I’ve always loved a good visual novel. The strongest in the genre offer a captivating narrative with intriguing characters and occasionally some light gameplay to keep players invested. Additionally, I’ve also come to love historical games. I’m a purist when it comes to historical accuracy. Generally, I want the game to be as precise as possible and devoid of unnecessary anachronisms. So when I was given the opportunity to review Svoboda 1945: Liberation, a historical visual novel, I knew I’d be in for a fulfilling time. After playing it, I was only left wanting more.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation is an indie historical visual novel with some point-and-click elements. It was developed by Charles Games in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. You play as a member of the Heritage Preservation Society. Your job is to evaluate if a school in the Czech village of Svoboda should be given landmark status. Of course, the decision is not as black and white as it may first seem. For example, not giving it landmark status would mean approving its destruction to expand the operations of a businessman. Throughout the course of your investigation, you’ll hear horror stories about WWII, the forced relocations after the war and the communist dictatorship that seized power. You’ll quickly learn that to make your decision, you will need to better understand Svoboda’s history.
‘‘The first detail that hit me when I opened the game is that melancholic music.’’
An impressive initial impression is a powerful thing. It can help set the tone of the endeavour you’re about to embark on or even create lasting memories. The opening melody of a game’s main menu can become a powerful piece of nostalgia if done correctly. Svoboda 1945: Liberation’s opening theme is an evocative melancholic masterpiece packed full of emotion. It is one of many tracks by the Czech alternative rock band, DVA, and fits the game’s sombre post-war atmosphere perfectly. Suffice to say, Svoboda 1945: Liberation is a stunning game complemented with powerfully captivating music.
‘‘The narrative is enthralling and full of mysteries.’’
As a member of the Heritage Preservation Society, your job is to simply assess the historical value of the school. However, there is more to Svoboda and its current inhabitants than meets the eye. Jan Vlk is a WWII veteran who currently lives in the school and tells you his story. Likewise, the local village chronicler, Josef Studnicka, provides you with all the documents you would need to help save the school.
On the other hand, the local businessman who wants to purchase the school, Alois Klepal, is a formidable man. And even though the local mayor, Jarmila Novakova, has some bad blood with Klepal’s father, she would have sold the school were it not for Studnicka’s pleas. Svoboda 1945: Liberation’s narrative is an enthralling one packed full of mysteries. From the offset, it reels you in with tantalising stories and people to meet. The more I progressed the more questions I started to ask, the most important of which: how did a photo of your grandfather end up in the school’s attic? As you spend more time investigating the village and its inhabitants, you’ll gradually piece together its history and unravel its many mysteries.
‘‘The authenticity really oozes out of this game.’’
Just like how I value historical accuracy in historical games, I also value a game whose voice acting is performed in the language of where it is set. Svoboda 1945: Liberation manages to provide both. Firstly, all of the events that the characters describe – such as the expulsion of the German population – are real events that occurred in real life. It is clear that the developers went to a lot of effort to ensure that not only was the game truly historically accurate but that the stories they told were thoroughly researched.
Secondly, the characters speak in Czech. While I cannot comment on the quality of the original text because I don’t speak Czech, I highly value Charles Games’ efforts in that regard. Of course, I give massive credit for using real Czech actors too. Suffice to say, there has been significant consideration made when it comes to the authenticity of Svoboda 1945: Liberation’s stories.
‘‘The engaging minigames were a gift that kept on giving.’’
While it would have been easy for Svoboda 1945: Liberation to be a visual novel with a captivating narrative, impressively detailed and accurate accounts surrounding the time, and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, it also wants to ensure that the player has ways to engage with it too. To do this it offers a collection of assorted minigames. However, these aren’t your typical Mario Party affair and still offer sufficient educational value.
One of the strongest minigames was titled ‘‘Packing before the expulsion’’. During this minigame, you must hastily choose what to pack and not pack before soldiers relocate you hundreds of kilometres away from your home. Adding this dramatic and interactive recreation of a traumatic event doesn’t detract from the overall storytelling or tone. Instead, it is done tastefully and offers the player an unparalleled perception of the events that may have otherwise been muted had it been done differently. The minigame is further heightened by incredible gameplay and audio design. This includes the constant knocking and shouting from an outsider demanding you leave. It helps elevate the already incredibly stressful environment and truly puts you in the shoes of the victims of a truly horrific tragedy.
‘‘I finished my first playthrough in two hours.’’
My only critique of the game would be its unfortunately brief runtime. As I mentioned earlier, I was left wanting more once the game had concluded. Despite opting to fill out the optional photo album, choosing every dialogue option made available to me and reading most of the articles present in the encyclopedia, my runtime amounted to just over two hours. Of course, a short runtime isn’t inherently a bad thing. However, I felt that a more substantial length would have allowed me more time to be immersed in the game’s accurate portrayal of a time beset by devastation.
Despite its short length, I still highly recommend Svoboda 1945: Liberation. Prior to playing the game, I knew very little about Czech history. However, since finishing it I feel as if I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve even gone as far as to conduct additional research afterwards, inspired by the stories told within Svoboda 1945: Liberation. Every aspect of the game, from its incredibly detailed minigames to its heartfelt and at times haunting dialogue felt not only engaging but educational. It’s rare to get a visual novel that both entertains and offers a genuine learning experience.
Charles Games have delivered a strong and impactful title that offers a lot of value for its reasonable price tag. This is a game not only for historical enthusiasts like myself but for those looking for a brilliantly crafted narrative. I will remember Svoboda 1945: Liberation for a long time to come. It has taught me the importance of learning from the past to improve in the future. But more importantly, it teaches us that there are no winners in war, only losers.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.