Leading the pack of yuri visual novels scheduled for Summer 2016, Highway Blossoms was recently released several days ago. Despite having several issues, this yuri road trip VN remains a short, sweet, and interesting love story.
Length: Short (2-10 hours)
Lewdness: 3/3 (Lots of Lesbian Sex – assuming you apply the adult patch)
Price: 9.99 USD
The viewpoint character in Highway Blossoms is Amber, a 19 year old wanderer. While driving her motorhome, our protagonist happens to meet Marina, who is unfortunately stranded because her car ran out of gas. Deciding that a cute, young girl should not be left alone in the middle of the desert, heroic (and slightly hypocritical) Amber offers to give Marina a ride to a nearby gas station.
At the check-out of said fill-up station, Amber finds out that a prospector’s journal, in which he mentions hiding gold nuggets across several states, was publicly published recently and has caused a modern day gold rush to manifest. As this is the reason why she drove out to the desert in the first place, Marina fervently hopes this gold trial to be real. Although Amber has her doubts about this buried treasure, she decides to accompany the cheerful and frilly hitchhiker after Marina’s car is stolen.
Something I want to make clear is that Highway Blossoms is a kinetic novel; the player is presented with a single, unbranching story. Readers can just sit back and enjoy seeing the characters interact with one another. I don’t think that’s a bad thing since the game is still engaging.
One of the reasons why HB is alluring is due to the aforementioned character cast. At first glance, Amber seems to be a bitter realist and Marina is a childish idealist – the classic “brooding boy meets upbeat girl who changes his life” scenario, except the pragmatist is also a girl. However, the truth is more complicated since both girls are more well-rounded and their characterizations do go beyond these archetypes. In short, the two just make a comfy pair.
Shortly into the game, the reader does find out that Amber is into girls, as she’s had several girlfriends before. On the other hand, Marina has had two boyfriends but neither really counted. In spite of this, there’s plenty of ship tease to go around between the two. Furthermore, Highway Blossoms manages to avoid the whole “oh no two girls can’t be in a relationship” freak-out situation. While said scenario is commonplace within this genre, I think it’s kind of a breath of fresh air when that sort of drama is not invoked. There’s plenty of other ways drama can unfold, after all!
Of course, Marina and Amber aren’t the only characters. The most prominent characters outside of the main couple is an oddball trio who makes repeated appearances throughout the story. The exhibitionist leader, Mariah, sort of becomes Amber’s hotblooded, outclassed rival in the pursuit of the golden
chicken nuggets. Tess is Mariah’s stoic and intelligent kid sister while Joseph is Mariah’s down-to-earth childhood friend. With Mariah, Joseph, and Tess making up the majority of the comedy relief with their zany antics, I could see how the trio could easily become fan favorites for some players. Some of the developers truly love the lovable rogues, in fact.
Another charming point is Amber’s narration. She is both witty and snarky with her description and dialogue, which makes playing/reading Highway Blossoms an enjoyable experience. In fact, I would say that the story as a whole is well written. There’s a considerable amount of foreshadowing, as well. As such, nothing really comes out of left field, yet the story is still entertaining. However, I do have to acknowledge that the game has several noticeable typos, which is both unfortunate yet inevitable. At least this was partially addressed in patches following the game’s release.
Speaking of patches, Alienworks, the small company behind Highway Blossoms, issued two in quick succession after the yuri road trip visual novel was released. Some problems were handled, like the fact that there was originally no CG gallery in the Extras Section (which was unlocked after running through the game once). The art, by the way, is very good. The main couple and the trio (and the poor candy store clerk) all look great. There wasn’t any obvious off-model art in sight.
Something I found to be nice is that the Extras Section features guest art with Twitter, Tumblr, DeviantArt and FaceBook links. To me, it shows that Alienworks really cares about its consumer base, which is always a plus for a company!
The removal of F.Skip, a feature that allows the reader to skip to the next choice in a visual novel, was also done via a patch. Regrettably, the feature caused Highway Blossoms, a game with no choices, to crash. Pay your respects to F.Skip.
However, the corruption of save files happened both times during these two patches. It was slightly frustrating since players were forced to start over whenever this happened. Thankfully (or perhaps tragically), the game is not too long, which means players can utilize the Auto feature in order to fast forward through the visual novel and regain their position.
As a side note, my first readthrough Highway Blossoms took me four hours while reading at an average pace. Since I basically finished the visual novel within a day after release, which was before the patches starting coming through, the corruption of save files didn’t really bother me here.
The save file corruption incidents, however, made me have a much harder time going through Goofball Mode since my progress kept being reset. Goofball Mode, by the way, is enabled after the first readthrough of Highway Blossoms. Turning it on adds extra surprises to the script that
may or may not match the tone of the original script and adds replay value to the visual novel. I found the content to be hilarious, personally. If you are like me and enjoyed the game, I recommend going through it again with Goofball Mode turned on. One minor nitpick I had with Goofball Mode is that the Skip feature (not to be confused with the F.Skip feature) did not consider the amusing surprises found in GM to be “Seen Messages,” which hinders its usage. This means that readers have to play through GM line by line if they don’t want to accidentally miss the altered content.
And since I brought up altered content, I have to mention the adult patch. If we want to get technical, it’s a content restoration patch players can manually install. Doing so allows readers to see Amber and Marina getting it on. If you’re against uncensored, steamy scenes, you won’t really be missing anything by not installing the patch. However, I consider the way Highway Blossoms handles said scenes to be both intimate and classy. This is coming from someone who typically skips through such scenes, folks. Do note that installing said patch is also likely to corrupt save files, so plan accordingly. More information about the patch can be found here.
I would consider the soundtrack to be serviceable; it gets the job done. Fittingly, most of it has an American-Western feel, but there really wasn’t anything that grabbed my attention aside from the one that plays during the crazy driving scenes. That one wasn’t really American-Western, either, so I guess I’m just not used to the music genre. While it is unfortunate that there is no in-game music menu, readers can buy the DLC soundtrack. I don’t usually spring for those, but the option’s there.
One nice feature is the key and mouse bindings which serve as client commands. Pressing the “s” key, for example, allows readers to take screenshot which is then automatically saved as a file. No fuss, no muss! Just remember to maximize the game window in order to take the best screenshots.
What about future prospects for Highway Blossoms? Well, HB producer Josh Kaplan expressed an interest in a “content update sometime in the relatively far future” and hoped to expand the role of Cassi, the aforementioned candy store cashier who is currently a one-scene wonder. However, this isn’t set in stone. If it doesn’t happen, then he plans on writing fanfiction about Cassi (but, he mused, it may not count as fanfiction if he was the one who came up with the plot for HB in the first place).
The prospect of hiring VA was brought up, but it’s a relatively low priority for Alienworks right now. Furthermore, he feels that it would be “immersion-breaking” if the intimate scenes were unvoiced. This means Alienworks needs to find VA willing to voice Amber and Marina getting intimate, which could be a tall order. Then there’s the budget to consider, which is simply inadequate. So once again, no guarantees here. Same goes for the idea of a sequel. We will just have to see.
Overall, I think that Highway Blossoms is a great first release by Alienworks. We really have to thank Sekai Project for publishing this yuri visual novel. Early birds experienced some issues, but by now almost all of said kinks have been ironed out. If you’re in the mood to sit back and enjoy a kinetic novel, give this game a shot!
Please continue to support Alienworks if you enjoyed Highway Blossoms~
You can purchase Highway Blossoms at Steam here.
Denpasoft plans to release an uncensored version later. I will update with said link accordingly.