TOUCHSTARVED was the first visual novel demo I ever tried (in April of 2023). I discovered it through its Kickstarter campaign and gave it a go before deciding to back the campaign. I hadn’t been in a fantasy mood in a while, but the story intrigued me. The main character of the tale seems to have been born under a curse: anyone they touch with their bare skin goes deeply, violently, and instantly mad. They keep their hands wrapped and stay out of arm’s reach, but it isn’t enough to eliminate the danger.
The MC’s hunt for a cure brings them to Eridia, a grand city where anything might be found. Within its walls is some safety from the ravaged countryside, as well as the Senobium, an academic organization that should have the answers they seek. Of course, getting there is only the beginning. They arrive without resources or friends, only to find that the Senobium has closed its gates to the public. Those outside are sharply divided between haves and have-nots, and everyone wants something in return. So much so that when you meet a couple who don’t, you can’t help suspect them.
I mean, how could I not want to read more about it?
I wasn’t sure about the anime art style at first. As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, it isn’t my favorite art style in visual novels. But the elegant details drew me in. I mean, look at Kuras below! Don’t you wish your doctor was hawt like him? Don’t you wish their office looked as neat as his?
All of the main characters have embellishments that make them engaging to look at, and I don’t just mean muscles or pretty faces. Their jewelry, weapons, gear, scars, tattoos, and coloring stand out in a good way. Even if they’re being mean or annoying, you don’t get tired of looking at them. The locations have some nice flourishes, too, like hanging lamps and stained glass. It's a little weird sometimes to see empty places that are described in the text as crowded, but VNs rarely have crowded scenes.
The demo’s animation is simple, mostly some poses and blinking from the characters; background elements don't move. Due to stretch goals, animated illustrations of each love interest and an animated opening sequence will be added down the line. “Spicy” versions of the love interests will also be included, along with more poses for them. A custom UI will be made due to yet another stretch goal, but I didn’t have any trouble with the basic UI in the demo.
The music was good, and because of the Kickstarter’s success, an OST will be created for the final version. There’s no voice work in the demo, but partial voice acting will be produced for all of the love interests in the final version.
The demo is free on Steam and pay-what-you-want on itch. I didn’t feel that the $25 I spent for the game and all digital rewards from the Kickstarter was too high. I don’t know what the final version will cost. Due to the last stretch goal, the full VN will be available as a Nintendo Switch port.
If you’re into physical merch, they’ll have a store for it. They offered a number of items through the Kickstarter, from stickers to prints to enamel pins. I just felt weird about ordering things based on characters I don’t know well, so I didn’t.
The demo offers standard options, like subtitle speed, sound toggling, and the skip ahead button for later playthroughs. It doesn’t have achievements, which I enjoy in Steam games, but I didn’t encounter any bugs, which is more important.
The subtitles were accurate. I don’t know what other features will be included with the final version.
There are 5 potential friends/love interests to choose from in the demo: 4 men and a nonbinary character. 2 characters were unlocked as stretch goals and will be made available in DLCs, with their own side stories; one of them is masculine and the other is feminine. I don't know why there are so many more masculine characters, but I don't have a problem with it - though some readers might.
Vere, Ais, Leander, Kuras, and Mhin
Ais has a direct sense of danger about him, but then again, he’s a demon who seems to spend much of his time in a shrine with a pool of blood on the outskirts of the city. Oh, and the ravenous monsters who haunt the area don’t seem to bother him. But he has some really interesting conversation to offer, and I didn’t know I would be able to like being called “little sparrow” until he kept doing it.
Kuras is the subdued one. Whatever he gives away, he gives in small doses. He seems to be selfless, offering to heal just about anyone, whether or not they can pay. Given the setting, this makes him suspicious. But because of his cool, careful demeanor, he invites you to dig deeper when you get the chance.
Leander is going to be my downfall, I just know it. He’ll probably be who I romance the first time through the game, as he was for the demo. He’s the most jovial and friendly of the bunch, a guy who knows everyone and who everyone knows (which means nobody knows him as well as they think). In the novel, he’s a mage, but I know a bard when I see one. He’s so sweet that it’ll be easy to want to seek him out in a setting where everyone else is a tough nut to crack. And if he has hidden motives that lead him to betray me, I guess I’m getting betrayed.
