Arcana Visual Novel: Magic, Mystery And A Sexy Torture Dungeon

  • Android
  • iOS
Who, oh who might this mystery man be?
Who, oh who might this mystery man be? (c) Nix Hydra Games

Visual novel Arcana is a delightful free-to-play app on both iOS and Android, filled with an appealing blend of murder, magic and mystery. Lively writing and gorgeous character art make Arcana a tiny jewel of its kind, and the story behind the visual novel is just as intriguing as the branching narrative of Arcana itself.

Female-founded mobile gaming company Nix Hydra challenged itself with an experiment called Nix Hydra Labs, where team members had only six weeks to complete a project. CEO and co-founder Lina Chen explained, “It came about after the company overhauled a rigid production process that meant products took a long time to launch. The idea behind the six weeks was to ask: what could we ship in a mere six weeks, if everyone here had the complete freedom to organize themselves into whatever teams they liked and worked on whatever they thought would bring the most value to our audience and our company?”

Arcana itself was the brainchild of two people: artist Dana Rune and writer Nik Ladizinsky. “During the Nix Hydra Labs period, the Arcana team was just me and Nik, so our project had to play to our strengths (character art & writing) and require as little programming as possible,” Rune said. “We wanted to create something indulgent that we'd be really excited about playing if we were the audience.”

Rune and Ladizinsky used Kickstarter to gauge interest in their project, ultimately garnering $42,000 after setting a $30,000 goal. They were the only Nix Hydra Lab team who ran a Kickstarter. “We remain incredibly grateful to our Kickstarter backers, because they were the first people to support us, and it’s their support that proved this whole project was worth continuing,” Rune said.

The world of Arcana is heavily influenced by tarot cards. Each of the main characters is based on one of the Major Arcana, and each book in the game ties to the card after which it’s named. With just two people on the original team, there was “lots of back-and-forth” between character design and development.

“The characters were developed inside and out pretty much simultaneously,” said Rune. “It helps that Nik also draws, and I am also involved in the story development and editorial process, so even though our roles are ‘artist’ and ‘writer,’ that flexibility can make for richer collaboration.” The visual and written aspects of Arcana, noted Rune, are “pretty inextricable from each other.”

As for the story itself, the team planned it from beginning to end. Each update has an outline as well, and art assets are created as needed. That being said, “a lot of the nitty gritty gets hammered down as we’re actually writing the scenes,” said writer Elle Hudson. “We have a plan—but that plan can always change.”

While the team enjoys all their creations, each writer has their favorites. “Lucio’s extravagantly bad taste and poor life decisions make him the sort of character I get really excited to write, because you never know what he’s going to do next—and he’s willing to do just about anything,” said Hudson.

Rune loves the animal co-stars, while Ladizinsky calls Nadia the best and Muriel the most relatable. “His moments are always a breeze to write, since I also long to live in solitude and only go out in public every once in a while to mumble doomsday prophecies,” said Ladizinsky.

Finally, the writers teased what’s coming next for Arcana in three words. Hudson offered, “sexy torture dungeon,” while Ladizinsky simply said, “Trust no one.”

For more on Arcana , check out our detailed review here. Arcana is free to play and available here for iOS and here on Google Play. You can also follow the game’s official Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram to stay updated.

Visual Novel Arcana Marries Magic, Murder And Romance
Beautiful art, great writing and a strong sense of character make this visual novel a hidden gem.
  • Great art
  • Great dialogue
  • Characters feel distinct
  • Plot is intriguing
  • Main character is no wallflower
  • Not enough dialogue options
  • Must wait for new chapters
  • No multiple save slots
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