Visual novels in high school settings may be as common as clouds in the sky, but chatting chatting up two-dimensional chicks and having to make ever-so-difficult decisions about who to devote your attention to does have its appeals. Some of the best in the genre actively attempt to stand out from the pack, either with increasingly complex plotlines, unexpectedly dark themes, or the addition of small but justifiable gameplay features to spice things up. The team at ds-sans successfully fundraised their latest VN, Chemically Bonded, two years ago via Kickstarter, and have recently released it via Steam. Sadly, it doesn’t pack enough punch to help itself stand out from the rest on the market, but at least it’s competently made.
Kiyoko and Naomi are two ex-besties and polar opposites in almost every way. As one of the brightest students in the school, Kiyoko is runs the science club alone, and is otherwise pretty introverted. Meanwhile, Naomi is athletic, popular, and a blatant cookie-cutter tsundere on the surface. It’s up to you to figure out who you’d like to side with. Who knows, perhaps you might be gentlemanly enough to rekindle their friendship again? Multiple endings are indeed a feature in the game, and there will be moments where you’ll have to make a few binary choices that’ll meaningfully affect things in the long run. For instance, whether or not you’ll skip the Science Club to speak to Naomi privately, or deciding between which of the ladies you’ll text or call.
Admittedly, there’s not a lot of depth to these characters, tragic backstories aside. Nevertheless, the voice performances for these two are still pretty good, with the former being soft-spoken and very cutesy (if a bit unconvincing at times), and the latter sounding convincingly aggressive or passionate. The side-characters’ performances are predominantly mediocre in comparison.
While the writing is digestible, it tends to faff around with fanciful descriptions and and excessive use of fourth-wall breaks, acknowledging clichés seen in Eastern-inspired romantic visual novels or Japanese animes. Acknowledging tropes that were forcefully implemented is not particularly funny, full-stop. Plus, some recurring phrases and lines seem to keep cropping up, like “bathed in sunlight” and “dusty”. Still, some of the jokes and quips between the the main duo and protagonist can be quite enjoyable to read at times.
Some of the strongest aspects of Chemically Bonded are its visuals and music. It may be predictably peppy and cheery, but the soundtrack does have a few catchy tunes that’s well worth listening to (a separate soundtrack release is not available at the time of writing, sadly). The backgrounds are very detailed and lusciously decorated, and the images of each character do look very well made. Also, there’s fanservice to enjoy as well, ‘nuff said.
Like an experiment in science class, Chemically Bonded fizzles and pops rather than glows or dissipates. Despite its great visuals, delightful ditties and handful of enjoyable voice performances, this visual novel is held back with some inconsistent and predictable writing, as well as a few flat performances and a lack of memorable characterization. For a visual novel, these are pretty damn important, so it’s kinda disappointing to see it struggle in these departments. In any case, it’s hardly a top-of-the-class contender, yet you can tell ds-sans put a lot of effort into creating something competent enough to almost justify a purchase.