“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
Although we often know exactly what we want to say to someone, finding the right words is the hardest part. Even the simplest word choices can completely change a sentence’s meaning, and one line out of order can transform intent from harmful to healing.
We should talk. (stylized with the period) is a short visual novel that tries to portray this exact experience. You play as a woman spending her time at a bar and her interactions in it. From the bartender to the unexpected encounter of an old flame, you will spend your night talking with a variety of people. As you juggle these conversations, you are interrupted with text messages from Sam, your partner. How you handle and respond to all of these interactions will bring about some sort of outcome at the night’s end, whether it means building a new relationship or destroying one.
Unlike many other visual novels or text-based choice games, We should talk. uses a “sentence spinner” to form your dialogue choices. Like a dial, you spin words across three segments in a text message styled window to develop modular sentences. For instance, tone can change a lot by your choice of subject pronouns, such as beginning a sentence saying “we” versus centering on yourself with “I”. You have to piece together the right words you want to say in order to form a cohesive thought and move forward. We should talk. suggests that the mere combination of the words you choose can dramatically affect your connections with others. The game is presented in a slight, first-person view, and there is no real control over your character’s navigation in the game. As the narrative proceeds, your character gets shifted to the next character she will inevitably talk to.
Conversation and language is nuanced, but this game, on the other hand, is not. Despite being a game that boasts about multiple choices, We should talk. is incredibly linear and limited in how it wants you to play. As mentioned, there is no real means to choose who you want to talk to and your character has no choice but to interact with everyone available anyway in a specific order. As a result, We should talk. is less of a visual novel and more like a kinetic one—or even more like an interactive short film. Although the fixed cast the game has to offer is quite small, it would benefit the playing experience immensely to skip segments since the game has about nine possible endings that you are encouraged to achieve. It feels tedious to discover you only need to change one single thing to acquire another ending but are forced to endure the same blocks of dialogue all over again. As a heavily text-based game, it also lacks logging history to backtrack and review previous dialogue.
The path to completing all of the multiple endings is also unclear, as well. For instance, although I may have developed two strong relationships with two characters, only one of their endings will be featured at the end. In one playthrough, I decided to utterly disrespect the main character’s relationship with Sam throughout the game but ended up developing a positive relationship with another character down the line. I basically ended up developing an accidental friendship with this latter character. As expected, an upsetting breakup sequence was shown as one of the game’s endings, but the other events were ignored despite the fact that it has its own distinct ending sequence. There is no explanation as to what dictates how one ending overrides the other.
The game’s very short length also especially hurts the characters, making them feel superficial. A single playthrough of the game may only take about under 20 minutes worth of your time. Although short and sweet can be impactful, your interactions with everyone comes across as swift and shallow. The characters seem stuck in the script they are programmed to follow, and on some occasions the tonality of the conversation refused to change despite my attempts to bring it into a different direction.
As I have mentioned, I played a run of the game trying to be terrible to Sam. Despite picking some of the rudest options, Sam’s character would repeat dialogue you would find in other playthroughs where you would otherwise be respectful and kind to her as if nothing happened. She somehow continues on-script, acting very nonchalant to my responses as if I did not just insult her. Just as it is unclear how to achieve the different endings, there were times in the game where steering the conversation was just as unclear due to the writing’s lack of flexibility. I can’t gauge what I’m doing if the characters only act on fixed behavior no matter how I react.
Visually, the game is just alright. The game’s graphics do their job for an otherwise simplistically styled game. All of the characters look distinct without complex details, but there definitely is a bit of amateurish quality that can be a bit off-putting and noticeably so with its animated elements. That said, with an otherwise approachable color palette and pretty chill indie pop soundtrack, style is definitely not We should talk.’s weakest quality.
Despite being a noble attempt to win an audience with a relatable, modern topic, We should talk. feels more like a demo than a full game. The idea that crafting parts of a whole to formulate dialogue is unique and gives a lot of promise, but it all feels so shallow after a few playthroughs when you realize so much of it does not matter and gets repetitive—even though the game boasts otherwise. There are a lot of interesting ideas being channeled in We should talk., but a lot of it falls short and cannot shine in what ends up being an underdeveloped project.
We should talk. is right in saying that we should take time to consider our words before they come out, but I don’t think this is a game you should be investing much time in. There are tons of other visual novels and choice-driven titles out there that provide more worthwhile content within the same amount of time We should talk. offers for its entire playing time. I actually would recommend checking out and supporting the games by Angela He, who has done numerous visual novels that are short in play but very effective in their storytelling. Although We should talk. could not follow through with something more fulfilling to support its message, at the very least, it has the benefit of being short.
Actions speak louder
We should talk. attempts to say something meaningful with a mechanic unique to visual novels, but it doesn't offer much else in the gameplay it ultimately has to offer.