Birth ME Code Review – How to Mastermind a Death Game
Title: Birth ME Code
Developer: Miracle Moon
Release Date: 22nd of April, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Miracle Moon
Genre: Visual Novel
You awaken in a room alongside two others. You’re all wearing animal-themed helmets, and suddenly your vision is overtaken by the gamemaster ME. She explains that the goal of the game is to find the mastermind among the nine participants, and kill them – or in other words, Kill:ME. If you, for whatever reason, fail, you will surrender your right to live.
Everything is going just as you planned.
Even from the premise alone, Birth ME Code is likely to spark interest. You’re a participant in a “Death Game” scenario (think Zero Escape or Danganronpa), but the game lets you know right away that you’re playing as the Mastermind behind everything. Part of a trilogy alongside Head AS Code and a currently unannounced third game, developer Miracle Moon’s visual novels shows a great deal of love for the genre.
Gameplay in Birth ME Code consists of three main portions. The first is Deduction Rooms, a sort of escape room for 1-3 people where the goal is to find the answer to a question provided by ME. The second has you make choices to raise your TRUST with the other participants. Every so often, your group will vote to kill a member, hoping to kill the mastermind. The outcome of this isn’t determined directly by choices, but by who you’ve built TRUST with. Finally, you occasionally solve puzzles based on moving letters and numbers tiles to spell things on a grid.
These branching outcomes are assisted by a flowchart, which gives the option to jump pretty much anywhere you’ve previously unlocked. However, the flowchart has some quirks that can make knowing what to do, perhaps more complicated than necessary. Once you’ve chosen your current playthrough, it’s locked in until you create a new save – not even jumping back to choices on the flow-chart lets you change them. To actually change a selection, you’ll have to start a new file and use the flowchart’s globally saved details to try again. Luckily, you’re able to make choices quickly directly from the flowchart itself.
But then, that comes with a snag too. When it comes to multiple-choice options, the ability to quickly change that on the flowchart in a new save is only unlocked when you’ve chosen all three at least once. The game tries to make this clear via a big “help” button on the flowchart screen, but the entire concept of global saves and locked in choices is so much to take in at once. In short, my first few runs were spent very confused.
Sadly, that’s a problem pervasive throughout the entire game. Aside from the unintuitive flow-chart, some of the tile puzzles felt far too esoteric for me to understand. Each puzzle shows the tiles you have in play and provides three hints, the title of the puzzle, and two optional hints. However, forgive me if “Sort C > V” doesn’t instantly make me want to sort consonants then vowels alphabetically.
The Deduction Rooms were generally fine, but I dreaded these tile puzzles as they bring the pacing to a halt, which is a real shame, as the story did keep me engaged throughout.
Aside from a lack of commas making some sentences feel run-on, the prose was easy enough to read. Each character has a clearly defined voice, and despite using pseudonyms based on the seven deadly sins, I remembered all of them quickly enough. The only character I found annoying to read was probably Gula, who never uses one word where ten would do. Her speech was stiff bordering on comical and frequently took me out of the moment. At least the other characters had the decency to note how weird it sounded.
The Deduction Rooms are also filled with references to other Visual Novels. Depending on your tastes, this can either be charming or annoying. It sometimes gave the impression that the game didn’t always have a joke of its own, and would just nab one from an adjacent visual novel. Rating a couch in a bar on the advice of a man dressed as a circus performer? Virtue’s Last Reward sends its regards.
To me, Birth ME Code starts slow but finished far too quickly. By that, I mean it takes a while for the exciting elements of the game to show up, not helped by the confusing flowchart slowing things down. But on the other hand, the ending drops so much information at once that it too feels overwhelming.
Did you know, for instance, that E=MC2 represents that you’re the main character? I’m pretty sure that’s what that part meant, but I can’t be sure, because the game dumps 70% of its lore and explanations on you right at the end. It’s cool that a lot of elements in the game can abbreviate to ME, but it doesn’t mean much, and the game knows this. It also shoves all of it at you during the route to the last ending.
Comparing it to Zero Escape once more, that series is famous for “useless” info-dumps. But at least there, it’s clear what parts are essential by the end. In Birth ME Code, so much is shoved at you that I’m not sure what elements to pay attention to.
Birth ME Code offers a decent layer of death game aesthetic that falls apart in a few places. The obtuse puzzle design creates a painstakingly difficult experience that just left me scratching my head, but yet I was entertained enough to see how it all ended. Sadly, the rushed conclusion doesn’t pair with the slow pacing and creates an info dump that had me rethinking everything that I thought I knew about the story so far.
If you’re a die-hard fan of ontological mysteries (think “you wake up in a room”), you’ll probably come away from the game somewhat positive. After all, the developer also seems to be a die-hard fan of ontological mysteries. But please, for goodness sake, try to read slowly when you get to the finale.
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