From titles such as Steins;Gate on the PS Vita to excellent adventures like Henchman Story on the Nintendo Switch, over the past decade, visual novels have become quite popular. A number of these interactive stories have huge playtimes, with a few decisions thrown in to break up the idea that you are just reading. Whilst Stilstand follows this basic kind of formula, it is also something unbelievably different.
“To us, the people who can really relate to her character, we recognise the flaws on show here and it makes us feel a little less alone.”
First off, Stilstand is not one for the kids. It is very much a dark little piece about life as a young adult. We follow an unnamed female protagonist as she navigates through a few of the key moments in the life of a single adult such as partying and going on a date. As we follow her, we know a few things from the outset: this is not a happy young woman, she is not comfortable with her life, and she doesn’t know how to interact well with others.
Do some of these traits sound familiar to you? They certainly did to me. And that, I think, is the beauty of what Stilstand has to offer. Some may look at the dark art style and the generally depressing tone and think that it is a tad too sombre. But to others, people who can really relate to the character, people like me, we recognise the flaws on show here and it makes us, as the player, feel a little less alone.
“She sees herself as a failure, and spends her days procrastinating.”
I could truly relate to the (admittedly sometimes bizarre) goings-on. In the first chapter, you are invited to a party. It is clear that you don’t want to go, but you head there anyway. And, to put it bluntly… you get drunk. Fall-down, throw-up drunk. Nothing changes for you. Whatever you thought about going out that you predicted may make you happier, only makes you worse.
The character is somewhat nihilistic, always seeing the darker side to her endeavours. She sees herself as a failure and spends her days procrastinating and worrying that life may not actually get any better than this. And you know what? I can relate. I’m sure many people can, after the last few years of lockdowns.
“In spite of its dark appearance, it seemed to me that the shadow was actually trying to be a positive influence on her.”
Oh, and did I mention the weird shadowy “thing” that hangs around with our anxiety-ridden heroine? I didn’t? Oh, well… there’s that, too. Although the game never outright tells you this, the strange shadow-being appears to be a manifestation of your characters own subconscious.
In spite of its dark appearance, it seemed to me that the shadow was actually trying to be a positive influence on her. It reminded me of the little angel on the shoulder in those old cartoons. This figure occasionally tries to build the confidence of our character up and prod her to do something instead of sitting around looking at her phone and smoking all day.
“Stilstand is a snapshot of a life, with so many relatable moments that it’s hard not to smile at the dark sense of humour on display here.”
There isn’t really a huge amount of actual “story” to Stilstand. It’s more a snapshot of a life, with so many relatable moments that it’s hard not to smile at the dark sense of humour on display here. Everything about modern life seems to work its way into one scene or another.
You see her experience things like drunk-texting for a spontaneous hook-up and trawling through dating apps that lead to a sense of rejection when a second date is not forthcoming. There is even an odd mobile mini-game called “Crazy Cat Lady” that pays homage to Flappy Bird.
“The music fits perfectly, seemingly never missing a beat, and always moving in time with the story.”
Aside from the story, I found the art style to be somewhat simplistic, with basic hand-drawn animations in black and white. However, I also felt it fit so well with the story. The bizarre look and feel really help to put you in the mindset that we are dealing with anxiety and depression here. The music also fits perfectly, seemingly never missing a beat, and always moving in time with the story.
The whole piece is presented in a comic-book format, complete with the sounds of turning pages and the author writing the words that appear on-screen. While for the most part you’ll be reading, there is a limited amount of interaction in the form of a blue mark for you to select. Usually, this is something as simple as moving an arm to take another drink, or scrolling through a newsfeed on a phone. We get an occasional dialogue choice, but nothing in these really changes the story at all. It’s just there to give you something to do.
“The atmosphere, music, art and story in Stilstand all pull together into one incredibly relatable experience.”
All told, I feel like Stilstand is an experience that many people would relate to. Although it is available on other platforms, it was a perfect match for the Switch. Being able to interact via the touchscreen instead of using a mouse or gamepad definitely heightened my overall experience. The atmosphere, music, art and story, all pull together into one incredibly relatable experience. It is perfect for anyone that has ever felt like they haven’t done enough with their life, or felt that things simply have to get better.
Stilstand is out now on Steam, iOS, and Android, and is coming on November 5th to the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. You can preorder and find more information on the game’s official page here.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.