The Case for Playing 50 Hours of Visual Novels

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Posted by patrickklepek (3069 posts) -

(There aren’t major spoilers for the Zero Escape series here. Think of this as a companion piece to my spoilercast for Virtue’s Last Reward. This is really meant for people who don’t know what Zero Escape is.)

It’s not easy to play new games. By that, I mean genuinely new games. We’re not talking sequels or spin-offs and iterations on what you’re deeply familiar with, the painfully similar experiences you’ve had a thousand times over. I’m going through that with Fire Emblem: Awakening right now. Several times, I’ve wanted to put it down, and turn on...well, anything else. Devil May Cry. The Cave. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Stuff I know I’ll like. It’s raised the same question I asked myself during late nights terrified with Amnesia: The Dark Descent: why am I doing this?

You do it because it expands your palette. You do it because change, even when bad, is good. You do it because sometimes other people are right. In the case of the Zero Escape series--999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward--it turned out these people were very, very right.

I don’t even feel that bad for having put off the journey for so long, either. There were good reasons, which I’ll get to, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the bare minimum, if you can appreciate a good story, you’ll enjoy the Zero Escape games. If you can exercise a serious amount of patience, you’ll be rewarded with a game that respects the player’s ability to connect the dots. At their core, both 999 and VLR are smart, fun, sprawling stories that begin by telling the player nothing, and end by telling the player everything. (Of course, in reality, it’s just enough to feel satisfied, while teasing the bigger picture.) More importantly, there’s a surprising amount of logical consistency. Unlike so many other stories rooted in mystery, Zero Escape begins with the implicit promise that, yes, it will pay off eventually. That’s less so in VLR than 999, as 999 was conceived without a sequel in mind, but in many ways it’s true for both.

What’s the Zero Escape series, anyway? A good question for the many people who weren’t the group of vocal fans who were constantly asking one of us to just play the damn games.

Both are visual novels. Visuals novels are an evolutionary split from the adventure game, an interesting hybridization of the player choice offered in text adventures like Zork and the heavily authored stories present in the “classic” adventure games from LucasArts' heyday. What this practically means is visual novels are largely about reading, making decisions, unlocking cutscenes, and watching those cutscenes play out in different ways when you load it up again. Often, this is required to understand what's really happening in the story. Some visual novels have puzzle elements, some do not. 999 and VLR have their puzzle elements baked into the fiction.

999 was released on the DS, and is easily obtained from Amazon. It's only $20, and the only way to the play the game. There is a very specific reason why it couldn't be ported to another platform, at least one that didn't have two screens. The sequel, Virtue's Last Reward, was released on both 3DS and Vita last year. The 3DS version has the advantage of a second screen for taking notes, which I found infinitely useful. Unfortunately, it's also hobbled by a crippling progress-erasing bug that occasionally crops up when saving during puzzle sections. I never ran into it, but it's worth keeping in mind. The Vita version does look better, and has trophies, if you're into that.

By the way, don’t search for the term visual novel on Google image search, or you run the risk of turning yourself off from what I’m about to advocate for in this piece. Then again, supposing you’re not at work, click here. A gallery of innocent and often sexualized depictions of women is what you'll find, and it’s what I’d surmised about the genre during my brief investigation into it. I wrote it off, truth be told, and didn’t feel bad. Who would want to play that?

(For what it’s worth, I do take issue with some of the sexualization in these games, which I’ll get to later.)

In 999, there are nine people who have been kidnapped by a man/woman/it named Zero, who has locked them on a quickly flooding boat. And it might be the...Titanic? Each person has various levels of short term amnesia, thanks to the gas used to knock them out, and very few know one another. Everyone has a device attached to their arm that’s accompanied by a number, and the devices are used to enter the nine doors around the ship. If you find the door marked “9,” you can leave--everyone can leave. Players must follow specific rules, though. Breaking the rules means a bomb in your stomach explodes. Zero, through a loudspeaker, explains this is all part of the Nonary Game.

It’s impossible to explain the setup for Virtue’s Last Reward without getting into spoiler territory for 999, but you won’t be surprised to learn it also involves a bunch of people being kidnapped by a figure named Zero. Anything more would start giving away part of the fun.

