We here at Checkpoint Gaming really appreciate when a game can artfully written, steamy and all parts queer. In a post-Baldur’s Gate 3 world, it’s undeniable there’s a want and desire for such a game. Visual novel Draculesti is but one example that falls into this crowd, taking up a memorable space on the PAX Aus 2023 floor, with a small sign ushering showgoers in, uttering something along the lines of “Queer Dracula, need we say more?” Getting to check out a sizable demo, it’s certainly looking the parts for a saucy visual novel read.
Romania, 1931. Castle Dracula. You control lawyer R.M Renfield trapped at the monstrous abode of the Vampiric lord after a job goes wrong. He’s not alone: Dracula’s brides and Dracula himself are shadowy figures that will flirt or harm Renfield at a moment’s notice. It’s up to players to decide how they want to escape the world of Draculesti. Do they want to escape alive or risk it all for a shot at some vampire-loving fun?
Draculesti is being developed by a small studio known as Fine Feathered Fiends. Quickly, it becomes apparent that they’re people of culture. In the writing I’ve experienced, they are incredibly effective at introducing and exploring a world with painterly writing that almost feels like prose, inviting you into the grimdark gothic halls that await. They also, and I mean this in the best way possible, seem like frequent visitors of the fanfiction site AO3. Interactions and dialogue that make moments feel tense, palpable, and steamy are all prevalent.
The way the game explores the frail and nervous nature of Renfield, struggling to find his own confidence juxtaposed with the intense, flirty, threatening and domineering power play at hand from Dracula and his brides is something else. I found myself giddy, flushed and fidgety as I played through the demo. Something that I never expected to experience on the show floor of PAX Aus.
Draculesti also looks to find ways to keep things fresh in its choice-based visual novel format by providing a deeply engaging presentation. The character art is really striking, accurately depicting attire of the 1930s whilst also having jaw-dropping backdrops that don’t feel repetitive or stock images and instead are these near works of art all with a handpainted aesthetic.
Character names are written in cursive and the text boxes they find themselves in also never feel invasive and distracting when a scene’s core focus is the backdrop. When an intriguing item or individual is more of the focus, however, the scene may transition, sliding in real-time the dialogue boxes to the right side of the screen while the left is all about this new subject.
One of my favourite examples of this in a dreamlike sequence where the game presents warped character portraits of a person of intrigue, deliberately obscuring their true nature. Their body may be welded with flowers. Perhaps some of their skin is peeled away and you can see their bones underneath. The result is delightfully horrific and abstract.
Draculesti doesn’t yet have a release date but it’s one I’m now eagerly awaiting. Particularly when it promises “strong LGBTQI+ themes.” It was one of my top picks on the PAX Aus 2023 show floor. One that should be checked out by many.
If you want to find out all about Draculesti, you can visit the Steam page.