By Chris Melchin / August 28th, 2019
|Title||World End Syndrome|
|Publisher||Arc System Works|
|Release Date||May 2nd, 2019|
|Genre||Visual Novel, Mystery, Romance|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch, PS4|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature|
I’m generally not one to follow Arc System Works’ releases other than fighting games. That being said, World End Syndrome caught my attention as a visual novel, but I lost sight of it around when it released. I was aware it was a romance story with some sort of supernatural mystery, but I didn’t know much about it aside from that when I was going in. But, I tend to like mystery and romance stories, so I was still interested in giving it a shot.
World End Syndrome follows a sullen, nameless protagonist who moves to a remote seaside town called Mihate Town to try and start a new life for himself. He meets the five main heroines: the aspiring writer Yukino Otonashi on her way to Mihate to investigate a local legend; his strong-willed, unwitting roommate Maimi Kusunose; his mysterious, quiet, and stubborn classmate Miu Amana; an heiress to the powerful local family behind one of the largest companies in Japan Saya Kamishiro; and the strange girl from out of town Hanako Yamada. These six, along with another classmate Kensuke Asagi, form Mihate High School’s Mystery Club investigating local folklore, under the leadership of Kaori Yamashiro, a teacher at the high school, folklore researcher, and author of a popular young adult novel centered around local legends called Worldend.
The local legend in question is about the Yomibito, where the dead come back to life every 100 years during the summer and bring misfortune upon the town. The game is set 100 years since the previous incident, where a Yomibito supposedly went mad and killed several people before being found and stopped. The story picks up after a local student dies under mysterious circumstances. It starts in July, with the prologue taking place throughout the entire month, with the main bulk of the game and the individual routes taking place afterwards in August. The prologue will also always lead to a bad end the first time you play it, and you can only see the “Chapter” section and do routes after your second time through the prologue. It threw me off when it happened, but does give some important insight into what exactly is happening in Mihate Town, even if you will probably not know what to make of the information you get from it at the time.
Once you get into August, the structure of the game changes from the relatively linear nature of the prologue. Three times per day – in the morning, afternoon, and at night – you’re presented with a map of Mihate Town and you can choose somewhere to spend time. At first, you’re pretty much in the dark about where you should be spending your time, with the only hints being areas with events to see or missions to accept highlighted, but in subsequent playthroughs any areas you’ve seen will have markers showing which characters are there at that time. That being said, it’s not particularly difficult to get into a character’s route, since once you’ve started you’ll be notified about any events that are important to continue it, and aside from avoiding those events the only thing you need to worry about that could make the difference between a good and bad end are the occasional dialogue choices.
Since the bulk of any given arc takes place through a few events scattered over the course of a couple in-game weeks, it makes for some strangely-paced romance. The game is relatively short overall, and with five routes to get through plus a true ending, there’s not enough time allocated to any given route for it to develop in a way that feels natural and not abrupt. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of time spent on non-important activities such as wandering around the town and spending time with friends, in a way that doesn’t progress anything besides building your “Aura”, which represents your affinity with each heroine. I’m not entirely sure what effect it has on the progression of the routes.
That being said, even if I found the romance and character arcs somewhat lackluster, the mystery it sets up with the Yomibito is excellent. There’s subtle foreshadowing throughout, but nothing that exposes too much, and each route hits similar beats (especially towards the ends) that clue you in just a bit to what’s going on. There some degree of forced order with the routes: to avoid spoiling too much, three of them are doable in any order, followed by the other two in a fixed order. The central mystery is what kept my attention the most while playing, more than the heroines and their routes. There were a few minor typos I encountered, but for the most part it was fairly clean.
There are a few oddities about how the game is played, compared to other visual novels. The first thing you’ll notice is that you can’t save whenever you want; throughout the prologue and true end, the game prompts you to save fairly frequently, and during the Chapter you can save on the map screen and between days. The game also presents you with various missions as you go through August, generally requiring you to go to specific places at the right times in exchange for items, which serve no real purpose other than trying to be completionist. The exception is the brochures, which allow you to check the tips you gather throughout the game, similar to Little Busters! English Edition’s Busterpedia or the glossary in Steins;Gate. They’re interesting touches, and while they do help develop the world and setting a bit, they’re ultimately unnecessary.
World End Syndrome is very nice visually. Character designs are by Yuuki Katou, who has done character designs and character select artwork for the BlazBlue series, and are all very appealing. The backgrounds all also have subtle animation, such as trees swaying in the breeze, sparkling ocean water, or an oscillating fan. There are also occasionally short transition animations when going from one scene to another. This, combined with both back and side sprites for all the main characters and how the sprites tend to move around the screen, gives a lot of life to each scene. The music is fine, but not particularly memorable, and sometimes doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to what’s happening.
While World End Syndrome may have some strange and unnecessary elements and somewhat lackluster romance arcs, the mystery and presentation are both excellent. There are also some cute references to other Arc System Works properties sprinkled throughout, but for the most part not overused. The amount of inconsequential events as you explore the town are nice for seeing character interactions, but I found there were too many of them, and I would’ve preferred to see a greater number of more substantial events for your chosen route, which goes back to the problem of not enough time being given for the romance to develop. That being said, it’s a good mystery story with some supernatural elements and romance, and if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, I’d recommend it, especially if you enjoy the demo. It’s not particularly long, listed on VNDB in the “medium” 10-30 hour category, and I believe my playthrough came out to around 20-25 hours, not bad for $39.99 USD. Even if the romance isn’t fantastic and it seems like there’s a lot of wasted time, it’s an engaging mystery story with beautiful visuals.
Review copy provided by publisher
Arc System WorksArc System Works AmericaReviewTOYBOX incWorld End Syndrome