That fun involves a whole helluva lot of reading, and it’s not handled well in 999. The budget for 999 wasn’t very high, so there’s no voice acting, and everything’s text. That’s good and fine, except the text moves extraordinarily slow, and it’s not until you encounter an ending for the first time that you’re given the option to make that text move any faster. The second time around, holding down on the d-pad automatically skips any text you’ve already encountered. It still means you’re sitting through a fast-forwarded version of old sequences, but it’s nonetheless an improvement.

Justifying why one would want to play 999 a second time without getting into the nature of what’s really happening is tough. Here’s how I’d explain it, and how I’d warn anyone about to embark on 999 for the first time. You’re going to spend a bunch of hours playing this game, and encounter what’s called a “Bad End.” It’s not an ending that will provide any closure--in fact, it will only confuse you more. Upon unlocking this ending, it will become clear there are multiple ways to finish 999. It’s pretty obvious how to experience the various divergences, as the game often asks the player what group he would like to be a part of. Many people warned me about this going into 999, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to play 999, run into a “Bad End,” and assume that’s how it's supposed to play out.

There are six “real” endings in 999, and nine in VLR. In total, however, VLR has 35 endings. That’s a somewhat disingenuous representation of VLR, since a “Bad End” in VLR is not one of the “real” endings. I know, we’re getting into some seriously bizarre semantics, but stay with me.

You need to see most of the endings in both games for a few reasons.

One, it all does mean something. Truly! That sounds really vague, but it’s also really true. There is a reason for playing through 999 and VLR multiple times, and it goes much further than just seeing how a story can play out in different ways, ala your traditional choose your own adventure story. To say anything more would be skirting around what’s happening in the Zero Escape series, and the discovery of these revelations is much of the appeal. But trust me when I tell you there’s a real payoff for the investment, even if that investment means playing through some of the same sections over and over again. Just hold down on the d-pad, and you’ll make it through okay. I did!

(Thankfully, VLR meaningfully addresses and largely solves these issues by visualizing the game’s timeline and allowing the player to, at any time, jump around the multiple decision points.)

Two, it’s necessary for the payoff. Part of the hook in both 999 and VLR is encountering dead end after dead end, beginning to put the pieces together (wrongly, in almost every case), and marching towards what is called the “True Ending.” This is where all the cards are put on the table, and the story presents its true self.

Nothing about 999 makes any lick of sense for the longest time, but the oddities about your situation, and the continued acknowledgement by your character about the increasing stack of oddities, pushes you to keep going. The main character is aware things are weird, and logic has been lost. When characters don’t do that, the audiences agonizes. Sometimes, this split between what the audience wants and what the characters actually do is played up to dramatic effect, such as the lonely babysitter walking around the house alone to track down a noise in a horror film. Other times, it’s an overused narrative device mean to to kick the can down the road, like in LOST.

Yes, I just took a pot shot at LOST.

So long as there’s a legitimate payoff, that’s all fine, and 999 pays off like a son of a bitch. Over here is the picture I took of myself after unlocking the “True Ending” in 999.

The games are hardly perfect--don’t get me started on the puzzles--and their issues go beyond repetitive text. Both games are guilty of sexualizing characters for no good reason, undermining the huge amount of time it spends fleshing each of them out. In 999, it’s Lotus. In VLR, it’s Clover and a character whose name I can’t say, since it would be a spoiler for VLR. In any case, keep in mind how these characters are dressed. You might think each of them are depicted as floosies, but that’s not the case. Each are smart, independent, and bold women with interesting back stories, characters who are cut off at the knees by what one would hardly call clothing. It plays into the worst stereotypes of Japan’s depiction of women, and an early reason why I’d dismissed both games. Maybe these characters just like to dress this way? Let's assume that's true. It hardly forgives the game's repeated indulgence of the player's character cracking cheap, juvenile sex jokes at the expense of every single one of these characters. It comfortably discredits the argument the characters were designed this way other than to be provocative. The next Zero Escape game would do well to dispense with this.

Try to put that out of your mind, and you’re left with some awfully special games. They’re not for everyone. I wouldn’t blame anyone who rolled their eyes at spending 50 hours with games that spent most of their time talking to you.

If you take the same leap of faith I did, though, you’ll be happy you did.

Also, your brain will explode. Promise.

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (3069 posts) -

(There aren’t major spoilers for the Zero Escape series here. Think of this as a companion piece to my spoilercast for Virtue’s Last Reward. This is really meant for people who don’t know what Zero Escape is.)

