Out There Chronicles, by Mi-Clos Studio, is a visual/graphic novel on mobile. The story is split into separate ‘chapters’. With Out There Chronicles Chapter 2 recently released, it seemed like the perfect time to dip into a sci-fi adventure.
The story revolves around a character called Darius, who wakes up from some kind of stasis to find himself in an unfamiliar world. It’s a familiar scenario in sci-fi and gives a good introduction to the new world. But very quickly, you will learn that the world you are in, ‘America’, is not quite the utopia that it presents itself as. To add a further layer of complexity, you will find out that Darius himself has some dark secrets. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the plot of Out There Chronicles since the plot is the bulk of the experience. It’s enough to say that there although the majority of the scenarios will be familiar favourites for sci-fi fans, there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you going.
Out There Chronicles looks like a simple visual novel, very much a choose-your-own (text) adventure. The majority of the time, you’ll be clicking through options and reading. Choices start off fairly simple – what to say or ask in order to gain information, navigating to places, or examining objects to find out things. But these choices are deftly woven into more complicated scenarios. You will have objectives and will need to progress the story, but sometimes there are different ways to accomplish a goal. It’s not always obvious, but nor is it always very complicated – a smart and experienced adventurer or reader will see the patterns and the paths right away and there may be some backtracking as you fill in the gaps.
Text appears in short blocks that you click through. Bitesize chunks are easy to read and take in and are often used to good effect. There are some scenarios where you have an in-game time-limit to do something. One particular scenario involved having a conversation with a character, and you needed to complete an action by 8:00. The conversation with the character was essential, but each conversation option advanced the clock, the passing minutes demonstrated by their own text box. 7:30. “Give me a quick tour.” “7:35.” “What do you do?” “7:36.” Another question, then another answer. “7:38.” A new question appears, a new answer is given. “7:40.” And meanwhile, you knew that you had to manipulate the conversation so you could get an item and then go to a different location where you were presented with yet another tense-filled encounter. It might seem minor, but it definitely led to some frantic tapping on my part even if there was no ‘real’ time limit.
Another one of my favourite moments was where you were trying to ‘learn’ a different language in order to communicate with others. Sentences would appear in broken English with the odd word highlighted but incomprehensible. You had the option to quiz speakers on the words that you didn’t understand, get a description of the meaning of those words, then see them translated as you chose them throughout the rest of the chapter. There is some thinking involved – when the alien tapped the floor, which resounded with a metal sound, did they mean metal, down, or ground? It’s not necessarily something absolutely critical to get right, but it is a really nice touch. I did appreciate the chance to choose whether a certain alien species should be called ‘giant chicory’ or ‘perverse gherkin’.
There are plenty of these nice little touches all throughout the game. The screen pans across landscapes when you change location, giving it a nice comic-book feel, and does it again when there are particular important moments. This gives you the chance to appreciate some lovely artwork. There are moments like the time scenario above that really match the medium to the story. There are a few clever plot twists, and lots of hints at what is to come, as well as some world-building which makes a very small story somehow seem very large.
It is these little touches, these moments that make Out There Chronicles really enjoyable. It is also useful to know that this visual novel is a spinoff of the studio’s other game, Out There, which is a survival/strategy/management sim. Seeing the universe as laid out in Chronicles makes me want to play Out There, and see the world from a different angle.
If you meet an untimely end in the narrative, which happens more often than you might think, you are always able to return to a previous checkpoint. This does lead to some trial-and-error gameplay, which can feel repetitive if you’re unsure of how to get yourself out of a loop. But apart from this, the story moves at a good pace and backtracking will be familiar to anyone who plays text adventures. The story itself is also of a decent length, with each chapter finishing on a cliffhanger that rounds off the chapter’s arc, yet teases for the next chapter to come.
Out There Chronicles is a treat to read through during train or bus journeys, perfectly matched to its mobile format. A rather simple-looking sci-fi visual novel is, in fact, a good story with artwork to match, that has been developed with some care. Episode 2 picks up after episode 1’s cliffhanger, and ends with another one of its own. If you’re willing to give Out There Chronicles some time and space, you may be pleasantly surprised.