The English release of Laplacian’s The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons was one of my highly anticipated visual novels of 2023. Future Radio promises science fiction that radically reshapes society and a mystery with a solid hook, which were enough to get me on board.
The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons has an interesting vision of a post-apocalyptic society of sorts. We take the Information Age for granted. Everyone is always reachable, only a call or text away. Almost everything you could ever want to know is just an internet search away. But in the world of Future Radio, this is no longer true. Humanity poured its hopes and resources into a distributed computing network composed of artificial pigeons. All-purpose and self-regulating, this network was a technological wonder that humanity came to rely on. That is, until the wave eating began. 15 years before the events of Future Radio, the artificial pigeons began blocking rather than transmitting electronic signals. Overnight, communications went dark and the Information Age came to an abrupt end. Humanity went from dreaming of the limitless cosmos to being trapped in a cage of silence. Isolation replaced interconnectedness. Still, people did what they always do: adapt to living in the new world.
Future Radio very much falls into soft science fiction. There’s not much effort made to explain how the technologies in the story work, and what little there is is quite hand-wavy. Nor is there much exploration on the societal level of why exactly things turned out the way they did. The role of technology is to provide an extranormal stage for Future Radio’s characters and ideas, one with just enough scaffolding to hold things together. I didn’t mind this, but if you’re someone who likes thinking deeply about speculative science and rules-based systems, you might find Future Radio frustratingly vague and capricious.
Fight the Future
The start of the wave eating was a cataclysmic event. Planes fell from the sky. Machinery worldwide failed. The death toll was massive. Future Radio’s protagonist, Yamanashi Sora, is the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his parents and countless others that fateful day. Sora hates the pigeons, not only for taking his family but for taking the sky he loved flying in, and for taking the ties that connected people. Almost by chance, Sora manages to construct a radio system with waves that are not eaten by the pigeons. He distributes his few radios to others with personal connections to the plane crash that killed his parents and begins broadcasting–his attempt to reclaim some small piece of what the pigeons took. However, he soon discovers his radios have a second function: they can receive broadcasts from the future. Ominously, the first such broadcast is a report on Sora’s death in an accident three weeks from the present.
Given its intriguing premise, it’s a bit disappointing that The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons opens with Sora’s adoptive sister Mizuki calling him a lonely virgin and making a bunch of dick jokes. (Perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that lead writer Ono Wasabi’s next work was World’s Horniest Housewife–Rikki Horne). Sora next goes to the ruins of the airport terminal where the crash that killed his parents occurred to give radios to others affected by the disaster. There he meets Kosumo Akina, an upbeat student who works at the local academy’s coffee shop, and Azamino Tsubaki, a brilliant but acerbic researcher who played a role in developing the artificial pigeons. The supporting cast includes Sora’s adoptive mother Yamanashi Touko who took him in after his parents’ deaths and the male friend character Ooishi Maruo who seems to relish commiserating with Sora about the pair’s status as single virgins.
And then there’s Hazuki Kaguya, a mysterious white-haired girl Sora meets at the site of the crash that killed his parents. While Sora hates the artificial pigeons, Kaguya says she loves them. And when Sora shares the prophecy of his death, Kaguya calmly tells him not to worry. He won’t die, because she won’t let it happen. Despite their differences, Sora feels strangely drawn to this slight and quiet girl who lives alone in an abandoned airport.
The common route sees Sora and his friends come together in an effort to change his fate. Whatever Kaguya’s plan, she is unwilling to share, and all the group have to go on is an enigmatic reference in the future radio broadcast to “the fall of Blue Sky”. The group formulates a plan to stop this impending disaster while carrying on the radio broadcasts Sora started. Meanwhile, Sora attempts to draw Kaguya out of her shell and show her there’s more to the world than a ruined airport.
Following the common route, Future Radio features routes for Mizuki, Akina, and Tsubaki arranged in a ladder structure plus a final route for Kaguya which branches from an early choice that is initially unavailable. The first three routes can be played in any order, but Tsubaki’s route must be completed to unlock Kaguya’s. Taken together, Tsubaki’s and Kaguya’s routes form the main plot that investigates Future Radio’s central mystery. While they do have some foreshadowing, Mizuki’s and Akina’s routes are largely side stories that explore their heroines.
Speaking from the Heart
Mizuki’s route centers on her obvious crush on her adoptive brother. All her teasing is really a way of showing affection. The events of the common route convince Mizuki that she shouldn’t delay making her move, and she invites (or perhaps cons) Sora into a couples trip to a resort catering to her hobby of brewing tea. As you might expect given Mizuki’s penchant for dick jokes, this is the comedy route. The jokes are nothing special, but Mizuki’s playfulness can be cute, and the comfortable intimacy she and Sora share from their time living together as adoptive siblings makes a good foundation for the couple to build their romance on.
Like Sora, Akina lost loved ones when the wave eating began. The pair initially bond over their enjoyment of broadcasting over the radio system Sora built. As they grow closer, they begin to share their burdens and trauma with each other, and ultimately, learn how to support one another. The romance felt a bit rushed here, with Akina already suggesting interest in Sora in the common route. Still, there are some nice scenes with the couple, and I enjoyed VA Ogura Yui’s modulation between Akina’s public voice as a radio broadcaster and the more intimate tone she takes with Sora.
Azamino Tsubaki was the protege of Hazuki Izana, creator of the artificial pigeons, and in fact worked on their development. It was also Hazuki Izana who started the wave eating, caused countless deaths, and broke the world. Tsubaki struggles with two simultaneous realities: Hazuki Izana her beloved mentor and Hazuki Izana the enemy of the world. For Tsubaki, both these things will always be true, and the pain is compounded by the fact that Izana, and whatever reasons she might have had for doing what she did, are gone. Tsubaki’s route sees her and Sora bond over their desire to understand the mystery of the artificial pigeons, and by extension, Hazuki Izana. As with Akina’s route, I liked the ideas Tsubaki’s route explores but felt the development of the relationship was rushed, especially toward the end.
