It’s always a genuine pleasure to see a developer refine and improve their craft — particularly when it’s obvious how much time, effort and passion they put into their work.
Anyone who follows Lily series developer Kyuppin on Twitter — or indeed, anyone who read my previous coverage of Lily’s Day Off — will know he is a great example of a creator who is absolutely brimming with enthusiasm for his craft. The road to release for Lily’s Night Off was paved with earnest solicitations for feedback, assurances that fans interested in the strictly limited physical merchandise would get their hands on some quality products… and what came across an honest to goodness love for the art of writing, game development and design.
So… how did Lily’s Night Off end up, then? Was all that passion and enthusiasm worth it?
For those unfamiliar with the Lily series, Kyuppin’s intention with them was always to provide a similar experience to that found in a conventional visual novel, but in considerably condensed form. What that means in practice is that a single “route” through the game takes just a few minutes to play, with the entire game taking an hour or less to clear.
You may question the value of a game that wears its brevity on its sleeve, but this aspect has always been a key part of the series’ design. Indeed, Kyuppin noted in conversation with me back when I covered Lily’s Day Off that he generally didn’t have the patience for conventional visual novels, and that his game was an attempt to get “straight to the point” with “no filler”.
The interesting thing about both Lily’s Day Off and its sequel is that despite his claims that he doesn’t have the patience for full-length visual novels, Kyuppin clearly has an excellent understanding of what is, for many people, their most compelling aspect: the fact that apparently simple, mundane choices can make profound differences to how a narrative concludes.
This isn’t a complicated system of relationship mechanics and flags or anything, mind you; both Lily games unfold on a straightforward “branching” structure according to the choices you make along the way, and the games are good enough to actually “dim out” options you have explored all the subsequent branches for, making it easy to explore new routes without accidentally repeating yourself. Both also feature an excellent fast-forward system, with Lily’s Night Off adopting a beautiful VHS-style visual effect (complete with distortion, pitch-shifted audio and chromatic aberration) when you make use of it.
Structurally, Lily’s Night Off is similar to its predecessor. There are a variety of different endings — all of which are very tonally different from one another — and a “true ending” once you’ve seen all of them. There is, spoiler, also a “secret true ending” after the true ending. The game makes it much more obvious than its predecessor when the two true endings unlock, however; an animated, attractive “endings” chart shows both which endings are still left to find, and causes the “hidden” endings to appear when the prerequisites are met.
This little touch pretty much sums up the main way in which Lily’s Night Off distinguishes itself from its charming, low-key predecessor: the sheer amount of beautiful polish that has gone into it.
While the original Lily’s Day Off had a lovely “scrawled on a notebook” feel to its interface, Lily’s Night Off really runs with the “papercraft” aesthetic, with backgrounds looking like painted sugar paper, the text box looking like a scrunched up notepad and the lovely clean lines of the characters looking like immaculately designed puppets, with just enough subtle animation to really bring them to life. The title screen and certain scenery elements look like they’ve been coloured in by a child with crayons, utterly charming hand-drawn chibis mark scene transitions like an animated cartoon, and mobile phone charms dangle off the interface to indicate who is speaking.
The whole thing is clearly designed to have a somewhat “dream-like” feel to it, and this is expressed in a number of different ways. The most subtle of these is the fact that the game never quite sits still. Even during the most mundane dialogue sequences, the background and characters “sway” slightly — just enough to make you slightly aware of it without being nausea-inducing — and more intense moments are punctuated by bolder movements, sound effects and even text motion effects.
The ending scenes, each drawn by a different guest artist and thus adopting a deliberately inconsistent art style with the rest of the game, highlight the variety of different tones the narrative puts on display; running with the “dream” theme, they represent the fact that some routes descend into nightmares, some conclude as pleasant dreams, some play with your preconceptions… and some are just plain weird.
The soundtrack by Vect is excellent, too, complementing the action well with ethereal-sounding synthesised instruments and voice samples, and a selection of catchy melodies that highlight the myriad emotional tones through which the various narrative paths corkscrew.
You’ll notice I haven’t gone into any specifics about the narrative, and that’s deliberate; with the game’s short length, it really is important that you go in to the experience with minimal expectations or preconceptions. I say “minimal” because if you’ve played a visual novel before it’s impossible to go into something like this without at least a few predictions of how things might unfold — but one thing Lily’s Night Off is very good at — much like its predecessor was — is subverting your expectations. Sometimes more than once in a single narrative path.
The short run time doesn’t mean this is in any way a disposable, throwaway experience, either — nor that it’s written to be nothing more than “lol, so wacky”. On the contrary, it’s clear that Kyuppin has genuine affection for both title character Lily and the sequel’s new characters Vicky and Nym, and has a great idea of who these people really “are”. The latter pair’s stories are especially enjoyable for variety’s sake, but it’s a shame they didn’t get a little more screen time in total; Lily is still very much the star of the show here. I guess the game is named for her, after all.
All in all, Lily’s Night Off represents everything that was enjoyable about Lily’s Day Off, beautifully refined and polished into a well-presented, bite-sized package that you won’t regret spending an hour of your life enjoying in its entirety. Whether or not you’ve previously played the first game — you don’t need any knowledge of it to jump into this one, though there are some pleasingly subtle callbacks in a few scenes — there’s a lot to like here, especially if you’ve always enjoyed the idea of a multi-route visual novel, but have always baulked at the time commitment.
Just… be careful what choices you make along the way. You never know where they might lead.
A review copy of Lily’s Night Off was kindly provided by Kyuppin. Thanks to those who entered the code giveaway; both copies have now been claimed!
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