Story versus gameplay is a debate that will always come down to personal preference. Most titles will lean more in a certain direction, with genres like visual novels and episodic games very much pulling towards the narrative side. Highway Blossoms is under the kinetic novel category. The most player input it can offer is pushing the spacebar to progress dialogue. So, we’re just here to relax and appreciate the story this time.
Highways Blossoms is a yuri (lesbian) tale seen through the eyes and thoughts of Amber. She’s traveling in her motor-home, lost in thought about her Grandfather’s recent passing. A hitchhiker catches her eye, who turns out to be a cute girl named Marina, traveling in search of gold. According to a recently discovered journal, a miner struck lucky during the Gold Rush and wrote down hints at where he hid his precious bounty. Amber is convinced it’s all a big scam created by the papers, but is drawn to Marina’s enthusiasm despite herself, and agrees to help.
The story opens with a animated scene of driving, put to music. Naturally, this meant that Highway Blossoms’ soundtrack was the first thing to catch my attention. Music actually plays a very important role in the story, as a big connection between Amber and her Grandpa has been left behind in his assortment of cassette tapes. Tracks therefore match a slightly aged era of music, with soft country twangs, managing to provide a fitting tone for each situation and character.
Accompanying the relaxed music and story is the anime art style. The scenes are kept bright and colourful, making every new background a delight to encounter. Helping to keep me engaged throughout, were the subtle moments of animation, both for facial expressions, and the bigger CG scenes. Watching flecks rise up off a fire as the girls sit at a campsite added warmth to the imagery; giving added reason to keep looking up at the pictures instead of having eyes constantly glued to the text.
As our protagonists travel between locations piecing together clues, they meet rival treasure hunters Mariah, her little sister Tess, and their friend Joseph. The trio are given a bit of backstory and character, but are essentially there to push the story along; providing a bit of tension through their potential to beat our girls to getting the gold.
In fact, not only are the actions of these characters rather predictable, but so is much of the plot. The whole ‘gold rush’ scenario comes across as being slapped in for an interesting setting, without actually doing anything new or making it important. I was perfectly happy with the focus being set predominantly on the protagonists, although more meaning being given to the physical journey could have provided that extra bit of investment.
The best moments were when Amber and Marina had time to develop their relationship. While both are character tropes I’ve seen before, they manage to become unique after their clashing personalities are forced into one space. Amber is the serious one, after years of living with her Grandpa. However, this doesn’t stop her from relaxing into Marina’s company, or knowing how to enjoy herself. Marina, meanwhile, is the blonde ditsy character that I normally hate, but found myself drawn to through her reflective moments and genuine care for others. Everything then tied together in the bow that was Amber’s inner monologue. It creates the ultimate acceptance of both the characters and situations, as seeing through her eyes (and of course reading the believable writing) encourages sympathy and understanding.
Going into the story, I was nervous as to how the relationship was going to be presented. I needn’t have worried though, because Highway Blossoms joins the list of tasteful writing for lesbian lovers. The characters even had sex, and I didn’t realize it until Amber was considering the consequences the next morning. I guess in that regard I should warn anyone looking for graphic imagery that they’re going to be disappointed.
The ultimate testament to the writing and characters was that I got attached enough to cry a bit. It’s not something that will effect everyone, due to the stereotypical nature, yet I believed and really cared about what happened to those girls. It was very easy to fall for their personalities and, as a result, get upset by some of the raw moments.
Finishing Highway Blossoms rewarded me with a few arty extras. One of these gave the opportunity to read the story in Goofball mode. There are two versions; EZ summarizing the entire story in a couple of silly short scenes, (much to my amusement) and Normal being the full story with some comical lines thrown in. It’s quite rare to see a visual novel really go out of its way to give a bit extra to the readers, so I appreciated the effort put into this fun little addition.
Going in to Highway Blossoms, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Despite this, it wasn’t long before I entrusted my time to the characters, enjoying both the physical and emotional ride that they were taking. Yes, you can see how most situations are going to pan out, but it’s negated through the title’s personality and charm. So, if you’re looking for a quiet romance between two cute girls, you’ve come to the right place.
This review is based off a PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Highway Blossoms may not bring anything new to the table through its story, but it gets you emotionally involved through the cute, and relatable characters.