Kaguya’s route gets into spoiler territory, but I can say that a central theme throughout all the routes of Future Radio is the fallout people struggle with when they are unable to communicate. What do you do when an important person leaves you behind with questions you can never ask, as Izana did to her protege Tsubaki and her daughter Kaguya? How do you accept that those you long most to speak to are forever unreachable, as Akina must with the family she lost in the accident? And for Mizuki, how do you tell your brother you’re in love with him? Even Sora is haunted by visions–perhaps dreams, perhaps memories–where he chases a figure, but always from behind and unable to speak, no matter how much he wills it.
I found The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons strongest in the quiet, contemplative moments when it immerses you in the mood of its isolated world and the inner struggles of its characters. Scenes such as two characters quietly walking through a park or Sora’s yearning reminiscences are enchanting while they last. Too often though, it feels like Future Radio leans away from this strength and instead wants to hurry to the next plot point. Or worse, decides to interject with tired eroge tropes. While I don’t have a problem with sex scenes, I’m not sure that Future Radio benefited from being forced into the standard eroge structure. I found it distracting when Sora and Maruo launched into cliche talk about girls’ boob sizes or life as lonely virgins. Nor did it seem necessary to include a recurring plot point where Akina’s coffee shop did good business because all the guys at the academy wanted to ogle her.
The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons aspires to leave an impact. It asks questions about what it means to be human and connect with others. Reveals highlight the power of perspective and how a small change in how you look at things can have huge implications. The characters and their bonds are tested by challenging situations intended to make you empathize with them and build to emotional climaxes. On face, these are compliments and Future Radio has both an interesting concept and good ideas. Unfortunately, it squanders its potential with lazy writing. Future Radio tries to skip straight to the payoff without putting in the work to develop its characters, relationships, and ideas first.
Pacing is a tricky thing to talk about because it’s more nuanced than just the speed at which the story unfolds. Good pacing masters the flow of time. Time might stop in an eternal instant or a decade can go by in a blur, depending on the needs of the narrative. Pacing is at the heart of Future Radio’s shortcomings. Future Radio allots only a few scenes to build relationships, both comradely and romantic, between Sora and the heroines. This can work, but it requires mastering the flow of time. For one, it helps to be able to believe that I am looking in on part of a process of growing closer that continues even when it’s not the on-screen focus. More importantly, the scenes Future Radio does choose to show need a strong sense of presence. I want to feel that in this moment, the world around the pair comes to a stop as two people allow their hearts to intertwine. I want to explore the complexities of trust, intimacy, and love that bring these people together. All of this takes thoughtful, intentional writing that’s willing to take its time, even if the story itself moves relatively quickly.
Future Radio’s relationship-building feels more like checking boxes. Once the minimum number of boxes have been checked (generally by one nice scene with a moment of intimacy), the characters are in love and the story can move on to the next plot point. What made this especially disappointing is that I think the climactic scenes are well-constructed, and with better build-up, could have been memorable highlights. But because the relationships felt rushed and unconvincing, it was difficult to get invested in the challenges the characters faced together.
Future Radio’s thematic ambitions similarly fail in their execution. The reveals are extremely predictable. This is not inherently bad, but Future Radio doesn’t leverage this in any way. Foreshadowing and predictability can be used to create dramatic tension and strengthen thematic coherence. However, Future Radio consistently showed characters being blindsided by possibilities they should have at least considered, and I was left wondering: was I supposed to be surprised too? Perspective shifts could be similarly jarring. Deeply-held beliefs shouldn’t change so easily. There should be a sense of struggle, of reconciling the new with the old. Sometimes Future Radio did this well. At other times, it was like a switch had flipped.
The 18+ version of The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons includes sex scenes for its 4 heroines, except for Kaguya who has 5. Each route features 2 of these scenes with the remainder offered as after-stories. I think this is a wise choice, lest too many scenes packed into too short a time kill the pacing. There’s also an out-of-nowhere scene with a background character that is for some reason required to unlock Kaguya’s epilogue. The scenes are mostly vanilla, although there is a threesome, and Future Radio offers to option to view them with or without mosaics.
Art, Sound, and Extras
The art in Future radio has a rounded feel, both in the geometry of the sprites’ features and the use of muted colors with lots of shadows and shading. There are a good number of CGs to highlight important moments, and they fit with the aesthetic, again often featuring indirect light and subtle mementos of the world before the pigeons. The art feels appropriate for Future Radio’s quiet world in which the constant stimulation of mass communication is a relic of the past.
My favorite part of the soundtrack was the impressionistic piano that accompanied Future Radio’s more dreamlike scenes. More generally, I liked that the soundtrack is restrained. It’s fitting for a story that’s less about its future society and more about the intimate relationships between its characters. As I mentioned, I found Akina’s VA to be the standout on that front. Meanwhile, Kaguya’s lines sometimes felt a bit flat. Though admittedly, it can be challenging to perform such a reserved character expressively.
The Future Radio and the Artificial Pigeons has an interesting concept and compelling themes. Unfortunately, it fumbles the execution, too often rushing to hit the next plot point rather than taking the time to build investment in its ideas and characters, and as result, undermines the emotional and thematic impact it aspires to.
WAIT FOR SALE ON THE FUTURE RADIO AND THE ARTIFICIAL PIGEONS
Many thanks go to the publisher NekoNyan for a 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.