Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Kindle Imagine Develop (KID)
Publisher: Hirameki International
Also on: Dreamcast/PlayStation 2/PlayStation Portable/Xbox 360
You’ve likely not ever heard the term ‘visual novel’ before, so I’ll give a quick outline of it. A visual novel is basically a cross between a choose-your-own-adventure book and the Infocom interactive fiction games of the 80’s. Have you ever played Phoenix Wright, or Nine Persons Nine Hours Nine Doors? They’re visual novels. How about Sakura Wars, or Agarest: Generations of War? Those are two games which mix Strategy RPG gameplay with visual novel scenes to create something altogether different.
In a nutshell, a visual novel tells you a story, shows you some graphics and music (sometimes voice acting, too) to illustrate the scene, and then gives you some choices. Some of these can be quite complex (such as Ever17) or quite long (Fate/stay night is three times the length of all three Lord of the Rings books AND The Hobbit combined).
With that in mind, you can understand that it’s quite tough to write or talk about a specific visual novel without completely spoiling it, given that ninety percent of what makes it great is its plot.
The game starts off with two people, a college student called Takeshi and an amnesiac young teen whom the rest of the cast refer to as “Kid”, visiting an underwater theme park called Lemuria. Shortly after they enter Lemuria, the windows start cracking under pressure, the power cuts and everyone quickly evacuates – except for the two protagonists and five others: Youbiseiharukana (‘You’ for short, which has the hilarious end result in the English translation where she introduces herself by saying “I’m You!”) is a staff member at Lemuria with a pretty cheerful disposition. Tsugumi, on the other hand, is a cold woman who wants little to do with everyone else. Sora happens to be a holographic tour guide and assistant. The last acquaintance depends on which protagonist you choose – if you chose Takeshi, you’ll have Coco, an innocent young girl with a dog. If you selected Kid, you’ll find yourself with Sara, a schoolmate of You’s.
The group figures that a rescue team will come and get them out shortly, so they don’t
fret too much at first. Fear sets in, however, when they find out that the water pressure is proving to be far too much for the battered theme park to handle and that it will implode within seven days. Thus, their struggle for survival and escape begins.
Being made in Japan, the game was translated for English audiences by Hirameki International, which turned out.. okay. The game is still perfectly understandable, but there are some rough edges, such as when Sara asks Kid if he knows what a hacker is, to which he responds “Naturally, I knows the hacker.” Thankfully it doesn’t detract from the excellent story at all.
Graphically, the game looks good. Backgrounds have a good amount of detail, which helps bring Lemuria to life. Well, as much as you can do that with static images, anyway. Character-wise, everyone looks quite distinct, but never unrealistic – aside from Sora, but that’s to be expected.
The music really helps set any mood that the story creates. Deep, echoing slow ambience helps build tension when required, while cheery yet not annoying beats are reserved for the lighter moments in the narrative. Takeshi Abo, the composer, also did the music for the other games in KID’s “Infinity” series (Never7, Remember11 and 12Riven), but all four games have very unique musical tones that help his talent shine.
There aren’t many sound effects to speak of, but what’s there works just fine, if a little unremarkable.
Of course, the real draw of this sort of thing is of course, the story, which doesn’t disappoint in any regard. Already in a fairly unique setting, the characters have a real chemistry between them that truly helps the plot along. Along the way to the myriad of endings you’ll, by proxy of who you’re playing as, learn about perception in reality, the third eye, infrared light, witness a space whale (or…at least a large statue of a whale in a room painted to be like space – beggars can’t be choosers) and by the time you reach the true ending, twisting and turning like an M.C. Escher painting, you’ll come to realize something – there are next to no plot holes, and almost every conversation and scene has some sort of meaning to the overall plot. It’s quite amazing that a videogame, not a medium often lauded for its storytelling, translated from Japanese no less, was able to accomplish this.
It really is quite unlike anything else out there and should be experienced if you’re even remotely interested.
Sadly, Hirameki up and died before they could translate any of the other Infinity games, but recently Remember11 received a “fan-translation” patch, with work on Never7 progressing smoothly.
Also notable is the aforementioned Nine Persons Nine Hours Nine Doors, which was written by the same person who did Ever17. It shares a lot in common with the latter, and was recently translated by Aksys Games for us all to enjoy.
Ever17 had ports to the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 around the same time as its original PC release. Later on it got ported, along with Remember11 and Never7, to th PSP, bringing with it widescreen backgrounds and a new intro video. It’s also been revealed that Ever17 will be getting a full remake for the Xbox 360. The backgrounds are all being redrawn and characters will now be 3D models with a wide range of animations instead of static images. One can only hope that some group such as Aksys will pick it up so that a new generation can enjoy its great story.