I’m starting to feel like I’m finding my niche – or at least my blog’s niche – when it comes to exploring visual novels. While I know there are plenty of VNs out there that are lengthy and, presumably, many that are exceptionally well-revered, I have to admit to a genuine sense of satisfaction over the last few years I’ve been writing this blog in that I’ve been able to find and enjoy a slew of short VNs. Serre is the latest in this trend, yet another quick game I’ve found nestled away in the seemingly endless pages of games I picked up in an old bundle.
Released Oct 2017 | Developed / Published: insertdisc5
Genre: VN | HLTB: 30 mins
Serre is relentlessly gay. That’s another trend I’ve noticed across the VNs I’ve reviewed so far: many of them are super gay. I’m not entirely sure why LGBTQ+ authors are attracted to the genre, but regardless of the reasons but I’m also not going to question it. It’s not like major releases are a hotbed of good representation, but knowing that there are sweet examples that one can point to out there in the thriving market of indie games.
Anyway, Serre is relentless gay. We’re introduced to Arlette, a shy and socially awkward young woman who spends her days in her greenhouse, surrounded by beautiful and thriving plants. She’s a familiar archetype for the internet generation; she doesn’t really like people, and has long since withdrawn away from the outside world, preferring the safety of her flowers since they don’t ever abuse her. Suddenly, her life is thrown into chaos by the arrival of Oaxa, a tall, be-clawed, bee-like alien lady who arrives full of vim and vigour and ready to conquer the planet.
Turns out though that Oaxa is easily distracted, and the pair quickly bond over Arlette’s home-made chamomile tea; Oaxa can’t drink it (no mouth, y’see) but she sure can smell it and she finds herself entranced by the sweet scent of Arlette’s tea and flower gardens. Obviously, she’s also a big doofus and also deeply socially awkward like Arlette, and the pair swiftly bond. Yep, it’s that old “alien bee lady meets awkward flower girl” romance story we’re all used to.
The game has 4 chapters, but it’s also a very short experience – depending on reading speed, it’ll probably not take much longer than a half hour to get through. There are occasionally a couple of choices to make, but they don’t seem to do much beyond give you some slight dialogue changes in the moment. That’s fine though; Serre is a set story and it doesn’t need vast branching narratives to get in the way of its love story. The actual beats of the story are pretty straightforward; there are no twists or turns to watch out for, and there’s also never really a great sense of any danger that the romance won’t reach a conclusion. I guess in that respect some might grumble that it runs the risk of failing to be fulfilling or challenging in the way a huge, branching VN can be, but I don’t really think it matters much. I’m reminded a little of when I played Dungeons & Lesbians – just as with that game, the dialogue choices are pretty much all played for fun and humour, rather than any serious dramatic effect.
The art is seriously lovely. Everything has a sweet, hand-drawn aesthetic, with lots of expressive and thick line – in particular I’m a fan of the wonderful scribbly eyes which manage to carry a huge array of emotion, especially as the upper pair of Oaxa’s six eyes occasionally move independently of the others, like huge demonstrative eyebrows. Pretty much everything is coloured in soft pastels and punchy pinks and blues, giving the scenes a soft hue which echoes the budding romance of Serre’s story. It makes the inevitable conflict scene hit that much harder as the colours give way to angry and aggressive blocks of red and black, harsh stabs of colour which do almost as much work as the dialogue.
If there is one thing which I noticed was missing compared to other VNs, it’s a sense of replayability. It seems to be a staple of the genre to provide features like a huge array of dialogue options, narrative paths, and multiple endings; I guess it’s the payoff for asking players to invest what is often a large amount of time for a small return on gameplay. Even in shorter games in the genre these options tend to be retained, so it’s notable that Serre eschews this in favour of a single, short story that offers little in the way of deviation. That’s not a huge criticism, in my eyes; I’m quite content with the way Serre works as it allows the game to be entirely focused around its romance without any breaking away from it or getting distracted.
Despite its brevity and lack of replayability, I’d still like to end this with some small sense of recommendation for Serre. It’s a cute love story, and it’s a showcase for a deeply sweet piece of LGBT representation. The point there isn’t just that it’s representation but that it’s also well-written, and the short length works to its favour in this; not a word is wasted. Still, I understand anyone who might be hesitant about a VN that is very much more novel than game, but I feel like Serre occupies the same space as a comfort read; it’s easy to get through, doesn’t require much of its audience, and tells a charming story that I think will be lovely to come back to when I need a pick-me-up.
4/7 – GOOD.
Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.