Visual Novel: The Nonary Games

(For a general description about Visual Novels please  read our About Visual Novels page.)

Maybe not a visual novel in the purest sense, but I will take every opportunity I can to push this game series. Released for Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and on Steam, The Nonary Games is a 2-in-1 combo. The first game is the 2009 release of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors released for the original Nintendo DS. The second game is the 2012 release of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward released originally on the Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita.

Both games play the same way. They are divided into two different modes: Story Mode and Puzzle Mode. The story mode plays everything like a regular Visual Novel. You read the story, complete with beautiful visuals and music, and you are forced to make choices. Each of these choices will lead you down various different story branches, some branches not unlike until you have read through other story branches. Both games features complex story flow charts so you can easily jump in and out of timelines as desired.

Punctuating the story mode is puzzle mode. As the story progress the player will find themselves locked in complex Escape Rooms that they must escape by solving a series of puzzles.

The story is not for the faint of heart, featuring blood and death, and frequently references and delves into metaphysical sciences. While not all story elements are strictly true, most are. Kotaro Uchikoshi is a popular visual novel writer (he wrote my personal favorite visual novel Ever17) and frequently ties in such sciences into his stories.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors follows the protagonist Junpei, he wakes up to find himself locked in a replica of the famous ship the Titanic along with eight other people. Each of them wears a bracelet with a number on it. The villain Zero tells them they are playing the Nonary Game. There are nine doors for the players to get through within nine hours. If the players fail, bombs inside the bracelets will explode and kill the players.

Virtue’s Last Reward follows protagonist Sigma who is captured and forced to play The Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition. Same principles, bracelets that will kill and doors that require puzzles to be solved. What’s different is that in order to get through the final escape door, the players must gain points in the game… by allying or betraying other players. Those players that reach 9 points can open and escape, but the door only opens once, and any players who reach 0 will be injected with fast-acting poison.

And I can’t mention these two fantastic games without also giving a nod to the third game, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma. Released 2016 for Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita, it has also been released on Steam, and has a Playstation 4 release late 2017. A game that nearly did not happen. While the Nonary Games received outrageous reviews here in America, it unfortunately did not receive such great praise in Japan, which almost killed any potential for the third and final installment. But the fans persisted, launching Operation Bluebird to raise  support, and finally at the 2015 Anime Expo Aksys Games announced development had resumed.

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Visual Novel: Narcissu

(For a general description about Visual Novels please  read our About Visual Novels page.)

vnnarcissu1What started out as an experimental project by Visual Novel writer Tomo Kataoka has launched into an incredibly heart-wrenching franchise that has now expanded beyond its simple roots following the life of a single character that is in the last stages of her terminal illness. Narcissu is not for the faint of heart. There are no happy, miracle endings, and the story pulls no punches.

Narcissu follows the story of a nameless boy as the narrator and through his voice tells the story of main character Setsumi. The game introduces readers to the world of 7F, the hospice ward, where the dying give newly initiated tenants a set of grim rules and explain that tenants are only registered to 7F three times where they are then given the choice of dying in the hospital or dying at home. Setsumi is on her third stay, but is not content with this final choice, and has not made up her mind.

vnnarcissu2While Narcissu explores the remaining hours and the choices the terminally ill faces, Narcissu Side 2nd could be said to explore those who remain behind, and the relationships between the dying and their loved ones. Written as a prologue to the first game, the story closely follows Setsumi who has not been made a ward of 7F, yet, and introduces a new character named Himeko.

Both games are released together on Steam as a single unit and they complement each other well. The games do stray outside of the normal Visual Novel formula. The visuals are scarce, and do not provide much face-time with the characters, concentrating instead on striking background drops and providing an almost movie-like quality. The music is where these games truly shine, as the games provide a rich ensemble that is easy to listen to and wonderfully atmospheric. The runtime for both games is on average six to ten hours, offering no choices or multiple endings, but a simple and straight read.

vnnarcissu3The games have had a rough and tumble translation history. When the game is downloaded and played, you are given multiple options before the game even begins. The first, which game do you want to play, choosing between Narcissu or Narcissu Side 2nd, and then choosing if you want play Voiced or Unvoiced. While this seems like a trivial choice, the Unvoiced versions do provide extra lines that provide a little more character description and each has a certain mood taste. The games are not long and I highly recommend play throughs of both. But more to the point the next set of choices after that could leave the reader scratching their heads – the Narcissu games have had multiple fan translators due to the game’s nearly tragic translation fate.

