World End Syndrome
EVEN FOR hardcore gamers, visual novels are an acquired taste. By their very definition, they focus more on story as opposed to gameplay, and rely on visceral reaction rather than physical feedback to produce a unique brand of entertainment those digesting them would have to willingly partake of. In this regard, they’re on one end of the gaming spectrum that has pure action on the other. In an overwhelming number of cases, their interactivity is limited to inputs at certain points, representing choices in crossroads to pursue storylines as seen fit.
Parenthetically, at the heart of gamers’ appreciation — or lack thereof — of visual novels lies their regard for World End Syndrome (stylized in some circles, including Nintendo’s official website, as Worldend Syndrome). If nothing else, it’s the epitome of the genre, presenting gamers with absolutely no freedom of choice in the first playthrough. En route, they uncover its diegesis involving a high-school student who moves to his uncle’s mansion in Mihate, a small settlement by the shore in one of the far reaches of Japan, after the tragic death of his sister. Enrolled in the local educational institution, he joins a mystery club and gets embroiled in — what else? — a mystery that has engulfed the town for centuries.
According to local lore, the town gets paid a visit from spirits of its deceased every 100 years. The Yomibito manifest themselves to those who most remember them when they, too, roamed the streets of Mihate, and, in order to keep their sanity, wind up eating the living. Needless to say, World End Syndrome unravels the yarn through the lenses of its principal protagonist and has gamers find the truth behind the legend. En route, they find themselves wondering whether their skepticism is warranted, if acceptance is merited, and how the disappearance of two students and uncovering of secrets of the burgh and its inhabitants tie into the tale.
Considering the manner in which Arc System Works opts to impart information, World End Syndrome thrives in its visual-novel identity and wears its conceit proudly. Gamers will need to finish it once, experiencing the “bad” ending, in order to be given access to choice. Subsequent runs will yield narrative forks that open up new locations to visit, affect bonds with characters, and provide enlightenment. Are the Yomibito for real? Or are they the product of superstition perpetuated by the prevailing biases of townsfolk? Discernment follows in due time, but how layers of truth are peeled off depends on the approach taken.
Significantly, World End Syndrome furthers its noirish predilections even as it thrives as a dating simulation. In attempting to solve the puzzle before him, the lead character invariably manages to strengthen ties with members of the opposite sex. As he learns more about Mihate throughout the month of August (the game’s time frame sliced in three phases per day), he is treated to heavy doses of humor interspersed with relationship-building situations. And for all the stereotypical notes the game seems to want to hit, it actually proves transcendent in the presentation of its dramatis personae. And in its depth, it succeeds in underlining ostensibly incongruous content.
In this regard, World End Syndrome benefits from its outstanding look and feel. Visual novels tend to be image-and text-heavy, and it’s no exception; relative to offerings from most other genres, it’s static and staid. That said, its unique optics lend an air of activity; its striking art is structurally layered between backgrounds and characters to give the impression of movement. Meanwhile, its provides an array of music to complement the mood and highlight turns of events. Taken as a whole, they enjoin gamers to move on and, upon attainment of an ending, to reload a specific save file and lean towards another.
As an aside, it bears noting that World End Syndrome plays to the inherent strengths of the Nintendo Switch. For one thing, it’s far from a resource hog; at no time does it test the hardware’s limits. For another, it lends well to the comfort and convenience of portability; its relaxing pace, easy-to-navigate menus, and dearth of quick-reflex requirements make it ideal for on-the-go absorption. It’s a slow burn that affords gamers the luxury of taking in Mihate and its community in a tempo they see fit. Patience is a virtue, and in its wake comes a richly satisfying reward.
• Compelling narrative that rewards multiple runs
• Outstanding visuals and music
• Engrossing mystery interspersed with finely tuned
• An acquired taste as the epitome of a visual novel
• First pass-through offers absolutely no choices
• Requires multiple finishes to fully grasp story
• Occasional typographical errors detract from the experience