It’s not easy to play new games. By that, I mean genuinely new games. We’re not talking sequels or spin-offs and iterations on what you’re deeply familiar with, the painfully similar experiences you’ve had a thousand times over. I’m going through that with Fire Emblem: Awakening right now. Several times, I’ve wanted to put it down, and turn on...well, anything else. Devil May Cry. The Cave. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Stuff I know I’ll like. It’s raised the same question I asked myself during late nights terrified with Amnesia: The Dark Descent: why am I doing this?

You do it because it expands your palette. You do it because change, even when bad, is good. You do it because sometimes other people are right. In the case of the Zero Escape series--999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward--it turned out these people were very, very right.

I don’t even feel that bad for having put off the journey for so long, either. There were good reasons, which I’ll get to, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the bare minimum, if you can appreciate a good story, you’ll enjoy the Zero Escape games. If you can exercise a serious amount of patience, you’ll be rewarded with a game that respects the player’s ability to connect the dots. At their core, both 999 and VLR are smart, fun, sprawling stories that begin by telling the player nothing, and end by telling the player everything. (Of course, in reality, it’s just enough to feel satisfied, while teasing the bigger picture.) More importantly, there’s a surprising amount of logical consistency. Unlike so many other stories rooted in mystery, Zero Escape begins with the implicit promise that, yes, it will pay off eventually. That’s less so in VLR than 999, as 999 was conceived without a sequel in mind, but in many ways it’s true for both.

What’s the Zero Escape series, anyway? A good question for the many people who weren’t the group of vocal fans who were constantly asking one of us to just play the damn games.

Both are visual novels. Visuals novels are an evolutionary split from the adventure game, an interesting hybridization of the player choice offered in text adventures like Zork and the heavily authored stories present in the “classic” adventure games from LucasArts' heyday. What this practically means is visual novels are largely about reading, making decisions, unlocking cutscenes, and watching those cutscenes play out in different ways when you load it up again. Often, this is required to understand what's really happening in the story. Some visual novels have puzzle elements, some do not. 999 and VLR have their puzzle elements baked into the fiction.

999 was released on the DS, and is easily obtained from Amazon. It's only $20, and the only way to the play the game. There is a very specific reason why it couldn't be ported to another platform, at least one that didn't have two screens. The sequel, Virtue's Last Reward, was released on both 3DS and Vita last year. The 3DS version has the advantage of a second screen for taking notes, which I found infinitely useful. Unfortunately, it's also hobbled by a crippling progress-erasing bug that occasionally crops up when saving during puzzle sections. I never ran into it, but it's worth keeping in mind. The Vita version does look better, and has trophies, if you're into that.

By the way, don’t search for the term visual novel on Google image search, or you run the risk of turning yourself off from what I’m about to advocate for in this piece. Then again, supposing you’re not at work, click here. A gallery of innocent and often sexualized depictions of women is what you'll find, and it’s what I’d surmised about the genre during my brief investigation into it. I wrote it off, truth be told, and didn’t feel bad. Who would want to play that?

(For what it’s worth, I do take issue with some of the sexualization in these games, which I’ll get to later.)

In 999, there are nine people who have been kidnapped by a man/woman/it named Zero, who has locked them on a quickly flooding boat. And it might be the...Titanic? Each person has various levels of short term amnesia, thanks to the gas used to knock them out, and very few know one another. Everyone has a device attached to their arm that’s accompanied by a number, and the devices are used to enter the nine doors around the ship. If you find the door marked “9,” you can leave--everyone can leave. Players must follow specific rules, though. Breaking the rules means a bomb in your stomach explodes. Zero, through a loudspeaker, explains this is all part of the Nonary Game.

It’s impossible to explain the setup for Virtue’s Last Reward without getting into spoiler territory for 999, but you won’t be surprised to learn it also involves a bunch of people being kidnapped by a figure named Zero. Anything more would start giving away part of the fun.

That fun involves a whole helluva lot of reading, and it’s not handled well in 999. The budget for 999 wasn’t very high, so there’s no voice acting, and everything’s text. That’s good and fine, except the text moves extraordinarily slow, and it’s not until you encounter an ending for the first time that you’re given the option to make that text move any faster. The second time around, holding down on the d-pad automatically skips any text you’ve already encountered. It still means you’re sitting through a fast-forwarded version of old sequences, but it’s nonetheless an improvement.

