If there is one thing you can be sure of, it’s that true happiness might be buried deep in the sunny beaches of South Italy. Lounging in the sand, taking in the sun, eating delicious food. That might really sound like heaven on earth, but that same heaven also hides a portal to hell. That seems to be the conundrum for Claudio, Mida and Andrea, the “Ragazzi del sole” (the sun kids) who are wondering if they can save each other from themselves.
In the latest offering from Santa Ragione (Saturnalia, Wheels of Aurelia), which Stealth Optional got to experience in a preview, we get taken through the internal turmoil of three young kids. We meet them in Milano in early 2020, where the three kids are having the time of their lives and are loved by everyone. Then COVID hits - which hit especially hard in Italy - and their lives suddenly changed overnight. The pandemic does not just end after three months of lockdown, as we know, but continues throughout the following years.
Two years later, the three are meeting again in sunny Puglia for a short holiday, right before Ferragosto, a religious holiday taking place on the 15th of August (which is incidentally the “day of the ascension”). Will the religious significance of this holiday actually bring clarity to the kids? Will they be able to rekindle their friendship?
The visual novel takes us through neon-pink steamy beaches and De Chirico-inspired vistas of little towns in Puglia, where the kids try to shake off the pandemic years that mostly devastated Italy and its society. You get to choose, at several points, what you are going to do in the story: are you visiting a flea market or a disco? Are you going to the beach or staying home to lounge in the pool?
While Mediterranea Inferno is still very much a visual novel at its core, the gameplay is a bit more interactive than the previous game from Lorenzo Redaelli, the writer who also developed Milky Way Prince for Santa Ragione. Mirages are the main core of Mediterranea’s gameplay, with players free to move between different places, along with clicking hotspots to interact with the environment. Basically, while playing we collect sunny coins which we can use to peel back a prickly pear, suck its tender nectar to access “mirages”.
Mirages are also the way in which we experience the personal stories of our three main characters. Each one also hides a saint card, which, considering what we’ve seen in the preview, will let players access different endings depending on how many you managed to track down during your little illusionary travels. A note for the soundtrack too, which alternates between deviated Italo Disco with John Carpenter-like soundscape of heavy synths. Some of the sequence may indeed be quite disquieting feeling more like nightmares than mirages.
It is already pretty clear from this preview that it will take numerous playthroughs to see everything the game has to offer. Each mirage is differently themed depending on the person biting the juicy fruit. Claudio is definitely down the route of the religious “I have to be like my grandpa” type. Andrea is a sex starved little pervert and won’t lose a single chance to imagine hot guys lusting after him in a desperate attempt to quench his loneliness. Mida is a model, so he will be all about trying to maintain his glacial image, while also being secretly in love with Claudio.
The best part of the game is undoubtedly the visuals, as it is easy to agree looking at the screens. This is one of the most stylish visual novels you’ll ever play. Plain and simple. The hot neon pink, the subtle-as-a-hammer-in-your-face sexual references, the almost constantly topless protagonists. Is it me or is it getting hot in here? While Mediterranea Inferno might really play like a collection of gay fantasies, it barely manages to hide its undercurrent of depression.
Its sadness is not simply that of its three main characters, but a generational tristesse for the Gen Z. The 20-somethings feel like they’ve been robbed of a future that was never there in the first place. Will they actually get to experience something new? Will they be able to access something that is not simply a rehash of the past? Of someone else’s nostalgia? Redaelli writes Mediterranea to ask questions of its audience, while not seemingly being able to find any satisfying answers. Or, maybe, we’ll have to play until the end to find out if there are actually any.
Mediterranea is the perfect balance between happiness and desperation, carefree steamy sex and the regret of the night after, the beauty of the body and the horror of our own insecurities. Santa Ragione confirms once again, by giving space to Lorenzo Redaelli’s unique voice and vision, to be one of the more interesting indie studios around. We will definitely be interested to experience the full stylish decadence when Mediterranea Inferno drops, later in 2023.