Every hero has an origin story. These days, it’s probably been made into a 3-hour long CGI spectacle. Villains too – we naturally wonder what compels a person to install a death ray on their moon base and try to destroy the world. But what about the people standing behind these titans? And no, not the sidekicks and lieutenants, behind them too. Yes, the lowly henchman. After all, every villain needs someone to polish their armada of emblem emblazoned helicopters. That’s where Silken Sail Entertainment’s Henchman Story comes in.
Come take a look behind the curtain at what these people do when they’re not being repeatedly punched in the face by the forces of justice. What makes them tick? What kind of person looks at the job of a henchman and says: “Yeah, that’s what I want to do with my life”? Maybe they do it for the money or to serve the evil agenda. Or maybe henchmen are chasing their dreams just like the rest of us.
Behold the Bedlam!
Meet Stan: your average everyday henchman in the employ of D-list supervillain Lord Bedlam. Our story begins with Stan in the act of absconding with 50 pounds of kibble from the local pet store. You know, the first step in Lord Bedlam’s ultimate master plan. Stan’s life isn’t all critical missions and high-octane action though. Your typical secret lair has a lot of doors that need guarding. It’s not the most glamorous work, but as Stan tells it, a paycheck’s a paycheck, student loans, and all that. The job even comes with health insurance. Lord Bedlam might be a supervillain, but he’s not THAT evil.
Of course, it’s not only the job – it’s who you work with. Being a henchman comes with an office culture just like anywhere else. It starts with Lord Bedlam, who’s every bit the egotistical blowhard his costume suggests, but Stan’s squad supervisor Dave is the one who shapes his day-to-day experience. Remember that one boss you had who was all “we’re all in this together” until there was actual work to be done, in which case they were nowhere to be found? Well, that’s Dave. Dave may not be the brightest bulb, but he makes up for it with his relentless perkiness and idolization of Lord Bedlam.
Stan the Man
Stan is both the star of the story and your guide to the behind-the-scenes life of a henchman. Even if he’s no genius, Stan is clearly a cut above his coworkers, and his cynical wit is quite entertaining when he turns it on the inanity of his situation. Stan can become grating though. He has a snarky comeback ready for everything, and he’s always eager to frame his environment and coworkers as a load of bull, even when they offer him sincerity. Occasionally he comes off as a smug jerk who wants to bring others down so they can share in his misery. And sometimes I wanted him to cut the wisecracking and take things seriously, just for a moment. But for the most part, he’s a charismatic lead who works well with the tongue-in-cheek tone that Henchman Story usually takes.
Stan can also grow, though how exactly depends on the choices he (and you) make. In one sense, he’s clever and has that “in the know” cool. In another, Stan is kind of pitiful. Sure, he’s in a crap situation surrounded by idiots. But Lord Bedlam and Dave spend their days doing what they love, even if those things are insane and stupid. Stan can’t because he refuses to care or invest himself in anything. More than the hardships of his job, that’s the problem Stan needs to solve if he wants to find meaning. Henchman Story makes Stan more than a wisecracking slickster by exploring the different ways he might change, or not change, as he’s asked to look inward and decide who he wants to be.
Regular Everyday Living
The first half of Henchman Story pulls back the curtain on daily life as a henchman in the service of Lord Bedlam. You might think that being a henchman would at least free you from the banality of the corporate cubicle, but Henchman Story shows this is far from the case. It’s a hilarious deconstruction of office life in the context of heroes and villains, and Henchman Story is one of the funniest visual novels I’ve played. There are useless meetings about pointless ideas. There’s water-cooler talk between henchmen guarding maximum security doors that never open. And what do you do when your boss not only crashes your tabletop gaming session, but he’s a megalomaniacal supervillain sworn to mercilessly crush all who displease him?
