Note: This review is for a game that is suitable for audiences 18 and older.
Starfighter is an online sci-fi comic series which I got into thanks to a friend a few years back. Although I’ve not kept up recently, it was certainly an interesting webcomic filled with equal parts drama and romance. As such, the Starfighter visual novel Kickstarter by HamletMachine got me hyped. Enough so that I ended up sharing the campaign with anyone who I felt would appreciate male-male romance, regardless of their knowledge of the actual comic! In the end it had absolutely no trouble raising $143,183 in April 2014. A little over a year later we finally have Starfighter: Eclipse which is accessible via PC browsers, tablets, and smartphones.
Now, given my excited ramblings, it might sound like you need to be a fan of the series to get into the visual novel. That’s not the case for Starfighter: Eclipse. In fact, this game is very light on content related to the comic’s storyline aside from sharing characters. The protagonist Helios is brand new (to both his job and the series) which makes it a perfect starting point. He has just joined the Alliance surveillance team. Instead of having time to get acquainted to his new position and Navigator (partner), he and everyone else aboard the Kepler have a very strange encounter while exploring an abandoned alien ship.
The overarching mystery is just part of the story, however. You’ll find that navigating relationships between the crew is of equal importance. Should you focus on your Navigator Selene exclusively, or flirt with Abel? Would you rather become the secret spy of your Commander or something else entirely? All these choices are up to you, presented as dialogue and action options. There are a good variety of options to pursue during a playthrough, which lead you to one of multiple endings. Multiple playthroughs are not required, but are worth it, especially if you’d like to uncover a final ending.
As far as writing is concerned, Starfighter: Eclipse holds up well to the source material. There’s a lot of cuteness, jokes, rudeness, drama, and basically all of it is handled with skill. You also won’t find copious typos as is sometimes the case with English-language visual novel releases. Those who haven’t read the comic will find characters endearing, frightening, or mysterious exactly as they should be perceived. In regards to art, well, it’s as gorgeous as ever. The black and white aesthetic may be a little off putting to non-comic fans at first, but you quickly stop even noticing it. That’s thanks how easy it is to get drawn in by the characters and storyline itself!
From the standpoint of a visual novel fan, Starfighter: Eclipse is a bit of a letdown in regards to extraneous features. The auto advance button has no timer option to allow players to set at what duration they want text to advance. Although you can blast past dialogue, you cannot set the game to only do so with previously read dialogue before stopping on new text. You just fly by everything (while holding the fast forward button yourself). Finally, the game doesn’t highlight options you’ve previously selected. Although not a necessity, the fact that one choice can split you between two variations of one character’s path makes knowing which item you selected last time imperative.
It’s also quite a short game. One playthrough took me a little over an hour, while subsequent playthroughs were much quicker. Discovering the right pathway to different endings does help push a complete playthrough somewhere closer to four or more hours, though, depending on reading speed. Yes, there are improvements that could have been made, but Starfighter: Eclipse still stands as an enjoyable, sexy visual novel for those looking for some sci-fi infused yaoi.