Justifying why one would want to play 999 a second time without getting into the nature of what’s really happening is tough. Here’s how I’d explain it, and how I’d warn anyone about to embark on 999 for the first time. You’re going to spend a bunch of hours playing this game, and encounter what’s called a “Bad End.” It’s not an ending that will provide any closure--in fact, it will only confuse you more. Upon unlocking this ending, it will become clear there are multiple ways to finish 999. It’s pretty obvious how to experience the various divergences, as the game often asks the player what group he would like to be a part of. Many people warned me about this going into 999, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to play 999, run into a “Bad End,” and assume that’s how it's supposed to play out.

There are six “real” endings in 999, and nine in VLR. In total, however, VLR has 35 endings. That’s a somewhat disingenuous representation of VLR, since a “Bad End” in VLR is not one of the “real” endings. I know, we’re getting into some seriously bizarre semantics, but stay with me.

You need to see most of the endings in both games for a few reasons.

One, it all does mean something. Truly! That sounds really vague, but it’s also really true. There is a reason for playing through 999 and VLR multiple times, and it goes much further than just seeing how a story can play out in different ways, ala your traditional choose your own adventure story. To say anything more would be skirting around what’s happening in the Zero Escape series, and the discovery of these revelations is much of the appeal. But trust me when I tell you there’s a real payoff for the investment, even if that investment means playing through some of the same sections over and over again. Just hold down on the d-pad, and you’ll make it through okay. I did!

(Thankfully, VLR meaningfully addresses and largely solves these issues by visualizing the game’s timeline and allowing the player to, at any time, jump around the multiple decision points.)

Two, it’s necessary for the payoff. Part of the hook in both 999 and VLR is encountering dead end after dead end, beginning to put the pieces together (wrongly, in almost every case), and marching towards what is called the “True Ending.” This is where all the cards are put on the table, and the story presents its true self.

Nothing about 999 makes any lick of sense for the longest time, but the oddities about your situation, and the continued acknowledgement by your character about the increasing stack of oddities, pushes you to keep going. The main character is aware things are weird, and logic has been lost. When characters don’t do that, the audiences agonizes. Sometimes, this split between what the audience wants and what the characters actually do is played up to dramatic effect, such as the lonely babysitter walking around the house alone to track down a noise in a horror film. Other times, it’s an overused narrative device mean to to kick the can down the road, like in LOST.

Yes, I just took a pot shot at LOST.

So long as there’s a legitimate payoff, that’s all fine, and 999 pays off like a son of a bitch. Over here is the picture I took of myself after unlocking the “True Ending” in 999.

The games are hardly perfect--don’t get me started on the puzzles--and their issues go beyond repetitive text. Both games are guilty of sexualizing characters for no good reason, undermining the huge amount of time it spends fleshing each of them out. In 999, it’s Lotus. In VLR, it’s Clover and a character whose name I can’t say, since it would be a spoiler for VLR. In any case, keep in mind how these characters are dressed. You might think each of them are depicted as floosies, but that’s not the case. Each are smart, independent, and bold women with interesting back stories, characters who are cut off at the knees by what one would hardly call clothing. It plays into the worst stereotypes of Japan’s depiction of women, and an early reason why I’d dismissed both games. Maybe these characters just like to dress this way? Let's assume that's true. It hardly forgives the game's repeated indulgence of the player's character cracking cheap, juvenile sex jokes at the expense of every single one of these characters. It comfortably discredits the argument the characters were designed this way other than to be provocative. The next Zero Escape game would do well to dispense with this.

Try to put that out of your mind, and you’re left with some awfully special games. They’re not for everyone. I wouldn’t blame anyone who rolled their eyes at spending 50 hours with games that spent most of their time talking to you.

If you take the same leap of faith I did, though, you’ll be happy you did.

Also, your brain will explode. Promise.

Staff
#2 Posted by Wraith1 (550 posts) -

nice story

#3 Posted by Gordo789 (355 posts) -

I am at work and I still clicked the link.

Am thinking I should pick up where I left off with corpse party.

#4 Posted by BlatantNinja23 (930 posts) -

I just wish more actually made it too the US, but I don't blame them for not doing so. Why release a VN in a country where like 5 people know the manga/anime it's about anyways.

