Developed by ArcSystem Works Published by Arc System Works and PQube Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (Also Available on Switch)
Visual novels have always been a genre I’ve avoided. The idea of a bunch of static character images just talking back and forth while text scrolls by just never sounded appealing to me. However, when the first BlazBlue game from ArcSystem Works came out in ‘09, I had my first exposure to this style of storytelling with an occasional fight thrown in. A couple of years down the line I fell in love with Steins;Gate. The story, characters, and ideas about trying to change your timeline really hooked me. It’s been a while since I dived into another visual novel but when good ol’ ArcSys came calling with a visual novel of their own, I had to jump on that train.
World End Syndrome presents a a small handful of mysteries to you. Playing as a high school aged protagonist, you move to Mihate Town, a small seaside town with a rich history and traditions along the coast of Japan. Supposedly every 100 years the dead can temporarily return to the world of the living. These beings are known as Yomibito. A century ago, a Yomibito came back to life and wreaked havoc upon the town. This year marks the 100th anniversary of that story, and now you have come to live in it. Shortly after your arrival you learn of a murder that took place and discover another shortly afterwards. When signs point to the anniversary of the event being a potentially chaotic one, questions emerge. Are the Yomibito real, or is there something else at work in the shadows? I was very upset when I somehow triggered the bad ending on my first run. I didn’t feel that I had made any mistakes given the choices I had made…until I realized that in order to access the other routes, I would actually need to suffer from the events of the bad end.
On a second playthrough, I was able to change a critical choice and thus awakened what I needed, my character’s Aura. By exploring the town and interacting with the other characters, you slowly begin to collect Aura of different colors. By having a certain level unlocked for each color you can access events that may have passed you by because you weren’t ready for it. The game play is mostly going between different menus to choose where you will go and who you may potentially meet. The game has a three part day to night cycle that gives the game a bit of a Persona vibe that I really liked. It’s minimally interactive but enjoyable none the less.
I won’t talk too much about the story because it is best to experience it yourselves but there are six routes including the bad end I mentioned before. These are all based on different characters you can choose to befriend or romance. Maimi, Yukino, Saya, Hanako and Miu are your club mates that you interact with as a part of the Culture and Mystery Club at your school. Their objective is to learn more about your town’s past and the Yomibito legend. I was worried that the options would simply break down into your typical anime stereotypes. But that worry was assuaged when I started following through the routes and learning more about each character.
The only character I can honestly complain about is the protagonist. While you do get an occasional choice in your dialogue, the main character’s writing can be a bit emo. The game does explain why he acts this way but it gets borderline unbearable after three runs. I will say I did find completing all of the routes and discovering the ultimate truth pretty satisfying. It took me about 40 hours roughly to get through them all. If you are a fan of the “anime summer” bit of storytelling this will feel like time well spent. It helps the game has a great, but somewhat repetitive presentation.
World End Syndrome features character designs by Yuki Kato, who has done character design work for the BlazBlue series. All of the characters have a very good design and walk a nice line between not being excessively designed and having enough to make them stand out. The character art work looks quite nice and a lot of the backgrounds have this interesting filter effect. It definitely adds a unique look to the backgrounds, especially when they’re in motion. All of the town hot spots you can visit are all pleasantly realized and I honestly would love to spend sometime in a place like Mihate town. You know, besides the whole Yomibito thing.
The only problem is there are only a few spots to go to and they will feel very familiar by the end of the story routes. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed not only the ambient noises of the town, but the fairly wide variety of tracks that composer Takashi Nitta brings the the table. This includes slow peaceful days style tracks to a fast and funky bass line. Definitely surprised by that one. I really liked my time with World End Syndrome, and I feel like maybe it’s time for me to try out some more visual novels.