The 39 Steps is a beautiful take on a visual novel. And yes, it is a visual novel, if you had any doubts about it, let go of them now. Visual novel, full time.
First, let me hit the up sides, just to get them out of the way. The graphics are gorgeous. Paintings of London, and Scottish landscapes, mountains, tiny villages, all of them absolutely stunning, screenshot worthy to say the least. Once in a while, when one of the characters tells a story, you get a cutscene animated in the cutest, old time cartoon style. Those were really enjoyable, and slightly funny.
Music is delicate, simple and very suitable for the story. Exactly the sort of music you would expect to play in an espionage thriller.
I am kind of torn on the voice acting. On one hand, can't deny it's pretty much perfect, professional on all aspects. On the other hand... it's theater style acting. Which I'm not a fan of in games. It's over the top, exclaiming shocking findings in a fake, obvious tone and such. I feel theater style voice acting should stay in the theater.
But now... The down sides.
The mechanism for progressing the text is definitely original, if somewhat redundant, and in a while gets really annoying. The necessity of doing little circles with your mouse to progress the game quickly gets boring, and before you know it, you start clicking away, trying to hurry it the hell up.
Game also bugged out on me a couple of times in pause menu, forcing me to replay whole chapters, clicking even more furiously, as I've already read all this stuff.
But the real pain is... the story. Perhaps the book originally is way better, more detailed, shows more depth and simple logic. But what we see in the game is an extremely far fetched story, where everyone believes everyone for no apparent reason, where people entrust the biggest, life threatening secrets to strangers they barely met, where all a person needs to do, is change their attitude, to suddenly become unrecognisable...
The amount of ridiculousness, lack of logic and pure stupidity of the story, and its main character, were more than I could bear. After a short while I couldn't enjoy the witty cutscenes, gentle music, or lovely landscapes. I just wanted to be over with it, finish this thing...
If only the graphics, cutscenes, music, and even voice acting were used with a different story, it might have been truly impressive. Perhaps the story requires too much detail to be squeezed into a visual novel, but it didn't work with it, and wasted good resources on something, that ended up being a real pain to get through.