#5 Posted by mangopup (68 posts) -

I'm pretty sure there was a reason for Lotus to be wearing those clothes in 999. I'm also pretty sure there was a reason for Clover to be wearing sexy Flintstones in VLR. However, you're right about spoiler character in VLR, there was no reason... Made even weirder by the fact that NOBODY BRINGS IT UP in the game!

#6 Posted by mangopup (68 posts) -

@BlatantNinja23: They could bring Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate to the US/CA. Those games have really good stories.

#7 Posted by JoeyRavn (4886 posts) -

Yeah... some "design choices" for some of the characters are not the best, especially for the females. But, overall, I agree with Patrick: the games are amazing, even with their little odd problems here and there. I wish more people would play both 999 and VLR before rejecting them as "non-games".

#8 Edited by cloudymusic (919 posts) -

You ever play the Phoenix Wright games, Patrick? They're fairly straightforward mystery stories and not mind-bendy like 999/VLR, but they're another good example of fun puzzle-based visual novels that fall outside the stereotypical "self-insertion fantasy" stereotype.

#9 Edited by Coafi (1433 posts) -

If you take the same leap of faith I did, though, you’ll be happy you did.

I'm glad that you like the game, Patrick. I wish these games got more attention, they certainly deserve it.

Also, did you just call Clover smart...?

#10 Posted by Video_Game_King (34604 posts) -

I still need to play 999, so I'll just leave this here to incite minor controversies:

I was going to pick literally any other picture, but then I stumbled across this.
#11 Posted by Dallas_Raines (2047 posts) -

I haven't played VLR yet, but I always find it super disturbing when characters that were previously innocent children are suddenly hypersexualized in a sequel. It happens in American film and television quite often, though obviously nowhere near as severe as in a Japanese product. It's like they're writing/designing purposely for creeps who had a 'thing' for the young incarnation of the character.

#12 Posted by Anjon (107 posts) -

Glad to see someone repping VNs! It's just disappointing that this is the game that really introduces Western audiences to the genre, because all of those problems Patrick mentioned about the redundant text, obtuse puzzles, and juvenile humor are all pretty infuriating when trying to get through 999. Also, the deeper you get into the mechanics, the more annoyed you become. Events shift in 999 when they really shouldn't. For example, there's a character who can die if you choose a certain course of action, but  that action has nothing to do with them nor how they die. It's just an arbitrary change much like Heavy Rain's arbitrary changes. I've heard some people assuming that VNs are just like that, but that's not true at all! There're a lot of great VNs with amazing stories that don't get bogged down by this stuff.
 
While I'm ultimately unhappy with how 999 represents visual novels, it is the most successful attempt so far at bringing the genre to mainstream Western audiences (though I heard the Lost in Blue series for DS was pretty good). It's also the closest a VN has come to being a "game", despite how those parts might have turned out.

#13 Posted by Animasta (14460 posts) -

@mangopup said:

@BlatantNinja23: They could bring Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate to the US/CA. Those games have really good stories.

JAST licensed Steins;Gate but they haven't brought it over yet afaik

#14 Posted by WulfBane (175 posts) -

Nice use of a Scanners clip.

#15 Edited by MarkWahlberg (4494 posts) -

This kind of thing actually sounds exactly like something I'd be interested in.

#16 Posted by Cloudenvy (5890 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: You should've posted a picture from a good VN. Just saying.

#17 Edited by Taku128 (723 posts) -

@Anjon said:

Events shift in 999 when they really shouldn't. For example, there's a character who can die if you choose a certain course of action, but that action has nothing to do with them nor how they die. It's just an arbitrary change much like Heavy Rain's arbitrary changes.

I got every ending in 999 and have no idea what you're talking about. Your path opens up situations for certain things to happen that wouldn't in other storylines, but there's never an instance where something happens in one playthrough that should've happened in the others but didn't, at least not that I can remember.

#18 Posted by Video_Game_King (34604 posts) -

@Cloudenvy said:

@Video_Game_King: You should've posted a picture from a good VN.

I did.

#19 Posted by Phatmac (5686 posts) -

If it wasn't for you Patrick, I would have never played these 2 excellent games. So thanks for recommending it on the bombcast!

