April was quite the month for TRON fans, seeing both the opening of the TRON: Lightcycle Power Run roller coaster in Disney World and the launch of TRON: Identity, a visual novel-style video game for the Nintendo Switch and PC. Considering the films heavily feature digital warriors forced to compete in deadly contests, the world of TRON has always felt especially suited for video games. The last game in the franchise was TRON: RUN/r, an “action arcade” game that took inspiration from mobile games and dropped on consoles in 2016. Needless to say, we’ve been long overdue for a TRON video game, and Bithell Games has provided one, unlike anything fans could have expected. While the previous game pulled inspiration from Temple Runner, Identity is more Blade Runner with its futuristic, slow-burn noir story and mysterious cast of characters.
TRON: Identity puts you in the role of Query, a member of the Disciples of Tron. The DoT are essentially detectives that operate above the law, and they swear an oath to search for the truth without interfering in the events that surround it. You’re asked to investigate a theft at the Repository, a place where powerful items are stored. Not only must you figure out who blew up a vault and robbed its contents, but you must also need to figure out what was stolen, as the facility’s keepers are in the dark about what they’re looking after. As the night goes on, you meet a colorful bunch of programs who each bring their own perspectives and agendas to the case: a grizzled veteran, a zealous administrator, a conflicted librarian, a sarcastic automaton, an amnesiac guard, and a cold-hearted thief.
This was my first time playing a visual novel, but the closest thing I can compare it to is a Telltale game, but with prose instead of motion and voice acting. There’s a lot of emphasis on choice as you find it more and more difficult to adhere to the “do not interfere” part of the DoT creed, and every decision has a major impact on the story. I played through the game twice in preparation for this review to see some of the different directions the branching narrative could take, and I got two very different endings. Because many of the characters have pretty strong opinions, choosing to trust one will most certainly cause another to become your enemy. Bithell Games head (and Identity’s writer) Mike Bithell has confirmed that the studio is going to do more TRON games in the future, so it’ll be interesting to see if the decisions you make in this game will influence the follow-ups in a Mass Effect sort of way.
Aside from dialogue-based gameplay, there’s also a “disc defragging” puzzle minigame where you help programs regain lost memories, and it’s… fine. As far as little side activities in video games go, it’s not the most annoying or frustrating, but it’s definitely the weakest part of Identity. The puzzles just don’t feel remarkably rewarding to complete, and I found myself grateful for the ability to skip these segments on my second playthrough.
Something that does feel rewarding is all of the little ways that Identity expands on the universe of TRON. The game takes place in the “Arq Server”, a backup version of the Grid that Kevin Flynn developed to harbor some of the ISOs from the villainous CLU. This creates a neat little workaround to allow the game to be set after TRON: Legacy, which ended with the destruction of the Grid. It also presents a digital world that has familiar aesthetics but possesses a history that fans aren’t familiar with. For example, multiple characters reference a conflict called the “Adjunct War”, and it feels a lot like the Clone Wars being name-dropped in the original Star Wars long before the prequels existed to explain what that was. We have no idea what the Adjunct War was fought over or what factions were involved, but it does seem like a tantalizing bit of lore that Bithell Games will explore later down the line.
TRON: Identity also gives the franchise yet another killer soundtrack, this time composed by Dan le Sac. Like Giorgio Moroder and Raney Shockne’s TRON: Run/r soundtrack, the music of Identity does its own thing independent of Daft Punk’s iconic TRON: Legacy score. It borrows the moody, electric vibes of the film’s soundtrack, but it doesn’t try to recreate any of the specific melodies from it. It wouldn’t really make sense to have a dance track like “Derezzed” play on repeat in the background of a game that requires a lot of reading, so le Sac goes for something a bit more subdued and ambient. These are, essentially, “lo-fi beats to solve mysteries to”. Still, le Sac manages to cover a wide variety of tones, ranging from “ominous” to “energetic”, without ever letting the music completely overtake your attention. The soundtrack fits seamlessly into the game and is also a great listen on its own.
At $15 USD, this game is easily a must-have for any TRON fan. Even if you’re new to visual novels like I was, TRON: Identity’s writing and worldbuilding will suck you in like a laser beaming Kevin Flynn into the digital realm. While a single playthrough isn’t particularly long (it’s about two hours if you aren’t rushing things), this game’s replay value and fresh take on the Grid make it definitely worth jumping into.