As much as Stan hopes to keep his head down and cash checks, he might not be able to live his “ordinary” life forever. Where Lord Bedlam is more bark than bite, the newest supervillain in town, the devious Madame Scorpion, harbors dangerous ambition. Meanwhile, enthusiastic recruit Kate bursts onto the scene, and she and Stan quickly develop a rapport. These changes could be the spark Stan needs, but as he knows, getting involved means having to make difficult decisions.
The second half of Henchman Story moves to focus on the central conflicts and choices Stan faces. There are still great comedy scenes, but they move into a background role. The overarching story is one we’ve all heard before, and I didn’t find the large-scale antagonists and conflicts particularly compelling. Still, the characters make it worthwhile. Stan’s struggle is one we all go through in some form, and just because you’re not the headliner doesn’t mean your choices don’t matter. Other characters explore different aspects of this theme of choice and meaning, and their interplay forms the core of Stan’s challenges. The human moments where Stan has to face the people in his life as a man who believes in something rather than a wisecracking cynic are when Henchman Story hits the hardest.
Even Henchmen Can Make a Difference
Henchman Story features a large number of choices, and it uses them well. The game clearly indicates the few that control major story branching. The others shape your relationships with the rest of the cast, which determine who might be willing to help you out in a pinch or respond to romantic overtures, and let you roleplay Stan a bit. These smaller choices trigger brief branches in the dialogue, almost all of which are entertaining enough to be worth reading. Having choices doesn’t make Stan a blank slate though. You might be able to make him a little more or less sarcastic at times, but he’s a wise guy at heart. Similarly, the choices always feel like things Stan might plausibly do or evolve to do within his character.
Ultimately, your choices lead you to one of fifteen possible endings, although I would describe these as consisting of four main ideas with variations depending on the smaller choices you make along the way. I liked some significantly more than others, but part of that is Kate is just ridiculously fun and likable. The chemistry between Stan and Kate never misses a beat, and you can count on great banter in any scene they appear in together. Her motivations and idiosyncrasies are also better developed than those of the other major characters. In the story branches that don’t focus on her, Stan loses his best foil and conversation partner.
Art, Sound, and Extras
From the opening menu, Henchman Story absolutely nails the classic comic book aesthetic. The save and load menus look like comic book issues while the options menu is a sound effect bubble. Beyond the snazzy design, the suite of features is standard. All the buttons you need are there, and you can check previously encountered music tracks and CGs in the Extras menu. There’s no backlog, but you can scroll back as far as you like with the mouse wheel, and doing so replays the voiceovers.
Character designs feature the bold, garish colors seen in Golden Age hero and villain designs, while the music and sound effects could easily fit an old Saturday morning episode of Superfriends. The main idea is spot on, but I didn’t always dig the details. Characters sometimes have weirdly blocky and modular body parts, and the way their mouths move every few seconds over the dialogue gives off a goldfish vibe. The art does succeed in making everyone look distinct though. For some reason, Stan’s face is never shown. I found this odd given that he’s a defined character, not a self-insert protagonist. I also thought too many of the event CGs were spent on fight scenes. Henchman Story is at its best when it’s focusing on all the other stuff rather than the generic heroes versus villains showdown.
Henchman Story is one of the rare English language visual novels to have full voice acting, and it adds a lot of character to the experience. Most of the voice actors dive in with gusto. This works well for larger-than-life caricatures like Lord Bedlam and Dave, but it can occasionally make Stan and Madame Scorpion’s lines feel forced. The big standout is Kate’s voice actor, Anairis Quinoñes. She brings a great range that includes both zany energy for the comedic scenes as well as earnest sincerity for the more grounded, human moments and plays exceptionally well off the rest of the cast. Her performance was a huge part of why Kate ended up as my favorite character.
Henchman Story is a hilarious ride with a real heart to it, and its comic book style and full voice acting make it stand out from the crowd of English language visual novels. It’s an easy recommendation, especially if you’re looking for a change of pace from the usual anime-adjacent fare that visual novels are known for.
HENCHMAN STORY IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Silken Sail Entertainment for a PC review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.