#20 Posted by Demoskinos (13853 posts) -

@patrickklepek: Okay Patrick well I offer you this question. I've heard you talk about change and expanding your palette of sorts with this genre and also talk about finally clicking with games like Dragon's Dogma and realizing that animation priority is a deliberate choice. So I ask you why the seeming (if I took your statements on the GOTY casts as a correct indication of your feelings) whole cloth dismissal of the stealth genre? Like visual novels or games like say monster hunter there are a lot of deliberate things in stealth games done for a reason. I can get if you just don't "like" the genre but can't you see that like the previously two mentioned things that there are valid reasons for a lot of the design in stealth? I mean someone who doesn't "get" Fire Emblem could be endlessly frustrated until they finally click with it and realize all of the design decisions were made for specific reasons. Being someone who dearly loves stealth games I'm just curious as to why you chose to whole cloth dismiss the genre instead of realizing that like so many other types of games its just a niche? That isn't to say there isn't valid criticism to be had of it. There is bad stealth and questionable design decisions in some games (ie Hitman Absolution's horrible checkpoint system). But seeing as you've been singing the praises of expanding your gaming horizons by sticking it through. I'm curious of your answer.

#21 Posted by Draxyle (1719 posts) -

I'm definitely glad to see more story centric games becoming a thing in the US (To the Moon, The Walking Dead). It's nice that we're coming to terms with the fact that not every game needs combat or even basic mechanics to tell a story, and that the inherent nature of interactivity and choice alone are enough to craft some really cool and unique narratives.

Completed 999 for the first time just a month ago, and it blew my mind like no other game before it. That expression is pretty accurate to my own experience with the entire true ending. Definitely looking forward to VLR for when I nab a 3DS sometime this year.

I'm starting to read into game development myself, and my first project is going to be something entirely narrative focused in a sort of visual novel style (with some other small game elements here and there). So it's nice to see more and more games pave the way for what I want to make. I really want to make games that effect people in the way that 999 did for me.

And I do agree, the unnecessary sexualization of characters was an annoyance and only enforced a bad stereotype of the genre (not only from Japan, but it's pretty excessive from there) that really needs to be subverted at least a little bit. Sexuality has to serve a purpose, and with Lotus.. it's hard to justify a purpose for it there. Her true profession made for an interesting contrast, but her outfit still felt a bit forced and probably could have been toned down a bit.

#22 Posted by Ravenlight (8033 posts) -

I really enjoyed the dissonance between the way Lotus dressed and her backstory. At first she just looks like she's there as a pair of boobs to get people to play the game but then the game kicks the cardboard-cutout-with-boobs trope out the window with Lotus' story and motivations.

#23 Posted by sprode (77 posts) -

What was the preconception? I didn't have one, but I picked up Virtue's Last Reward over Xmas and got blown away, mind melted into dust, etc. Lovely game, and I liked the puzzle solving and the characters. Speaking of which, I didn't notice the sexualization. I mean, I noticed them being scantily-clad, but I always paid more attention to their stories, trying to understand why they did what they did (which the game explains). The only problem I had was having to go through the same dialogue to return to a certain point and of course the freezes/glitches. The juvenile humor never bothered me - that was Sigma, and I can accept that. His perversion amused me.

#24 Posted by Cloudenvy (5890 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@Video_Game_King: You should've posted a picture from a good VN.

I did.

No. No you did not.

#25 Posted by Ace829 (2083 posts) -
Might as well post my favorite VN to those interested in the genre.
#26 Edited by GalacticGravy (523 posts) -

I tried. Lord knows I tried to play 999. I just couldn't get past the painful dialogue. Every time I picked up an item the game says:

You got a spoon

"Hey, you got a spoon!"

"Yeah that's cool maybe you can use it somewhere."

"What a stupid idea! It's just a spoon!"

"It's not stupid it's a spoon."

"Well I think you should use it to open that door."

"Yeah, that's a good idea!"

And so on. And so on. And so on. I'm sitting there annoyed because I already know EXACTLY what to do with this stupid item, but the game insists on taking 45 minutes to talk about it using a bunch of characters that, frankly, I couldn't care less about.

I really like the concept of visual and interactive fiction. I just felt that the execution sent me running for the hills. I only got about 4 hours into 999 before I put it down.

