I recently had the pleasure of reading developer Patrick Rainville’s impressive debut visual novel Cross The Moon. I was already pretty sure I would like it just from hearing that it involves vampires and a murder mystery, and it still managed to exceed my expectations. This spoiler-free review will touch on some minor downsides to the VN as well, but overall, I would highly recommend Cross The Moon to anyone who likes the idea of being immersed in the secrets of a world where vampires live openly among humans, with all the intrigue and tension that brings.
The story follows the perspectives of three protagonists of intersecting storylines. One of them, Ryouko Otsuki, is an outsider to the fictional vampire-inhabited country of L’Amour, having traveled from Japan to become a police inspector only to be immediately thrust into an abnormal murder investigation on her first day. The second, teenage vampire Lux Amanite, is shocked when his friend Apollon is arrested as a suspect of the murder. He becomes determined to clear Apollon’s name, even if it means getting involved with the vampire criminal underworld. And finally, Lux’s sister Aurore is just starting a new job with synthetic blood producers bloodFLOW Pharmaceuticals—and her top secret research work turns out to be a lot more than she had bargained for. The perspectives shift frequently with a pace that can make some details a bit difficult to keep track of, but that does make for an accurate reflection of the characters’ confusion as the mystery gets deeper, and it guarantees that there’s always something intriguing going on. There’s also an interesting framing device, with the stories all being told by a mysterious narrator addressing an unseen listener. Trying to figure out the true identities of the narrator and the listener was one of many mysteries that kept me excited about reading more.
As you can probably tell from the screenshots, the aesthetic of Cross The Moon is pretty different from that of your typical VN. The sprite art is zoomed in on the characters’ heads and shoulders rather than showing more of their bodies, and it’s also in black and white, with occasional bright red for blood forming a stark contrast. The backgrounds are mostly photographs—and I know from experience that it can be hard to make those look cohesive with drawn sprites—but the monochrome style makes it work. And that choice allows for a huge variety of backgrounds, which change pretty often to create establishing shots or show different angles of the same scene. This along with the close-up effect of the sprites, as well as the fast pacing and shifting perspectives, helps make Cross The Moon feel a bit more like a movie or a TV show than a visual novel. There’s also one very striking image of a partially shattered moon that appears in the sky—indicating right from the beginning that there are more differences between our world and the story’s than just a fictional country and a few vampires. The gradual worldbuilding that explains those differences makes the country of L’Amour feel like a real, living place—but maybe not one that you’d want to visit.
In order to go along with the cinematic style, Cross The Moon has a very minimalist GUI, with no buttons visible while reading other than a tiny little auto-mode toggle at the bottom of the screen. While it is nice to have barely anything in the way of seeing all the art, this unfortunately comes at the expense of some useful technical features that are common in other VNs. For instance, I couldn’t find any way to access a rollback or backlog option. That’s something I usually make use of a lot, since I have a bad habit of advancing to the next line only to realize that I hadn’t actually quite processed the previous one. I’d advise anyone who shares that problem to try to slow their reading down a bit in order to avoid missing any details. I also had a hard time finding a way to access the extra unlockable journals at first—there are buttons for them on the bottom right of the save/load menu, but they’re so small and unobtrusive that it’s easy to miss. (And you won’t want to miss them, since they fill in some disturbing and important details about some of the characters’ backgrounds!) However, these minor technical issues were pretty much the only part of the reading experience that I didn’t enjoy, and they definitely don’t take away too much from a great story.
I don’t want to say too much about that great story so as not to rob anyone of being surprised, but I will mention that it ends up going to some strange and unique places that I didn’t initially expect. The intersecting plotlines and complex relationships between the characters all build to a fascinating climax, and it’s an absolute steal for the price of only $5.00. If you’re a fan of mystery and horror like I am, you can’t go wrong with Cross The Moon.