Belle Automata: Chronicle I

Belle Automata: Chronicle I

Belle Automata is one of the most entertaining visual novels I’ve had the chance to play in recent years. I really love this game, with its captivating writing and beautiful artwork. My first play session was much more addictive than I anticipated. At some point, I had a couple-hour time window in-between activities and I thought it was a good opportunity to try out the game. Two hours seemed long enough to allow me to dive into its story yet short enough not to overly strain my already tired eyes from being up for a long time. However, after those two hours had elapsed, I wasn’t able to put it down. I had it so bad that I eventually resorted to canceling my previous plans and staying glued to the PC for the rest of the five hours that it took to finish one of two currently available routes. The rest of the game (consisting of an equally long route) was also played in one session a couple of days later when I finally had some free time again.

The game is narrated from the perspective of Aureve (the name can be customized, although doing so will leave it out from all vocal lines that contain it), one of the last few sentient androids remaining in the world. After her beloved master passed away, Aureve was listed for sale in an auction on the black market, and a mysterious buyer became her new owner. The story starts as she is about to join the new household while still reminiscing about her close relationship with her old master. To her surprise, Aureve meets several other sentient androids there and is also immediately set free from any obligation to serve humans. This allows her to embark on a path of self-discovery and exploration of the things that she genuinely likes outside the seamstress profession, for which she was manufactured, as well as find new dreams to pursue and even experience romance.

In a nutshell, Belle Automata is a sci-fi otome game. Out of the six male romance options planned for the complete edition of the game, only two full routes are available in the current Chronicle 1 version, with 3 possible endings each. The two routes will follow Aureve’s relationship with Victor – the android butler that manages and maintains all things related to the household, and The Nightmare Prince – the human ‘young master’ of the house (as Victor calls him), a mysterious figure who avoids socializing with other androids and humans at all costs.

Victor is the classic tsundere type, having a hard shell on the outside but being really passionate on the inside. The relationship between him and Aureve is a slow-burn romance that will periodically give you warm and fuzzy feelings and keep you on edge for *something* to happen. While tsundere characters can sometimes appear rude and blunt when interacting with their love interest (and not only), Victor always expresses himself in a deeply polite manner yet allows himself to lash out snarky comments towards other characters when he is overcome with jealousy. Seeing how he slowly warms up towards Aureve despite his consistent efforts to remain cold is simply a delightful read.

On the other hand, The Nightmare Prince is your typical dandere: reserved, shy and terribly afraid of any kind of interaction with other people. However, contrary to his scary name, he’s actually a softie at heart, and his actions towards Aureve showcase his kindness and generosity. A nice bond starts developing between them as they begin to communicate and clumsily express their appreciation toward each other. He values and treats Aureve not as an android but as a person, while she is full of gratitude towards him for saving her from being scrapped and then setting her free. As he opens up to her bit by bit, the thin line between friendship and love starts to fade, and the two find themselves developing deeper feelings toward each other.

The main characters are extremely well-written and there’s a progressive build-up of complex layers to their personalities as the plot deepens. They are also marvelously voiced, and all lines apart from Aureve’s inner thoughts have voice-overs. While the narration itself keeps you on your toes for the whole length of the game, I would argue that at some point close to the end, the romance aspect loses priority. Although it still takes a big part of the narration, the story focuses instead on Aureves’s difficult choice between accomplishing her dreams or choosing love over them.

The branching between the routes happens early in the game (a few minutes in, actually), and each of the two paths contains several subsequent choices. The type of ending reached is highly influenced by how many choices you picked in favor of the love interest, although some are not very evident. Otherwise, the choices do not affect the flow of the story in any way; they will only provide 5-10 alternative lines, but they all converge back to the main path immediately after.

Belle Automata’s immersive writing, good character build-up, lovely voice-overs, nice soundtrack and beautiful artwork make it a one-of-a-kind read. The game takes around seven hours per route (or around 12 hours in total for all possible endings of the two routes). It has all features you’d expect in a visual novel: skipping already read text, adjusting your reading speed, automatically advancing to the next line, plus a gallery of CGIs and music tracks. Chronicle 2 and Chronicle 3 are currently being developed, and you are invited to support the game on Kickstarter (launches 09 Apr 2023). A demo is also available for those who would like to try Chronicle 1.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a press preview copy of the game, kindly provided by Jellyfish Parade via The Indie Game Collective.

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