Edit: I also felt the same about Heavy Rain. I got maybe halfway through and put it down. Every part about the execution of that game turned me off. The acting, the writing, the QTEs (mostly, some were OK)...

#27 Posted by Flappy (2034 posts) -

@Cloudenvy said:

@Video_Game_King said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@Video_Game_King: You should've posted a picture from a good VN.

I did.

No. No you did not.

Shots fired in another Klepek article. I laughed.

#28 Posted by dvorak (1495 posts) -

Patrick is never allowed to PFFT ANIME!? ever again. He's opened the door.

#29 Posted by TooWalrus (12973 posts) -

The Zero Escape series is good stuff. Just sayin'.

#30 Posted by the_korben (66 posts) -

About the sexualization and the jokes: this product was not made with only the US culture in mind. Americans have to realize that different cultures have different thresholds for what is acceptable, both in terms of sex/sexism and violence/glorification of violence. Also, different cultures have a different sense of humor.

Patrick, you simply can't claim to have the absolute moral or cultural baseline here. I don't want to say that this is what you're doing, but your value statements come across as "objective" when they are not. All of this doesn't mean that the sexism in VLR should be applauded - but at least you should understand where it comes from and not blame the developers for being influenced by their culture.

#31 Posted by M_Shini (548 posts) -

I enjoy these sort of things. except Corpse Party i can;t bring myself to finish since it requires you to be so specific with how you do things in order to actually progress, and seeing the bad endings isn't worth starting over and over from your save points, although least 999 and last virtue doesn't seem to have that problem.

#32 Posted by Video_Game_King (34604 posts) -

@Cloudenvy said:

@Video_Game_King said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@Video_Game_King: You should've posted a picture from a good VN.

I did.

No. No you did not.

#33 Posted by Kosayn (452 posts) -

I thought Corpse Party was pretty genius for basically having the graphical and storytelling style of a SNES era JRPG, but no combat - you really don't miss it. It has just enough Clock Tower style exploration and avoidance of threats to maintain the illusion of player agency.

#34 Posted by Dallas_Raines (2047 posts) -

@dvorak:

He digs Cowboy Bebop, which makes him cool in my book.(not like that dickhole Will 'White' Smith.)

#35 Posted by mewarmo990 (821 posts) -

There's nothing inherently bad about the VN genre (unless you don't want to read when playing games), but the stigma comes from the fact that it's usually used as a medium to make inexpensive moe otaku (and sometimes porn) games. And there is a LOT of this trash on the market.

Publishers that work in localization - I work for one myself - understand that to appeal to a Western audience, there has to be other gameplay aside from reading and dialogue trees - the hybrid adventure gameplay has historically done well (Phoenix Wright, 999, etc.) over here. But, on a personal level, I really do think that some Japanese visual novels are worth checking out for the writing (and occasionally art) alone. The problem, of course, is that such things could easily have been released as text novels or audiobooks and still maintained most of the appeal.

I don't think the image of visual novels as a medium for juvenile sexy fanservice and cartoon porn is going to change anytime soon, but there is good stuff out there. Y'all shouldn't write it all off, in the same way one shouldn't write off the whole FPS genre even if the market is flooded with Call of Duty and Gears of War wannabes.

#36 Posted by mrfluke (4843 posts) -

Maybe these characters just like to dress this way? Let's assume that's true. It hardly forgives the game's repeated indulgence of the player's character cracking cheap, juvenile sex jokes at the expense of every single one of these characters. It comfortably discredits the argument the characters were designed this way other than to be provocative. The next Zero Escape game would do well to dispense with this.

well the outfit that lotus is dressed in is a "belly dancer outfit" so that type of outfit is not unusual its an outfit of like middle eastern culture, i cant speak to the other characters though as i dont know who they are.

and as for the jokes, i cant speak to that eitner as i have never played 999 or vlr.

#37 Posted by mewarmo990 (821 posts) -

@Ace829: Dear god that old freeware engine is hideous. Some really great doujin VNs came out during that time, but ughhhhh what a terrible UI that was

#38 Posted by LiK (910 posts) -

SING IT, TRICKY! SING IT!

#39 Posted by Pierre42 (80 posts) -

It's not so bad in 999 with the Lotus stuff. The director confirmed it's a hobby of hers and she just likes the clothes but at least they DID make her smart and clever and independent instead of a dumb dancer. Also most of the jokes made at her expense I thought are mostly about how men are repelled from her in spite of her dress sense because of her age.

