Saturday, July 9, 2011

Visual Novel Review: X-Note

Ten years ago, Essi’s mother died in a questionable accident, leaving behind only a USB with a locked folder called “X-Note.” Essi, now a teenage psychic, is brought to Xen Institute to investigate a murder case and a mysterious disapearance that have a deep relation with the death of Essi’s mother. But what she finds there is more than she could have possibly expected.

That is the story of “X-Note,” a mystery/dating-sim visual novel from Zeiva Inc. Production and Otome X. I picked up this game out of curiosity when I passed by the creator’s table at A-Kon last month and, now that I’d unlocked all the paths, I’ve decided it’s time to share the love.

There are a lot of high notes in this game. For one thing, it totally delivers on the rather substantive claim that it marries mystery and dating simulation. Each storyline reveals a little more about the overall plot, while also delivering cohesive relationship arcs with each of the three boys.

As for the boys, they’re all attractive in their own way. Oure is sweet and vulnerable, Yuon is serious but kind-hearted, and Anon is a playful trickster. They all have their hidden depths, and they all have a part to play in the overall mystery of the game, and the result is that, whichever guy you pursue, the overall story arc is satisfying. (And, I won’t deny it – at least two of the bad endings made me get teary-eyed.)

Also, the art is beautiful, and it’s well-programed. There’s this unique thing in character design where all of the characters (except arguably Essi) are associated with a certain color. For example, Oure is white, Yuon is blue, and Anon is green. It gives an interesting air of stylization to the world that may, admittedly, be a bit hit-and-miss for some, but I liked it.

I was especially impressed because this is a flash-based novel, rather than the engine-driven ren’py games that I’m used to playing, so the designers had less to work with from the start, yet still manage to pull together a very well-made game.

Then again, it’s far from perfect. English is not the creator’s first language, and there are times when it’s really obvious. And while I’m glad that the stat-raising aspect of the game has some real impact on overall gameplay, the exact way that they do that is seemingly arbitrary, which makes it hard to predict what will help you along your path and what will hinder.

On one hand, this does pretty much guarantee that you’ll unlock the bad endings before the good ones, which makes the story flow better; but on the other, it’s a little frustrating to have an end-game screen give you instructions for getting past the level you failed, and there were two times when the only way I could advance at all was to use the guide on the site.

And I’m not sure that I like how, when you don’t do the right thing to tell the game that you’re pursuing Oure or Anon, it automatically defaults to Yuon’s path. I started off the game pursuing Oure and not using the guide, so I wound up with the first three-fifths of Yuon’s path basically spoiled for me because it was getting in the way of the path I wanted to pursue.

But I suppose the thing that bothers me most of all is that none of the endings are completely satisfactory, which is to say, no matter which I get, there are always strings left hanging. The villain only gets anything resembling a come-uppance in one of the bad endings, the reason for the disappearance is never adequately resolved, and one character, who is built up as a mystery throughout the game, is simply not addressed. It’s rather frustrating.

In addition, one ending reveals the ultimate fate of an important victim character and rescues him. Again, this is the only time that this aspect is ever addressed and – assuming that the backstory remains the same no matter what path you choose, which is standard – it leaves you wondering what happened to the mouse and takes away from the overall positive impact of the other endings.

In short, X-Note is fun. It’s intriguing, it’s unique, and I had a lot of fun while I was playing it. But once I was done, I was left ultimately unsatisfied by the overall experience, and I only wish that bit of storytelling had been patched up a bit before it was released.

You can find X-Note at the Zeiva Inc Website. All the images used in this review are also from that website, all rights reserved.

5 comments:

  1. I've been learning more about visual novels recently, and been playing the demo for the Higurashi When They Cry game (quite a different genre from this one). It seems like a really interesting way to tell a story. I'll have to look into X-Note some time.
    - Cholisose

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  2. This game seems amazing! I played the demo, but I cant buy the whole game yet...

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  3. I've heard that the sad ending was Oure's (sorry for spoiling this...). Looking at his profile, the ending would be a bit obvious at the beginning. I have only played the demo, and I agree that X-note certainly is interesting. But I guess I would've liked it better if there would be a kind of twist in the end, one you can't possibly predict.

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  4. Honestly, Deanne, there's a lot of sad endings in this game - each boy has a good end and a bad end, and the bad ends are all sad in their own way. But man, even though I was half-expecting it, Oure's broke my heart.

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  5. I just want to reply to your complains about the game, there are a lot of unanswered questions about Rexus but that will be declared in Area-X. And I asked Zevia Inc on Facebook about Oure's good ending about if he is ever going to be awake and they said quote ''that will be answered in the future game.

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