Mhin is a nonbinary character who hunts Soulless monsters on their own, which makes them a badass. They aren’t friendly, especially at first, and they’re a bit of a wallflower, but you can tell there’s more going on with them. I’m not sure that I’ll want to work hard enough to get into a romance with them early on. I’ll probably feel accomplished if I just manage to be friends with them.
Vere was by far the most frustrating of the 5 love interests for me. I know he’s like that on purpose, there are probably very good reasons for it, and he seems to enjoy it. But he isn’t just a brat: he’s being kept on a short leash by the Senobium (literally), and if you’re particularly unlucky, you’ll find out why. I tried to get to know him better last, but I’m probably in the minority. He might be cute, but I just don’t have the patience for him.
There were various choices to make in the demo. Most of them were there to reveal new information rather than revealing new scenes or endings. The various routes in the demo were quite interconnected, so my playthroughs didn’t feel that different to me. This was a little disappointing, but understandable because it’s just a demo.
The finished novel is slated to have 5 interconnected routes, apparently dependent on which love interest you pursue (but I could be wrong about that). The demo didn’t have a lot of endings, but the finished novel is going to have 15+. I expect there will be a number of them where you can die or lose everything, but I also expect the opposite to be available.
The demo, like the game, is made for a mature audience. The demo has some violence, a pool of blood, monsters, drinking, and flirtation. Vere is dressed in bondage gear, but that’s as far as that goes. The game isn’t going to be sexually explicit, but I’m hoping for at least some fade-to-black fun (rather than just fading to black because someone is trying to kill the MC).
You get to choose the main character’s name and pronouns. Since you won’t see much of them beyond their hands, other options aren't needed.
The whole project has a nice fantasy vibe. It seems to be implied that most people are human, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal that Vere is a furry creature with fuzzy ears and a bushy tail. Ais might have horns, but no one’s freaking out just because he's a demon. Magic is real, and you get to see Leander do some of it rather casually. Curses are real, too; while yours is bad, you hear about others and theirs could be worse.
While the visuals are often colorful and lighter in tone, the story aims in darker directions. You’re alone, you don’t know who to trust, and you have a terrible curse to bear. Love and friendships are possibilities, but not guaranteed. Some routes to a cure could make things worse. People could turn on you anytime. The world itself seems to be dying just outside the walls of the city, where the divide between haves and have-nots is sharp enough to draw blood. So far, I’m okay with this because the demo gives the impression that there will be various ways to do well. Doom isn’t assured - or so I hope.
You start out by choosing one of three backgrounds - The Alchemist, The Hound, or The Unnamed - and they’re supposed to offer some unique abilities and interactions with other characters. I played two of them but didn’t notice any major changes, which was a little disappointing. There’s a lot of room to expand on this in the finished novel, though.
I spent about 5 hours with the demo and did two playthroughs. I took my time reading the first time and went back to get as much out of the story as I could. It didn't feel too short or very long, so the pacing of the story works well.
Whatever reticence I had didn’t last long; I backed the Kickstarter and still feel good about it. The demo feels like it’s only the beginning - like you’ve just scratched the surface. The runaway success of their Kickstarter campaign was incredible to witness. It was very well organized, visually appealing, and communicative, and their engagement on social media remains high. By the time it ended, 13,302 backers pledged $823,302 and there were more unlocked stretch goals than you can shake a stick at. That's impressive for anyone, let alone for a new studio putting out their first visual novel. Since its conclusion, updates have been regular, which is another good sign. (If any VN creators are thinking about doing a Kickstarter, I'd hit up Red Spring Studio for advice.) Most of the stretch goals were dedicated to improving and expanding on the game, which is generally a good sign. One of the met goals grants the team an unspecified bonus, something I always like to see.
All in all, I’m eager to seeing the rest that Red Spring Studio has to offer!
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