Nice article though.

#40 Posted by BabyChooChoo (4036 posts) -

999 was so goddamn good, but holy fuck, that game ends...then it ends for like a another 3 hours.

Online
#41 Posted by Jamsque (53 posts) -

@the_korben: I can't speak on his behalf, but I'm fairly certain Patrick is not claiming to be the arbiter of all morals. He is writing about his reaction to the games, and apparently he had a negative reaction to some of the characters. Try not to lose your mind over this, the whole article is opinion and nothing about the way he phrases his objections to the way certain female characters are treated in 999 and VLR comes across any stronger than any other opinion he offers on the games.

#42 Posted by Milkman (16228 posts) -

@alibson said:

It's like Patrick is incapable of writing an article without sneaking in his feminist crap somewhere.

This is a website about video games, I want to read about the game, take that sexist bullshit to your tumblr.

As for the topic at hand, 999 and VLR certainly sound very interesting. But the idea of a visual novel is just kind of off-putting to me. I'd like a bit more interactivity, which may be a little hypocritical from someone who's favorite game of the year last year was The Walking Dead but whatever, it's different.

#43 Posted by TheMasterDS (1867 posts) -

I agree that it's important to look at games that aren't in your comfort zone to see if they speak to you in ways previous games in genre haven't. Whether that's because you dislike those previous games or you wrote of those previous games varies from genre to genre but I find it's an important excercise either way and one that's made much easier by Giant Bomb having video of like every game that comes out. It's kind of unfortunate that Graphic Novels are one of the exceptions to that as it meant I nearly missed one of my favorite games of last year. Not only did I nearly miss it I nearly never heard of it. If Day9 hadn't done a livestream of him checking it out...

I have a list of games which are my first love in specific genres. It's called "My First Loves In Genres XYZ". I suggest you check it out. Some games on there are simple cases of "I got this as a kid and it was pretty good" but many of the others (especially in recent years) see me embracing genres I've either ignored or disliked in pretty big ways.

#44 Edited by Tonch (18 posts) -

Also, in terms of visual novel games, one of my favorite series on DS has long been the Ace Attorney series (aka Phoenix Wright). Those games are excellent (and of course have their own flaws). The characters are the real draw, as the entire series is told almost 100% through wonderfully-written (text) character dialogue. The games do occasionally have a "sexualized" character, but they usually use that intentionally (some characters try to use their looks to their advantage in court to win over the judge and jurors, et cetera). In general the games are in much better taste than the Zero Escape games, and have MUCH better-written dialogue (999 in particular had pretty amateur prose, despite how interesting the story was, in my opinion).

I absolutely recommend people give the Ace Attorney series a shot (ideally in order since there's a continuing narrative, but the games' first cases are such that you can technically start from any one).

#45 Posted by Petiew (1278 posts) -

Interesting article Patrick. I've been thinking about getting into 999 ever since it was first mentioned on the site. I feel like its the kind of game you need to really dedicate time to playing through. I didn't have time to play through all of Hotel Dusk and couldn't get back into it after a break, I assume this game would be the same.

#46 Posted by Gaff (1493 posts) -
@the_korben I'm all for some cultural relativism, but this just sounds like a terrible excuse to sit back and do nothing about the world. But I'm curious if you think this also holds true historically: slavery was a "thing" in the Western world. What's your opinion on that?
#47 Posted by Lashe (1238 posts) -

This sounds legitimately interesting, but I cannot justify forking out for a 3DS/Vita. Would be great to see these ported to iOS, seems like it could be a decent way to experience them. Great article though!

#48 Posted by gokumane (10 posts) -

@Gaff: yeah anime titties are exactly like slavery. shut up.

#49 Posted by Bocam (3551 posts) -

@Animasta said:

@mangopup said:

@BlatantNinja23: They could bring Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate to the US/CA. Those games have really good stories.

JAST licensed Steins;Gate but they haven't brought it over yet afaik

JAST has not licensed Steins;Gate, they want to, but 5pb is giving them trouble.

#50 Posted by RoyCampbell (1095 posts) -
@gokumane said:

@Gaff: yeah anime titties are exactly like slavery. shut up.

The manner of hyperbole used in internet arguments never ceases to irk me. Christ.

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