Disclaimer: I’m supporting Razz, author of this game, on Patreon and consider myself a fan of much of her work – this might obviously influence the scoring and tone of my review, although I stand by the opinions presented here wholeheartedly.
Yuri/shoujo-ai, as much as some of us might enjoy the theme, is still a fairly small niche among Japanese VNs – one that undoubtedly spawned some great titles and has a loyal fanbase, but is nowhere near being a dominant formula in the genre. It’s enough to look at VNDB statistics on romance elements and protagonist’s gender to see how relatively few quality JP titles yuri fans have available to them (especially if they have to rely on the titles translated to English or/and are looking for more than just erotic content).
On the other hand, among western VN producers and audiences, F/F romance seems to gather a much broader appeal, with many highly-regarded titles focusing exclusively on yuri themes and some of the most appreciated developers, such as ebi-hime, devoting much of their work to them. Starlight Vega, developed by Razzart Visuals and published on Steam in March 2016, is definitely not among those most popular or critically-acclaimed western yuri VNs. Still, I think it’s in many ways a notable game worthy of a closer look – most importantly because it shows that visual novels created outside of Japan, even when they stay faithful to the general format of the genre, can have their own identity and style.
A western VN set anywhere else than Japan and with non-Japanese characters? Impossible!
What might catch your attention early when approaching Starlight Vega is the setting – it happens in an unspecified western country, with characters and scenery appropriate for this context and nothing Japanese in sight. Much of the action happens in places like the old manor inherited by protagonist’s family or the woods surrounding it, producing a believable climate of (most likely) European province and giving a unique feel to the story. When people argue that western VNs are simply inferior imitations of the Japanese originals, it’s often hard to argue with it – especially when non-JP developers copy the absurdly overused high-school drama format and set everything in Japan, no matter how unnecessary it is for the story or how silly it might feel when coupled with originally-English writing (or even worse, English-only voice acting). Starlight Vega definitely looks for its own identity and for the most part succeeds to differentiate itself from the crowd.
Without a Japanese high-school as a starting point, we’ve already escaped many of the VN tropes and clichés that could plague this story – and SV does a good job of using this potential to do something a bit different with its plot-line. It starts with the protagonist, Aria, moving into a new home – aforementioned mansion once belonging to her grandfather – using this occasion to invite her best friend Melody for a sleepover. Quickly, strange events start happening, leading the girls to a discovery that suddenly confronts them with a reality of magic, supernatural creatures and various deadly threats, also biding Aria’s fate to a demon she accidentally freed from a crystal. The plot is somewhat relaxed when it goes to pacing, but offers high stakes and decent amounts of drama – much of it is focused on romance, but even in more-relaxed moments it doesn’t forget the life-or-death intrigue happening in the background.
At first glance, the game might look like "demon-porn" and does a questionable job of dispelling that notion with how it advertises itself – still, it’s nowhere close to being porn by any reasonable definition.
Speaking of romance, this aspect of the game is definitely its selling point and comes out as a positive, even if it's not without problems. The three heroines are very different from each other and offer unique perspectives on the overarching storyline (although there are some inconsistencies and confusing differences between the routes that weren't properly explained in the game). I’ve really enjoyed the emotional dynamic between them and the protagonist and the sexual tension building up in Lyria and Scherza routes. Aria herself is maybe the weakest point here, being rather indecisive and oblivious to clear signals of interest, especially in Melody route (“My best friend can’t possibly love me, even though she confessed to me three times already, right?”) – although this is a very common tactic for prolonging the drama and can be excused to some extent, while in general Aria isn't without some personality and agency. Every romance arc has at least one sex scene, which is mostly delivered through text, accompanied only by partially-nude CGs. The end effect for me felt quite tasteful and enjoyable without ever going into obvious pornography.
The CGs and the artstyle in general also need to be mentioned in some details, as it’s another way in which this VN differentiates itself from many similar projects. The drawings are often not extremely detailed, but uses softer lines and pastel colours in a way that creates a look distinct from most anime-style visual novels and which for me felt very appealing. Sprites are pretty simple, but good-looking (maybe with a single exception of Aria’s mother and her dead eyes), while CGs vary between pretty and absolutely gorgeous. This style also works very well with the rather-mild eroticism of the story – even at it's most graphic moments, it doesn't feel like hentai. Music, from the catchy menu screen tune to the background music throughout the story matches the overall climate of the game and didn’t make me turn it off at any point, which is much more than I can say about many other indie VNs I’ve read.
Romance in VNs often feels rushed and contrived - in Starlight Vega all heroines were at least given backstories and motivations that explain their interest in Aria.
The praise I’ve given to SV so far might seem a bit far-fetched, but I think it’s well-deserved and reflects the immense enjoyment the game gave me – obviously, there are also important flaws in it. Some parts of the writing, especially at the beginning of the story, are pretty inconsistent, doing a mediocre job of establishing the characters and making them likeable. Same goes to some endings, like Lyria’s epilogue, which puts the protagonist in some unnecessarily awkward situations, and especially the tacked-on, barely coherent "secret" harem route, which honestly should simply not exist. The yuri romance itself suffers from the same problem that's present in many Japanese titles, that is making all the characters gay by default and never elaborating in any meaningful way on their attraction towards woman (what might be somewhat understandable with “demons” from another world, but much less with an apparently average high-schooler such as Aria).
For me, all these are fairly minor gripes though, for the title which is above all a very sweet yuri romance with an imaginative story and interesting setting. It’s rather short and lacks voice acting, so it definitely cannot compete directly with high-budget titles like Flowers series or Kindred Spirits on the Roof. In its own category though, it’s one of the best indie yuri VNs I've read and a memorable experience, that is definitely worth investing the 7-8 hour necessary to read through the three main routes. It also regularly goes on sale on Steam, so if you’re patient, you can grab it for very little money and receive a decent amount of quality content.
Final verdict: 3.5/5
+ Interesting setting and a fairly unique story premise
+ Well-done yuri romance and (non-pornographic) erotic segments
+ Good looking, distinct artstyle
- Inconsistent storytelling between routes
- Pointless, tacked-on harem route