(skip to the aside at the bottom if you’re just interested in how the game appeals to those with alternative lifestyles, identities, or sexualities)
Someone bought a friend of mine this game as a gift to troll him, and after watching the trailer, we thought it was corny and might get a laugh out of him playing it on the big screen. Having played several visual novels, already (mostly on console or handheld, I’m not big on PC), I somewhat knew what to expect and was curious about how this game would handle its premise. I mostly expected it to be laughable, semi-pornographic bait, and was ready for it to be either amusingly bad or over-the-top in obviousness of how badly the creator would have been attracted to their own characters.
Instead, I was treated to a much more thoughtful and wordy experience than I could have expected. Within an hour of him starting his game, I was already asking him to stop so that I could go and play a copy I’d just bought, privately. For the next few days, I was hooked, spending huge portions of my day playing it and finding myself deeply involved in both its story and characters. I kind of ended up falling in love with the game, and it’s arguably my favorite visual novel, at this point (provided you don’t consider Shu Takumi games visual novels, just adjacent to them).
Angels with Scaly Wings is a visual novel that is a tad more verbose, grounded, and dry than many of its peers, but I feel this ultimately works in the game’s favor, in some ways. I know it may sound ridiculous to call a game with a muscular Dragon wearing a police badge around his neck who you can engage in relations with “grounded,” but I genuinely believe its characters to be far more founded in realistic, down-to-earth personalities than that of comparable games who typically lean toward ridiculous exaggerations of their personality types. While most other VN’s with dating sims element reduce their characters to their appropriate “type” (i.e. tsundere, genki, nerdy), I feel like this one had a lot more depth and facets to its characters, should you be willing to sit through a lot of relatively ordinary conversation with them.
For many, I’m sure this means they’ll complain about the characters being either too boring or too uninteresting (I’m sure some will call the characters by their stereotypes – alcoholic cop, clumsy introvert, etc.), but I feel this is because the game is more focused on fleshing out the characters through dialogue and companionship than it is defining them through larger-than-life events you’ll experience, together. Despite an overarching plot that contains a lot of intense drama, most of your time spent with the characters defines them through mundane experiences. You’re never offered particularly dramatic moments to prove yourself to them, and your relationships are strengthened almost exclusively through emotionally compatible dialogue.
For me, this is a wonderful change of pace and allows me to feel closer to the characters – it’s almost as if they were people I knew. For most people who play games to feel constantly empowered, I feel like this might leave them cold and having less empathy towards the characters because of the lack of forced drama allowing them easy opportunities to feel more superficial connection. For example, another visual novel might allow you an opportunity to stand up to a bully to protect an introvert and use that as a point of bonding with them – in Angels with Scaly Wings, however, simple opportunities to quickly build character like that are largely absent and replaced with lots of talking about yourselves.
For everything you see in the world that doesn’t initially make sense, you’ll tend to get a (generally lengthy) explanation for it. Dragons using human-looking furniture and buildings was rather ridiculous to me, at first, and something I was having trouble dismissing, even though it was likely just an excuse for environmental art to be easier. It does end up having a surprisingly reasonable explanation, however, and so do most other indescrepencies and loose ends. It tends to do so in casual dialogue with characters more than it does in huge exposition dumps, leading much of it to feel naturally explained to the player and avoiding the usual browbeating of information. Of course, it is still a visual novel, and it doesn’t escape its length without a couple of exposition dumps, itself.
Like many visual novels, this one tends to work on a mechanic that revolves around restarting your experience with minor knowledge of previous events, and it uses this narrative device much the same way that other games that use this do. If this is something that tires you, by now, I can’t say that you’re really going to be turned around on the concept. I understand why they used it and even feel like it does ultimately end up adding to the story, but personal feelings aside, it’s just nearly impossible to use this device perfectly elegantly. Subsequent playthroughs become more about dating, and lose a significant amount of the grip that the drama had their first time around, because you’re skipping through what you’ve already seen. The game is, at least, very good about its skip features.
I found the art done for the game to be perfectly adequate, and didn’t find problems with the quality differences being jarring, as some others seem to have. The dragons are cute, the detailed transitions in more serious moments are nice despite the obvious change in artists, and, overall, I felt it to be a largely pleasing game from a visual standpoint. Full disclosure, here – I’m a furry, and though not really a particularly big fan of dragons, I do like them. Whether or not you think this indicates a bias is up to you, but I’ve played through several visual novels I’ve enjoyed despite not liking the character designs (I nearly loathe the modern anime aesthetic, especially how it depicts women), and feel like I would have still greatly enjoyed this with worse art or human characters.
The music is also surprisingly good, and there’s a shocking variety in the amount of tunes to keep things from ever getting stale. Some compositions feel like they were banged in an hour or two while a few others feel as if they had more work put into them, but the sheer number tends to ensure that if you don’t like a few songs, you’re going to be rarely hearing them, anyway. Many lower budget visual novels often suffer for trying to find someone to score their game and end up losing a lot in terms of mood, but there’s a definitive victory scored here in terms of both quantity and quality.
Ultimately, I feel like you should pick the game up or give it a chance if gripping, somewhat slow-moving drama with surprisingly rounded characters is your type of thing. Or, y’know, if dragons are your thing. Cuz this game’s sure as hell got dragons. I honestly found myself growing significantly more fond of the concept of dragons over the course of playing the game, and felt like the overall tone of Angels with Scaly Wings was one of compassion and empathy. More importantly, it’s about such sensitive things without constantly beating it over your head, and it develops them slowly, subtly, and for me, ultimately more meaningfully. Despite moments where player avatar compassion feels forced and the game feels as if it’s more than just nudging toward doing good, Angels with Scaly Wings’ positive attitude feels powerfully genuine and with a depth that is simply lacking in its peers.
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And, a few interesting notes for all my fellow queers, out there. I feel like Angels with Scaly Wings is super accommodating to alternate identities, lifestyles, and sexualities, but I didn’t know this and didn’t really have resource to find this before going in. Here’s a little resource for people who may or may not be like me, out there, who are curious (very mild spoilers ahead):
– Your player character’s gender is never defined, and the game accommodates this surprisingly well. As far as the game is concerned, you could have any gender identity, including non-binary ones.
– Likewise, your character’s sexuality is never assumed. Queer relationships are never judged by other characters, either, leading to the assumption that they’re perfectly normal in this kind of world.
– Sex scenes and physical romance are not required to get all the endings. You can simply grow to be close friends with each character. I understand some aces out there grow uncomfortable with games like this because of forced physical relations, but still wish to play for the platonic closeness. Angels with Scaly Wings keeps you in the clear. Likewise, if you’re strictly into a single gender, you won’t be forced into anything that should make you uncomfortable just to advance the story.
– Sexual dimorphism among the dragons is minimal and gender roles are flexible, creating a world that feels inviting to those not rigidly identifying with their birth designation.
– A certain character confesses relatable (offscreen, in their past) bullying to you over some sexual characteristics they were born with, which I feel points the game explicitly toward empathy for non-binary people.