Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Kindle Imagine Develop (KID)
Publisher: Hirameki International
Also on: Dreamcast/PlayStation 2/PlayStation Portable/Xbox 360
‘Visual novels’ long since struggled to find a foothold in the international market, and even with the niche but relatively popular releases of several games in the west, such as Phoenix Wright, Zero Escape and Danganronpa, they never truly caught on in the mainstream. For the uninitiated, a visual novel is basically a cross between a choose-your-own-adventure book and the Infocom interactive fiction games of the 80’s. Sometimes visual novel-like structures are used to tell the story in games with other gameplay, such as in Sega‘s Sakura Wars
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 often said to be 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 special 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 somewhat subpar. 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.” It can distract from the story at times, though it seems the more important scenes are mostly free of issues.
Graphically, the game is pleasing. Backgrounds have a good amount of detail, which helps bring Lemuria to life. Character-wise, everyone looks quite distinct, but never unrealistic – aside from Sora, which is purposeful at least.
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.
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 (more accurately, a large statue of a whale in a room painted to be like space) and by the time you reach the true ending, twisting and turning like an M.C. Escher painting, with it leaving very few plot holes in the end.
Sadly, Hirameki International closed down before they could translate any of the other Infinity games, but Remember11 and Never7 eventually got fan translations , as well as the PlayStation Portable port of Ever17. The PC version also got a fan patch to fix some of the bigger issues in the original translation and overall bring the quality up.
Also notable is the aforementioned Zero Escape series, which was written by the same person who wrote Ever17 – Kotaro Uchikoshi. The series shares a lot of themes with Ever17, and the entire series saw international release with excellent translation work from Aksys Games.
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 the PlayStation Portable, bringing with it widescreen backgrounds and a new intro video. In 2011, it was remade for the Xbox 360 by 5pb. All the game’s backgrounds were redrawn and the character sprites were replaced with 3D models to have some amount of animation. This remake never made its way outside of Japan, however, leaving there no legal way to try Ever17 without finding a used PC copy for an outrageous price.