Rising Angels: Reborn is a sci-fi mystery visual novel which shows that people can always change (for better or worse), that the vast reaches of space make for a great visual novel setting, and that some of the best VNs out there are free from small studios.
The story follows Major Natalie Puccile, a Special Investigation and Tactics Officer of the Katajion Space Force (or a special agent for the space police) on her first “real” mission after being stuck on a backwater planet for several years. She boards the spaceship Nimross to gather information about a missing research team who was tracking down the remnants of a lost civilization before all contact suddenly ceased. Along for the ride is Rasoona the hardass elf commander, Sol the racist friend from school, Zuri the lesbian warrior dragon, and many more. Together they’ll seek to unravel the mystery of what happened to the missing research crew and to simply survive when things take a more sinister turn.
First off, I loved the atmosphere and setting for this game. It’s easy to set a story in space without ever really touching on the extraterrestrial, but IDHAS studios did an incredible job building a whole universe for their Rising Angels series. So much so that the reader might become confused when terms like “afrik” or “Raltins” pop up. The information on these terms and others are available at the start of the game under the “Data” tab, but I do wish the game came with a recommendation to look at the “Data” first, if only to give the reader a general idea of what they’re walking into. That said, the “Data” section is available from the pause menu during the game, so one can quickly pull it up to check on a confusing term. I do wish they would clarify a few of their entries, however; this is my third time playing through and I’m still not sure I know which creatures are aliens and which ones are human hybrids. But that’s a minor grievance. The important thing is, they all look great.
The background artwork and sprites are beautiful, particularly how expressive the faces are. The scenes from inside the ship really give you a strong sci-fi vibe, and the planet scenes are quite nice too (not necessarily otherworldly; they look like jungles and deserts on earth, but their mere presence seems strange in its own way since most of the game is spent on the Nimross). IDHAS also did a great job picking out the music for this game; I counted eight tracks, plus the menu song (which is the only track with vocals).
While all this is nice, a visual novel can still look good, sound good, and even have an interesting premise but still fall apart if the writing is bad. Fortunately for Rising Angels: Reborn, this isn’t the case. In fact, the writing is what really sold me on this VN. The characters are consistent in their personalities but also allowed to grow. You can see the strongest characters at their weakest moments or see the most useless characters provide the best help in a time of crisis. Zuri, Sol, and Kika all have amazing arcs of their own, but my favorite part was reading Natalie’s story.
Natalie comes onto the Nimross with no other goal than to finish her mission and get promoted; the ship and its crew are merely a stepping stone on this journey. But as she seeks to track down the missing research team, she is forced more and more to rely on those around her, particularly Zuri. The two of them bond over their shared weaknesses and strengths, and eventually Natalie comes to realize what a great team they make and that she doesn’t have to be alone in her mission anymore. After this she’s able to open up to the others on the ship (for the most part). She laments some of her life decisions when the crew is forced to confront the possibility of their imminent demise in the dark depths of space, and at the end of the story she realizes that some things in life are worth more than a promotion. In fact, they’re worth becoming an outlaw and going on the run from a galaxy full of space police with her comrades in tow.
This isn’t to say that the others didn’t have their own great arcs (even Sol had a sweet moment with someone not of his species) but Natalie’s stuck out to me because she grows so so much after having to deal with pressure and crises that no one should have forced upon them. The others on the Nimross grow with her, forming interweaving threads that make a complete, expertly woven story.
Those are all the things I loved about Rising Angels: Reborn. Now for the not so good stuff.
I initially downloaded this VN back when you could only find it on the lemmasoft forums and remember being able to play it on fullscreen just fine. The Steam version, however, is very choppy when you try to play on fullscreen, and eventually I just settled for playing on windowed mode. Even then, the text or sprites occasionally will pop if you try to click through the dialogue too fast. The text also has a few minor spelling mistakes every once in a while, but nothing so drastic that it would make the game unbearable to read (I’m looking at you, If My Heart Had Wings. And you made people pay for that hot mess).
I feel that the characters and story in Reborn are strong enough to stand on their own, and reading the prequel for context is unncessary.
The other issue I have is the constant referencing of events not within Rising Angels: Reborn. From what I can gather on the IDHAS website (after having gleaned through every section of it with a fine-toothed comb), Reborn is the first game you should play in the Rising Angels series. In fact, the page for the prequel Rising Angels: The Red Rose specifically says to play Reborn first. Which would be fine if the events of The Red Rose were explained at all once they’re brought up. Nope. Apparently Sol was almost part of a plot to overthrow the space government, and lost his wife thanks to one of the other crew members on the Nimross. Do they expand on this? No, Sol simply says “Don’t ask,” Natalie changes the subject, and the reader is left to wonder if they really picked the right story to read first. I still haven’t read The Red Rose yet so I can’t weigh in on which order the stories should be read in, but at the moment I feel that the characters and story in Reborn are strong enough to stand on their own, and reading the prequel for context is unnecessary.
Finally, I had issues with the CGs you get from reaching certain points in the story or one of the five endings. I’m not sure if there were multiple artists working on Rising Angels: Reborn, or if the CGs were created long before the full game, but the CGs were largely a decided step down in terms of quality. I point this out because I personally enjoy glancing through the gallery of a VN once I’ve completed a few of the story routes, but these pictures were not ones that I particularly wanted to see afterwards. I was disappointed more than anything because the artwork for the rest of the game was so good, and with CGs that end up in the gallery you typically expect a step up from what you see during regular gameplay, not a noticeable step down.
The last downside (if you can really call it that) is the short play time. The website says the game should take four hours, but I finished all the routes in two. Then again, I’m a horrible save scumming reader who saved at all the major plot twists and loaded from there, so I guess if you play the story completely from start to finish for each route, that would get you about four hours. Not too bad for a free VN.
One more final warning; a lot of the routes will have direct or indirect yuri (GirlxGirl). It’s never more than kissing, but I know some people don’t particularly care for that so I’ll throw a warning in anyway. Personally I thought it was adorable.
All in all, I highly recommend Rising Angels: Reborn. The story is intriguing, the characters are well developed, the music and atmosphere is spot-on, and if the ending leaves you wanting more, fear not! IDHAS successfully Kickstarted a sequel to Reborn and has been working hard on it for months. When it releases, the sequel (called Rising Angels: Fates) will retail for $15 for full game, or free for a version with a few routes removed. For the time being though, Rising Angels: Reborn is free on the IDHAS website and Steam. Get it, play it, and join me in the eager anticipation for the sequel.