Review: A New Don

When Fia arrives in the city, she learns the gift her “grandfather” left her is control of the Veranoche crime family. Can she survive long enough to inherit this dangerous legacy as the new Donna?

Developed by Heiden for NaNoRenO 2021, A New Don introduces us to Fia, a legacy pig farmer on the brink of mental collapse. An escape from her mother’s expectations comes in the form of a letter from Marco, a man she called “Grandfather.” When she arrives in the city, she learns the gift he’s left her is control of the Veranoche crime family. Can she survive long enough to inherit this dangerous legacy as the new Donna?

Heiden has a very distinct art style, and this game is yet another of theirs that falls into a very specific aesthetic. If you’re accustomed to more “traditional” visual novel art, you may not feel an immediate connection. The sprites, however, have this wonderful painterly style. It’s loose while still being polished with an airy, chaotic feel. The character designs themselves are a lovely blend of oddball weirdness and easy charm. Andino is sharp-jawed and chiseled with a softness about him. Giacomo’s boyish appeal is perfectly offset with a hint of danger. The whole cast is captivating with fluid expressiveness.

The backgrounds are from another artist, and they create a sharp, clean set piece for the whole story to unfold on top of. There’s a pervasive timelessness to everything: a little bit of present, a little bit of past, and a slap of art nouveau on top. If there’s any complaint about the way the game looks, it’s in the meshing of the sprites and backgrounds. They’re two styles that are very close but sometimes just off enough that the scene doesn’t quite lay right. This is a rare occasion, however.

Though the game struggles a little in the beginning while it sets everything up, the writing is overall fast and action-packed. There is danger around every corner and the game wants you to know it. Our main character Fia, despite being a simple hog farmer, is quick and smart. She learns the ropes of this new world quickly. Instead of falling into the trap of the naive ingénue, she slowly proves her work and carves out a space in this new life. She’s a tough cookie with an equally tough pet boar.

The pacing can be a bit of a whirlwind in both a good and a bad way. It has these wonderful little fairy tale-esque segments that slot beautifully into the main storyline and give the character backstories this excellent dream-like quality. At the same time, some of the action-heavy segments feel like they come out of nowhere, an interesting contrast highlighted by a bit of a peculiar music choice in those segments. Fight scenes almost end up with a goofy quality which just makes the on-screen deaths that much more actually dramatic.

This all ends up working together well with the core narrative drive of the story—namely, that death lurks around every corner. And it does. This game is flush with single-point decisions that can result in your death, in addition to the main romance routes. There’s a level of puzzling though that invites replaying and testing out all the options provided to you. You genuinely don’t know what might kill you and what might not, and each death is a little stranger than the last. It’s the right balance of fun and frustrating to still be enjoyable.

Sharp-witted and fast on its feet, A New Don is, at its core, a found-family story, particularly a story of building a new family around you no matter how flawed it may be. It doesn’t shy away from all the grittier parts of the mafioso lifestyle but still maintains a readable lightness. The emotions are sincere and it’s a compelling short story all the way through.

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Ashe Thurman