John Egbert and Rose Lalonde. Who are these kids? We’ll start with the basics: John is a young man, eagerly awaiting a package. Inside, a game which will bring his small cohort of online friends together and change their destinies forever. At least, that was the idea… but let’s not dwell on little stuff like mixups at the mail service irrevocably altering beloved timelines. Rose is a teenager with eclectic tastes, busying herself with everything from playing the violin to writing homoerotic wizard fiction.
John and Rose have online connections, but their personal friends are few. What they could really use is some sort of indistinct being, eager to please and endowed with the power to traverse space and time in an instant. They need someone who’s not quite human, someone who shatters all preconceived laws of physics, someone whose entire existence hinges upon a desperate need to make new friends. Oh, wait, silly me. They have someone just like that: you!
- What is Pesterquest? A visual novel about using magic powers to travel the universe, making as many friends as possible along the way. Once complete, Pesterquest will comprise 14 volumes.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $11.99
- Developer: What Pumpkin Games, Inc.
- Publisher: Fellow Traveller
- Platforms: PC, Mac OS X, SteamOS + Linux
- Release Date: September 4, 2019
♪ Friends, Friends, Friends ♪
Playing through Volume One of Pesterquest was a learning experience. After I figured out the interface and started to get the humor (see the previous paragraph, and you’ll have an inkling of the tone), I came across my first choice. Now, being a newcomer to the genre, I’m used to a Mass Effect or Witcher-style choice system, where half the point is the roleplaying. You’re making a statement about your character’s priorities and values, and then the consequences play out. Here, however, I had to break that mentality.
Your choices tend to boil down to a binary pass or fail pathway on your quest to befriend people like John Egbert. John is the first subject of Pesterquest. He helped me understand that while this binary would be a problem in a more gameplay oriented title, it’s deliberate and useful here. The choices represent opportunities to understand John in greater detail. I had to discover the things which would make him want to befriend me, compared to the things which would drive him away. Amidst these decisions is where I realized that this new choice system was a mirror of the familiar one: instead of these choices illuminating your values and priorities, they’re illustrating John’s.
That brings us to my gripes with the first volume. John didn’t grab me as a character. The music, humor, and general absurdity are entertaining enough, and I understand that John is vital to the larger Homestuck story. But his basic traits — lonely and incredibly gullible — are established quickly and don’t develop much. I don’t doubt for a moment that with the proper context, John’s chapter would pop a lot more. However, I don’t think that’s an entirely foolproof excuse, because Volume Two is a substantial improvement.
Tentacle Blobs and Gay Wizards
Now, another caveat for my enjoyment of Rose Lalonde’s chapter: I’m a rather gloomy soul living in the PNW. So the visuals, sarcasm, and moodiness of Volume Two resonate a lot more with me than the sun-drenched playgrounds and cake-strewn bedrooms of Volume One. That said, Rose is a lot more interesting as a character than John, and although there are still jokes which raise the “am I missing context?” hairs on the back of my neck, the game actually plays with this idea. Amnesia serves as an explanation for the protagonist’s lack of knowledge about the world around them. But even if that little diegetic justification didn’t exist, Rose’s chapter would successfully stand on its own.
Rose is considerably more intelligent and complex than John. Conversations with her are often a sound mix of dry wit, sarcastic, surprisingly thought-provoking commentary on your actions, and exploration of formative trauma. Rose’s chapter gave me a glimpse of a character struggling to cope with the emotional strain of her home life. It gave me a chance to observe a young girl turning to countless artistic interests as a means of processing her pain. Both volumes feature interesting visuals, goofy, irreverent humor, and a sweet soundtrack. Only Rose’s volume feels substantive and gripping.
Now is a good time to talk a little more about our protagonist. A desperately energetic, aggressively friendly traveler of space and time, the protagonist will stop at nothing to make new friends. They lie and flaunt their powers and make clumsy, earnest efforts to solve their prospective friends’ foundational issues. John comes across as desperate for literally any human contact, so his interactions with the protagonist are amusing and straightforward.
Rose has a more nuanced perspective. She constantly challenges the actual “friendliness” of the protagonist, and yet she’s somewhat charmed by their absurd attempts at kindness. What results is a fun, compelling dynamic between the two characters, the protagonist embodying pure affectionate insanity while Rose provides a sardonic counterbalance. Whether you’re discussing magic, homoerotic wizard fiction, or alcoholism with her, Rose is well worth befriending.
High Ground View
Pesterquest, throughout both of its first volumes, exhibits a meme-savvy, self-aware sense of humor. Furthermore, the game utilizes the concept of branching paths to uncover mysteries, discern character traits, and discover the various absurdities of the Homestuck universe. While there’s a difference in quality between the two volumes, Pesterquest maintains a satisfying flow throughout. More volumes are forthcoming, and it will be good news if they can preserve this fascinating, ridiculous groove.
Game title: Pesterquest
Game description: Pesterquest is a visual novel set in the Homestuck universe. Use powers of teleportation and time travel to zap between Earth and Alternia, prosecuting your eternal war against loneliness. Make choices and explore their consequences, gleaning more information about this world and the people inhabiting it. Prepare for meta-humor, colorful illustrations, and some jammin’ beats.
Volume One - 6/10
Volume Two - 8/10
Audiovisuals - 8/10
Writing & Humor - 7/10
It took a little while for me to “get” Pesterquest. As a newcomer to its universe and genre, I wasn’t immediately drawn in by the character of John or the events occurring around him. However, I was charmed by the aesthetics and the humor, and once I set about befriending Rose, I was in. Pesterquest is irreverent, silly, and often curiously insightful. I almost believed that there was no game to a visual novel. But, of course, I didn’t realize then that the real game was the friends we made along the way.
- Humor is meta and self-aware.
- Rose is a sarcastic, damaged, interesting character.
- Audiovisuals set the tone nicely.
- A bit of a slow start.
- John didn’t grab me as a character.
- Budgetary constraints often mean that art assets and descriptions don’t match.