Nuki brush his teeth or maintain his hair, these didn't really seem to have any effect on Milky Way Prince's progression, despite being presented as major decisions. It is definitely possible that these scenes gain more impact or relevance as the game goes on, but, during the two apartment sections I had, I found myself just wanting to rush through them and go see Sune.
Finally, Milky Way Prince boasts absolutely stunning aesthetics and music alike. The game utilizes a minimalist black, white and pink color palette, which creates a feeling of unreality and distance and establishes a dark tone from the very beginning. The music is tense, with electronic and pop influences and fast, sometimes irregular beats that makes it obvious from moment one that this is not just going to be a happy love story.
This game seems likely to appeal to visual novel fans as well as fans of psychological concepts and dark romance. Due to its highly accurate, reality-based portrayals of abusive relationships and borderline personality disorder, playing this game is definitely an intense experience which may not be recommended for everyone. Personally, I eagerly look forward to playing the rest and can't wait to buy Milky Way Prince - The Vampire Star when it officially drops on Steam this summer.
Kate previewed The Milky Way Prince - The Vampire Star on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.