Souten No Celenaria ~What a Beautiful World~
Souten no Celenaria is a 2006 game by Liar-soft, the first in the Steampunk series. It had a fandisc later in 2006, and a full voice remake in 2011, along by Sekien no Inganock and Shikkoku no Sharnoth.
In a world powered by steam many advances have been made, even as far as steam-powered airships. Utilizing this technology, a militaristic empire has already taken over half of the continent. The story surrounds a freelance airship crew trying to make ends meet in this war-torn world.
When Connie, the captain of the ship decides to save a girl from the ruthless imperial soldiers (with the help of a mysterious boy), she stumbles into a journey that will take her ship and all it’s crew to the end of the world and beyond…
For those times when one wants something a little different from the usual, the steampunk series is a good place to start. Steampunk setting are not very common, and the linear story, the lack of focus in romance, and the third person narrative make them closer to actual novels than most of the visual novels there are. By themselves, those things may not be enough; “rare” doesn’t equal “good”. But thankfully, in this case those qualities coincide.
One of the main strengths of the steampunk series games is in the worldbuilding and atmosphere. Here they are certainly excellent. The fictional world truly comes alive, and it has plenty of steam and plenty of punk. The more idyllic and fantastic Celenaria and its races (which take to another level the concept of anthropomorphic animals) are also charming and fascinating in their own way, and even highlight the steampunk aspects of the Northern Central Empire. The gameplay also helps to the worldbuilding; you get to pilot the Ulmensh around the different villages of Celenaria, and the several item fetching quests give it a old school JRPG atmosphere (its true though that the Ulmensh can’t move across the map as quickly as one could like, so it can get a little annoying, especially if you don’t care about those villages).
The characters are another strength; varied, interesting and fun, you get likeable and amusing protagonists with good chemistry between them and villains so over the top you can’t help but love to hate them. And bonus point for a somewhat extensive and appropriate in-universe (and at points hilarious) usage of historical figures.
And the plot itself is loads of fun; never a dull moment, the protagonists are always on the go, and face all kinds of dangers, from which they come out victorious with their wits (and a hefty dose of Big Damn Heroes). The text, at points poetic, is never boring, and an outstanding music sets the mode perfectly, becoming epic when needed.
However, the plot also has this game’s biggest flaw. Though the ending is filled with awesome and is nothing but a blast, once one gives it enough thought, lots of little (or not so little) inconsistencies or unexplained things start emerging, and one starts to wonder about the motivation of many of the characters. And in one central aspect this is particularly egregious: the object that put the whole plot in motion not only is never explained; it’s never said how it was even relevant at all, since in the end the whole thing resolves without it, so the question remains of why it was so important, and why all the relevant people were so desperate about getting it.
If this bothers you, you may not particularly like this. But if you can somehow overlook this, you’ll find a truly fun adventure, with good characters and a good rhythm, with plenty of twists and reveals, never getting dull. And you’ll find a very interesting world, and a game that makes a good job presenting it; a world that will also be used in the following steampunk games, so as a starting point this is certainly appropriate.
Souten no Celenaria Fandisc
In this short story, loli Mary Shelley visits the Northern Central Empire and from there joins the crew of the Ulmensh in Celenaria. There they will clash with the plans of Alfred Wallace. More of a short sequel than just a side story, it’s fun enough (though it takes it a little to get interesting), and introduces in the world an organization that will keep being mentioned. It also tidies up a certain aspect that didn’t really get a proper resolution in the main game. Certainly recommended if you liked Celenaria. (Keep in mind there’s no full voice remake of this.)