Making a visual novel where the story takes elements from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which I’m going to refer to under its more well known name among most people, Alice in Wonderland, during this review because I am too lazy to write an extra word into the title…hey, at least I’m honest!) for inspiration is an idea that I’m honestly surprised hasn’t been done more often. Think about it: a story where you find yourself in a strange fantasy realm with no idea how you got there and nothing seems like it makes sense? That’s pretty much ripe for exploring in a visual novel and could be done so easily! Yet, surprisingly, it’s a story which a lot of people seem to be reluctant to want to tackle as part of a visual novel. Maybe people just want to stick with the romance angle that a lot of visual novels use, maybe it’s been used so much elsewhere that people forget just how imaginative it is or maybe people are so familiar with the Disney movie that they assume that’s all there is to the novel and its sequel (which is interesting, because Walt Disney actually disliked how the final film turned out and was glad that it flopped at the time of release!), but, either way, the idea of tackling a descent into Wonderland itself is one that doesn’t pop up much in visual novels. To an extent, the core idea behind it is still used a lot (finding yourself involved in a world you didn’t even know existed? Not unique to Alice in Wonderland, but certainly something most people familiar with the story would say sounds familiar!), but the idea of going all out on the strange environments? Not so much.
To an extent, The Bottom of the Well is on the same lines as what you might expect from an Alice in Wonderland visual novel, yet it tries to do something very different from it at the same time which I actually find somewhat commendable. I do have some complaints with it, but, overall, I find it interesting enough to say it’s worth a look into.
Considering everything I’ve just said, most of you will be reading this and going “It’s basically Alice in Wonderland, but going in a different direction, isn’t it?” Well, in a way, yes: the protagonist is named Alice and she finds herself having a dream which feels so close to real life than she doesn’t realise she was dreaming until she wakes up. However, what actually happens in the game is that Alice is witnessing a bombing of the city she is and the visual novel comprises of her telling the story of what happened to a person via social media who bears a resemblance to the mad hatter. Admittedly, this does make the analogy of comparing the game to Alice in Wonderland seem a bit forced, but it’s not the worst implementation of the idea I’ve ever seen. There are a few token elements from RPGs in that Alice has stats which can be changed to better suit her ability to survive (or not) and she has to select a range of items to make her ability to survive certain situation different, but they’re not all that noticeable, if I’m honest, and their impact upon the game is probably only really noticeable if you’re playing the game a lot (which I wasn’t). It also arguably harkens back a bit to old fashioned visual novels is that, if you don’t have the item you need, you tend to die and bad decisions can screw you over in ways you won’t even realise until they finally come back to kick you in the backside, but the game doesn’t go to the extent of Sierra’s old fashioned visual novels of practically celebrating your death, so it’s still somewhat forgiving.
That art style is actually not too bad, opting for a general black and white style for most of the artwork, although there are occasions where the color red appears in the artwork. The overall style goes for a more gothic themed look, albeit with enough modern touches to avoid feeling like something ripped right out of a Victorian novel. It’s actually not a bad way of doing this sort of game, if I’m honest, and I can’t help finding it all interesting to look at.
The controls…well, it’s a visual novel, so you don’t really HAVE any controls to speak of, unless you count the requirement that your system have a mouse or a touch screen to allow you to navigate the screen.
I think my big issue is that the game’s adherence to the old school style of adventure game means that the game relies on you memorising most of the game to get the perfect ending. I’m not calling this a bad thing in and of itself, since most games rely on some degree of memorisation (even if it’s just learning an enemy’s attack pattern), but the reason most old school adventure games were notorious for their difficulty was because they were punishing a player for making stupid decisions and were unforgiving because, well, most of the bad decisions being made WERE really stupid decisions when you thought about them hard enough. However, you usually got punished in a way that was somewhat amusing to see and the punishment was usually fairly rapid. Here, though, you could be screwed out of a way to get the best ending to the game from the first decision you make and not realise it until you reach the point where the decision costs you (although the game itself takes around 20 minutes to get through each time, so it’s not quite as frustrating as some games in that regard, though still annoying if you don’t know what you did wrong!) and, since the tone of the game is more serious than the well known old school adventure games (although some old school adventure games had downright horrifying deaths and a serious tone: Wax Works springs to mind!), deaths don’t carry quite as much humor to them if you die. Now, obviously, this isn’t a bad game because of that, but I can’t help feeling that this lets the game down a bit.
Ultimately, though, there’s nothing really bad about The Bottom of the Well. I’m not convinced it’ll hold up to a lot of repeated playthroughs (which is problematic, considering the game practically demands a lot of replays!), but it’s fun enough for passing the time for a bit. If you’re into visual novels and need a way to kill some time, then there are certainly far worse ways to do that than playing this game.