Draculesti is a lavish visual novel that boasts gothic flair – Preview

Draculesti stood out at SXSW Sydney 2023, thanks to its strong narrative prowess, and an eye-catching visual style.
draculesti game preview sxsw sydney 2023

Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been visited and revisited on countless occasions, in movies, and stage plays, and television shows, and yes, in video games. It’s a tale we all return to again, and again, for its everlasting themes of seduction and danger, and forbidden desire. In Drăculești, an upcoming visual novel from Australia-based studio Fine Feathered Fiends, these themes are once again explored, although this time through modern, rose-tinted lenses, as Dracula has been reimagined as a romantic love interest in a story that focuses on power, beauty, humanity, and the dark, gothic tragedy of falling in love.

Fine Feathered Fiends showed off Drăculești as part of SXSW Sydney 2023 (and earlier, at PAX Aus) with a simple call to action, written on a coffin-shaped sign: GAY DRACULA. NEED WE SAY MORE. It was, as you’d assume, incredibly compelling, and enticed multiple SXSW-goers – GamesHub included. But across a half-hour of text-based adventuring, the Drăculești demo provided to be more than its clever marketing.

Enter Castle Dracula

In a crowded room at the Mercure Sydney, diving into Drăculești was like stumbling onto a warm hearth. The minute the headphones were on, the game’s moody soundscape and artwork painted a whole new landscape to life, with lush text bolstering a splendid picture of Dracula’s Castle and its many, strange inhabitants.

Read: What video game funding really means for local Australian developers

Drăculești begins with a choice. You are Roger M. Renfield, here imagined as a more put-together businessman, brought into Castle Dracula as an unwitting pawn in a larger game. Renfield is anxious, and begins noticing strange things about the castle – but it isn’t long before he’s enthralled by its denizens, and must make a choice: who will he let himself fall in love with?

draculesti demo sxsw sydney 2023
Image: Fine Feathered Fiends

There’s Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, a centuries-old vampire with a flair for drama and flirtation. There’s The Ghost, a spiritual figure with a dark and tragic history waiting to be uncovered. There’s Cezara Dracula, the second of Dracula’s tragedy-bound wives, and finally, Johnathan Harker, who is actually Renfield’s boss in this adaptation.

Each potential partner has a deep backstory – and it’s up to you to uncover it.

Richness and intrigue

In my playthrough at SXSW Sydney 2023, I chose the most obvious route – to romance Dracula – despite every sign of danger, and his creepy tendency to push the limits, and attempt to coerce Renfield into obeying his will. It’s hard not to pick Dracula, really. With lavish art depicting him as an imposing royal figure with a tender gaze and flowing white locks, he’s very eye-catching.

Other classic characters get similar treatment, with each character portrait packed with shaded details and personality. The Ghost is pale and blue-hued, but carries itself with a sense of honour that hints at a noble past life. Ileana, another of Dracula’s wives is sickly and defeated, and carries the burden of the world on her shoulders.

The appearance of each of these figures is built up slowly, in layers of text delivered against gorgeous backdrops – a snow-capped mountain, an ancient library, dark halls – with slow suspense built by tense encounters, and horrors creeping at the edges of the story.

In Drăculești, a slow-burn flirtation may melt to reveal frightening and surreal imagery, as Renfield’s anxious state of mind begins bleeding into the game’s overarching romantic plots. There are moments of sweetness and romance in the text – but equally, Drăculești leans heavily into its horror roots (developer Mads Mackenzie cited 2004’s Van Helsing as a core inspiration) with the appearance of apparitions, and the constant threat of death looming.

draculesti gameplay
Image: Fine Feathered Fiends

The game leans into this strange, gothic imagery to weave its story, frequently entering the dream realm to heighten the terror facing Renfield, and depict the consequences of his forbidden love. There’s a wonderful balance between these elements, with the artwork and writing equally flowery and descriptive, elevating the horror and romance at the heart of this tale.

Drăculești feels incredibly rich, and even in an early preview at SXSW Sydney 2023, it showed gleaming, fascinating teeth. It may have been the most different game on show at the SXSW Sydney Games Festival – and for that reason, it was also one of the most compelling.

After a brief sojourn to Dracula’s Castle, we’re very keen to see more of Drăculești in future. You can now wishlist the game on Steam or follow its developers on Twitter.

Stay tuned for more game previews from SXSW Sydney 2023.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.