“The Difference Between Us” Review
Release date: .
Developers: Robin Daydream.
Verdict: 4/5 stars. For its depiction of a date and how it talks about relationships, it’s gangbusters. Don’t let the premise fool you: this is the real thing.
A visual novel about pretty pastel ponies is remarkable in itself; one that avoids being crack cocaine cuteness and is written in one of the most mature styles I’ve seen from Itch in a long, long time, is exceptionally remarkable and is overall a very good thing. Through the lens of Brony Heck, one sees a simulation of a woman without confidence, though with a quiet dignity, attempting to herd an extraordinary time out of a first date who has a very bubbly dignity, indeed.
It’s set in the Friendship is Magic universe. Does it have to be? For the artist, yes, it absolutely must. For the audience, not so much, but then we would lose out on the crisp, breezy art, which sticks to your eyeballs like toffee, sickly sweet, and doesn’t let go. It saves on exposition, because most people who read this novel are already familiar with the subject matter. Pink Ponk sure likes parties. Fuffershy sure is a Yellow Shy. But they are far from stereotypes; in but an hour, they have more character than most books expose in several.
How did this happen? How does one create a work of art like this? Why must the best thing I’ve seen all week come from a source that I never expected? I may have learned its lessons years ago, but when I first learned them, they were revolutionary. It’s a story about love. The title is about love. It’s about having the confidence to recognise it and understand just what it may contain. There are hints of polyamory. But your task is really simple, and really gay: show your date a good time. It will be uncomfortable.
The Ponk Offensive
You are Fluttershy, who knows nothing about relationships and has very little confidence in having one. Your first date is Pinkie Pie, whose thoughts are inscrutable beyond being joyous and switching very quickly to morose. The novel demands no deep inspection of who these characters are; fans of the series will appreciate how much love and care was given into their personalities, being consistent with the show, but evolving so far beyond it that it’s a wonder they ever came from a kids cartoon.
Note to artists: 10% of your fans do 90% of the fanart. It is your obligation and your duty to make everything you create the highest quality it possibly can be. When you see those who have devoted themselves to you, making work that surpasses yours, the honourable thing to do is to show them the proper respect and improve yourselves to match. Whether this is in a corporate or independent sense, if you are a creator of media, then you must, you must, give them something to be proud of. Otherwise, they will spend the rest of their tenure living under a cloud of doubt that what they enjoy is something that they should enjoy.
A lot of character design in amateur works is flat; they fall into patterns. They react the same way each time, have the same tics, and are typically predictable. Though these characters are consistent, I cannot say they are predictable. Fluttershy is a worrywart — that’s just what she is. One cannot expect change over just a few hours of in – novel time. But being a worrywart, one must expect that she worries. A lot. If you’re fine with that, then fine for you. I know my personality has evolved years past being someone who worries. I can’t relate to it. It ends up repetitive for me. But I am partially recommending this novel because even if I, myself, have moved past needing it, I know it can do a lot of good for those who do.
Just by experiencing a date, however fictional, you earn the experience of what to expect during one. I recall one time in high school asking somebody if they were infatuated with me (not in those words, as I wasn’t a ponce), because having seen and heard countless stories about kids at home just like me being too afraid to talk to the girl you like, myself a part of that story for several months which ended in such a cringe – inducing way that I cannot even bear to talk about it, I didn’t want to live my life as a beta male. And you know what happened? She said no. What did I do? I moved on. I thought about it for a day or two, and then just stopped thinking about it.
These are the lessons that our young people need to see: to learn that it’s okay to be afraid, to embrace your fear of rejection and of being an imperfect person, to say wrong things and to care about who you’re with, because in understanding your fear, you understand that you’re doing something that you’ve never done before, will very quickly learn about, and what other people you know have already gotten through. Fear is a sign that something is worth doing, for not only is it impossible to be afraid of the familiar, it is better to regret having done something than to regret having never.
It is well that the characters are not written as archetypes, but as people — within reason, as this is fiction. Had they been written any other way, say as jokers or plot devices, then the impact of the story would be far less. This is a story that, despite its premise, needs to be grounded in reality, and so it is. In just an hour, one gets the feeling of a depth of character and a heavy backstory from everyone, however implied they might be, and for the artist to develop this much care is a yardstick for other artists to judge their own.
I learned the difference between love and infatuation like this: infatuation is when you think of someone all the time. Love is when you don’t always think about someone, but are happy when you do. It’s understanding their flaws and accepting them, rather than pretending they don’t exist. In essence, you treat your partner as who they are, and not who you’d like them to be.
Well, I like this visual novel. It’s the type of novel that could only ever exist in this day and age, and one of those gems you go out into the indie wasteland with the understanding that while 90% of everything is crap, the other 10% makes it all worthwhile. Even if it didn’t have the revelations of something like Katawa Shoujo, which is the novel I always pull out and pray nobody knows I barely read them, it is still a worthwhile read.
In fact, I will make a decree. If you’re into romance, read it. If you’re into love, read it. If you like horses, read it. It’s good. Real good. Teach us, show us, make us feel and think about more, and it will be great. But it is a good novel. A good, good, novel. Good. Novel. Good.