Have you ever wanted to read a visual novel about gay cowboys? I certainly have, so I was excited when the developers offered me an early access key to Dead Man’s Rest. Brought to you by some of the same creators as the Red Embrace series, which I also checked out a while ago, Dead Man’s Rest is about a bounty hunter named Lee McCarthy who happens to turn up in a small desert town on the same night that its mayor is murdered. The sheriff suspects him of the crime and orders him to stick around until he makes an arrest—so, eager to get back on the trail of the outlaw he’s been hunting, Lee starts doing some investigating himself, and meets a variety of interesting men along the way.
My first impression of Dead Man’s Rest was that I enjoyed the narrative voice. Lee really talks like an Old West cowboy—he even uses plenty of historical slang that the developers included a glossary for, and I always find that kind of thing fun. Along with some fitting music, it really immerses you in the Old West atmosphere and sets itself apart from other visual novels with more common settings. One thing that did strike me as a bit strange about the art in Dead Man’s Rest was how frequently the visual presentation of the scenes switches around—you rarely see the typical visual novel style of sprites and a small textbox, instead often alternating between other formats like portrait-style images floating on top of the background, or one sprite on the side of a much bigger textbox covering almost everything else up. But the game is still in early access, with some visual updates and other finishing touches planned for the future, so maybe some of that will change and even out as the developers refine the details.
I was especially interested in reading the route for the game’s Indigenous character, Taza, since representation of Indigenous people is still pretty rare in most media. And I do think there were some ways in which that element of the story could have been improved—for instance, I didn’t like the way that the other members of Taza’s community were mostly positioned as antagonists, whom Taza had to defy to do what he thought was right. But there are many other aspects of Taza’s route that are a lot more positive. I appreciated that the writers didn’t shy away from referencing some of the historical atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples, and that they also included the detail that many Indigenous Nations didn’t necessarily enforce the same strict gender roles as settler society. I’d love it if Dead Man’s Rest inspired a few more VN developers to include Indigenous representation in the future.
But my favourite route actually ended up being the one for the character who had initially seemed least appealing to me in the common route: the dead mayor’s brother Hollis. I enjoyed reading about the complexities of the relationship that Lee forms with the troubled older man, as well as the scenes in which Hollis teaches Lee to play piano. And in the other routes, I also liked the gradual deep bond you can form with the local bartender, the murder investigation you can focus on with the sheriff, and the slightly darker side of the story you can explore in the unlockable route for the villain. While the routes being fairly different from each other might mean that not everyone wants to play all of them, they definitely each have their charms.
All in all, Dead Man’s Rest is a fun read that I’d definitely recommend to any visual novel fans who are interested in a Wild West setting. And once the developers have added a bit more polish for the full release, I’m sure it will be even better. Check it out and let me know which gay cowboy is your favourite in the comments here or on twitter!