There is something inherently magical about falling head-over-heels in love. You feel energized in a way you’ve never been before. Perceptions are shifted, perspectives are changed, everything has a new and different glow to it. There’s a feeling you could walk up to God, kick His ass, and have Him say, “Thank you, Sir, may I have another?” And then you come to your senses, seeing all the little flaws and serious problems with the object of your affection that you were too besotted to realize initially. Sometimes, those realizations add to the charm. They either don’t bother you that much or you recognize your paramour’s efforts to manage those aspects of themselves. Other times, you find out that you have gotten yourself involved with a person who is not only in serious personal crisis, but may also present a significant threat to your health (physical and mental). It’s this latter sort of situation which forms the thesis of Milky Way Prince.
Using a variation of the typical visual novel format, Milky Way Prince puts players predominantly in the shoes of Nuki, a young man who comes across another young man named Sune in the wake of a shooting star. The two fall into a tempestuous relationship where it becomes clear (to the player, at least) that Sune has some serious issues which are not conducive to a healthy relationship. Nuki may be neurotic and a little needy, but he’s not insisting on being hurt on the second date. Across a series of six chapters, Nuki will be tasked with dealing with Sune’s increasingly erratic behavior and trying to figure out what will keep him from going completely off the deep end.
Milky Way Prince has a very distinctive visual style, a fusion of sketch-style characters and sharply rendered environments rather than the usual shonen or shojou character designs and sometimes impressionistic backgrounds one finds in a visual novel. The characters are certainly distinct, with no chance you’re going to be mixing up one with the other, but there’s few if any other characters in the story. Anybody else you run across is completely peripheral to the story, which in a weird way makes you wonder why they were included rather than simply being alluded to or appearing purely as text for the brief moments that they appear.
Sound-wise, Milky Way Prince is fairly minimalist, an electropop soundtrack mixing with carefully tailored sound effects and virtually no voice acting. There are a few moments here and there where the soundtrack does ramp up and get more intense, but overall, it’s a decidedly laid back sound.
When I say the game uses a “variation” of the typical visual novel format, it’s important to understand that you’re not going to get the typical visual novel experience like you would with Steins;Gate or even a subverted experience similar to Doki Doki Literature Club. While you’re certainly able to make dialog choices which advance the story, it’s practically impossible to gather any sense of whether your choices have an impact. The game gives you a rough road map about what chapter you’re on, but the inability to discern whether your choices will lead you down an alternate path almost seems like a mockery on the part of the developer. There are ostensibly three endings, but without getting at least some sense of how to obtain them, it’s likely going to be more frustrating and emotionally draining than particularly enjoyable.
Worse, you have no control over save functionality. The game auto-saves periodically, but you have no option to make any manual saves to try and map your progress with a degree of detachment that the characters are unable to summon. You’re limited to three save slots, and you have no ability to manually select chapters to go back and try a different path. It’s a case of style overwhelming functionality. And that stylistic choice makes it hard to play through more than once or twice without quickly getting the feeling that you’re beating your head against the wall. Even the fact that Milky Way Prince is a short game doesn’t make it any easier to try and grind through.
A prefatory content warning informs players that there are depictions of abuse and borderline personality behavior. The abuse content certainly seems more centered on emotional abuse rather than physical, while the personality side of the content feels less concrete. You do ultimately see how deranged Sune is, but at the same time, there are areas where it genuinely feels ambiguous, a broad gray line between what is consensually kinky and what is clearly abusive or self-destructive. A brief section players are guided through replays highlights of the previous chapters from Sune’s perspective, with minimal interaction opportunities, but doesn’t quite give you a good sense of exactly what Sune’s damage is. As for Nuki, he’s more understandable and relatable, but floundering around as him over and over again while trying to come up with a different result makes him very hard to empathize with after about the third playthrough.
From a development perspective, Lorenzo Redaelli (who handled all the art, music, and writing) has managed to demonstrate what one person on their own can accomplish. Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing. Billed as “semi-autobiographical,” Milky Way Prince carries some heavyweight themes. But those themes overwhelm the mechanics needed to convey them in a way which doesn’t completely turn the player against the game. That imbalance between content and mechanics makes for the gaming equivalent of Requiem For A Dream. It’s something you should probably play once, but don’t expect to be enjoying it, either the first time or playing again afterwards.
This review is based off a code provided by the publisher.