Dry Drowning is a visual novel steeped in Greek mythology and the classic noir style whilst never becoming burdened or constricted. Developed by Studio V and VLG, you must solve unusual crimes, maintain your own sanity, and reveal the underbelly of a corrupt and Orwellian city. But be careful, your actions will have consequences.
First released for Xbox and PC back in 2019, the game has now been optimised for Nintendo Switch. It will be available from the 22nd of February. I have to say, I prefer the smaller and personal experience of playing on Switch, given the largely text-based format. Watch the original gameplay trailer below.
Jump Right In
Dry Drowning doesn’t fool around. From the get-go, things are intense and… weird. The game opens to a masked individual asking what you fear, to the sound of presumably your heavy and pained breathing. As the stranger speaks, more details of the scene before you emerge, including a tv screen showing a woman tied up.
The game then snaps to the day you, Mordred Foley, are acquitted by a court of law. Mordred’s your classic Private Investigator, sporting a long overcoat, scar above his eyebrow, and a dark side. He says all the things we’d expect from the man, talking about becoming a monster, the underbelly of the city, and how he’d take the Devil as a client to make ends meet. But behind the hard exterior, is a desperate conscience yearning to do the right thing.
He is also accompanied by a plucky but naïve assistant, Hera. The great thing is that although she does fulfil the cliché angel-on-his-shoulder, she has depth and character which is often lacking from this genre.
I love how the game opens at the end of a case, which convicted two serial killers but also destroyed your reputation. You slowly uncover the impact it clearly had on our two investigators as they try to process and move on. So often, films or games of this format end on the high of the case solved, not the costs.
The downfall of their PI firm forces Mordred and Hera to take a case of political intrigue. A big-shot politician has found himself wrapped up in a strange murder investigation. His lawyer hires Foley Investigations to clear his name before the elections. But soon it becomes apparent that this case isn’t all that it seems and has a gruesome similarity to Mordred’s past.
Sight and Sound
Like all visual novels, this game makes use of fixed scenery and simplistic character movement so you can focus on the story. But the devs haven’t allowed this to make them lazy, no. Instead they’ve used the noir style to create black and white characters who give off a gritty vibe. These are contrasted with neon splashes of colour in the scenery to create a game that not only leads with a great narrative, but entices you to look around too.
Don’t be fooled by the noir style however, this is no 1940s jaunt. Dry Drowning is actually set in the 60s, the 2060s that is. In the fictitious city of Nova Polemos which is situated in Northern Europe and recognised as a country in its own right. As is fitting with the game’s themes Polemos is a god (or demon) of war who belonged to Ares’ posse.
A great deal of work has gone into the background of the city, including narratives of refugees, fascism, political anxiety, economic instability, and patriotism.
Tension is subtly suggested through Hera’s dislike for their latest case, due to her being a Greek immigrant. Their client, The Black Bands, was responsible for a great deal of expulsions from the city due to individuals ‘social value’.
The futuristic setting also allows for some interesting game mechanics. The diary, character profiles, map, and inventory are all kept in the Aqua OS, an augmented reality headband. This also helps you reconstruct the crime scene after all the physical evidence has been removed.
In addition, it massively helps that Mordred can tell when someone is lying. Creepily, an animal/monster mask will appear on the face of anyone who tries to spin the truth to our rugged detective. You literally un-mask them by breaking down their lies with the evidence you’ve collected. Using the Living Nightmare system, you get three attempts to pick the right items to prove the suspect’s deceit or it’s game over. Think a much darker version of Pheonix Wright.
My one criticism that’s perhaps specific to the Switch is that the text is a bit on the small side. Now I know that I am very short-sighted but, even with my glasses on, I had to get the screen very close to my face for some of the text. This was particularly during game tutorials as the text is even smaller than normal.
Also if you’re too quick to open the Aqua OS it can glitch and not yet you choose options to show or press suspects on. I had to reload a couple of times – luckily only a few seconds before the glitch – to fix it.
Choices, Choices, Choices
One of the defining elements of the visual novel are the choices. Decide how your character is going to behave and watch the consequences roll in. Some games manage to make it interesting, others very binary with right or wrong being obvious. Dry Drowning falls into the former category. In fact, there were a couple of choices which reaped responses I had not prepared for.
I wholeheartedly recommend splashing out on Dry Drowning when you next go game shopping. The narrative is addicting and accompanied by a varying soundtrack and some great mechanics. The complex world Studio V and VLG have concocted is a terrifying thought for the future that could be. I’m about to start another run through to see if there’s anything I missed the first time around!
Summary: Set in the futuristic city of Nova Polemos, you play as veteran PI Mordred Foley. You must discover the truth behind a gruesome murder that has political and mythological ties.