While I won’t bore you with the specific details, as I’m not completely sure on all of the finer points myself, the game was originally translated by a fan group named Insani, but after the group fell apart due to careers, it took nearly three years after the second game’s release before its translation was finally completed by Agilis. (Personally, I highly recommend his translations.)

vnnarcissu4This game series is near and dear to my heart and I waited all three of those years for the game to become translated and was happy to assist in a small way by creating a small subpage webdesign for the game’s launch site. While I am no translator myself, I like to think that I have been closely tied to the game’s translation releases and have always been eager to help.

The future for Narcissu is even brighter these days. While currently only the two games have been translated, Sekai Project, spearheaded by Project Lead Agilis/Randy Au, have been eagerly pushing to have the translations completed for the other games released in the series. Recently there was a Kickstarter project to release these games and can now be found on Steam as the Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project. For the first time in history, Agilis is working directly with the developers to create an official translation for these unreleased games.

Narcissu 1 and 2 are available on Steam for FREE. Especially if you are new to Visual Novels, this is a great series to launch with. The Anthology Project, though, will be a paid experience and include four games. Each game will be available for a small fee upon release or if you would like to support the project you can purchase a Season Pass and receive each game as it is completed. (Please, PLEASE support this game series.)

About Visual Novels

Visual Novels are a type of video game that originated from Japan. Since then they have become a global phenomenon, with writers in just about every country of the world that now create these writing masterpieces. For the purposes of this website, however, we will automatically assume that visual novels are all Japanese unless otherwise stated.

narcissuThe easiest way to explain what a visual novel: a novella with visuals and sound. There are many different varieties and are as expansive as written books, sprawling across different mediums and platforms. They are commonly released for the computer, but they have expanded to often be released on major consoles, primarily Playstation. The current popular device for visual novels is the Playstation Vita, but this is hardly inclusive.

While they are best describes as novellas, many of them possess video game like aspects. There are two main types of visual novels. Those that are straight novels, and the second are those that play similar to “choose-your-path” novellas. Throughout the game you are presented with choices that will impact the ending of the game. Many visual novels have at least two endings, but the most expansive games can include more than four (I’ve once played a game that had twenty different endings). These endings can be failures and are called “Bad Ends”, while there are also “Good Ends” and “Best Ends.”

uminekoVisual Novels span across genres and as varied as books themselves. The most popular Visual Novels tend to be dating simulations, and the storyline paths reflect getting the girl or not getting the girl. And within this category, hentai, or “erotica” for us non-Japanese, is the most popular (yes, complete with full visuals).

Game lengths vary. Like video games there is no standard on the amount of hours of gameplay. Many Visual Novels can be as short as a few hours, while many of the larger varieties span anywhere from fifty to sixty hours.

The market for these Visual Novels currently is growing, I’m very happy to report. Eight years ago it was all-but-impossible to get these fantastic games. You would have to purchase the game from Japan, and hope that someone had created a translation patch that you would then have to install. And these translation patches were often done by fans. Fortunately many of these translation-parties have grouped together and have become official companies, such as Sekai Project. Other video game companies, such as Aksys Games, have taken up the initiative to bring these games over. There is a small selection of Visual Novels available in gaming stores, while most exist on Steam. For the more Adult material there are other companies such as MangaGamer.com (seriously, 18+ only!!).

littlebustersSadly, the industry is still not where I would like it to be for this wonderful medium. Many translation projects are forced to campaign on Kickstarter. But I will personally celebrate the enormous strides that have been accomplished over the last handful of years.

I fully intend to do Visual Novel reviews on this blog. I will always do everything I can to post “how/where to purchase.” I will also post links to any Kickstarter projects. I have been a contributor in the past, and am an active campaigner for one particular visual novel (and even know the Project Lead). So, it seems only fitting that I will lead with it as my first review. Please look forward to my upcoming visual novel review for Narcissu, available on Steam for FREE.