There are lots of visual novels on the Internet, and a lot are slowly making their way to Steam. Visual novels are those games which only have you making a few decisions (or some don’t have you making any at all), in which all you have to do is read the text. Most of these visual novels can be quite pricey for the amount of content they have, and that’s why The Bottom of the Well was such a nice surprise.
The Bottom of the Well is a completely free, choose-your-own-path visual novel available on Steam. Developed and published by Red Nettle Studio, this game combines RPG elements like skill points (attributed at the beginning of the game) with the usual visual novel recipe to create a fantastic game.
You play as Alice, a girl who has just woken up from a nightmare in which the United States were hit by nuclear attacks from Russia. Talking with her friend from overseas on the Internet, you have to retell the nightmare to your friend. The choices you make change how the dream unfolds.
Each playthrough is quite short, taking up to twenty minutes, but the game’s idea is that you will not see all it has to offer in one playthrough: there are many paths to take and many endings, of which only one is the “true ending”, properly finishing the story. At the beginning of each playthrough, you can customize your character, giving Alice skills that will help her in certain situations. This is the main factor of replayability, as you will need to play with all possible configurations in order to unlock all the situations and story paths.
Every story path is well written, and the way it is told (with the chat partner’s comments to your story added) makes the story even better. The art style of the backgrounds is gritty and dark, and combined with the chilling soundtrack, it truly makes you feel like you’re helpless, in the middle of a nuclear attack. The paths Alice can take are based on either taking shelter in multiple possible locations or being continuously on the move in the hopes of finding better shelter.
The game has many pop culture and history references, and this gives it an extremely modern feel to it. However, the entire game is just a big reference to Alice in Wonderland. After a few playthroughs, and especially after you finish the game with the true ending, you will start to see this in full effect, from the obvious name choice and art style, to the premise of the game.
One thing that might be frustrating to some players is that the game’s responses to your choices are based heavily on how you distributed your skill points at the beginning of the game. For example, in order to get past certain obstacles, and especially in order to acquire the true ending, you will need to go through trial and error many times, as your Alice needs to have the exact skill point distribution expected by the developers. I find that it is quite hard to figure out what the developers’ expected, so I had to use a guide found on Steam. Luckily, there is one comprehensive guide that will help you unlock all achievements if you get stuck.
Overall, The Bottom of the Well is an extremely well-made game, with genial writing, fantastic atmosphere. It’s a fantastic thing that it is a free title, and we should definitely keep our eyes on Red Nettle Studios for their future titles.