Title: Buried Stars
Developer: Team Largo
Release Date: July 30, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: LINE Games
I know better than anyone that it’s impossible to keep track of all video game releases. Even as someone who works in the industry, surprise releases still manage to blindside you. This is the reaction I had when playing the Team Largo-developed Buried Stars.
It seemed like fate as I had just finished Umineko: When They Cry and was on the lookout for another ontological mystery. Surprisingly, Buried Stars manages to separate itself from other visual novels in the genre through its story elements, characters, and pacing.
Buried Stars opens up with the finals of the in-universe reality TV show called Buried Stars. Similar to X-Factor or The Voice, wannabe singers or those who have a history with music get a chance to make it in the industry. The show is down to its last five contestants and it’s up to the audience to get those text messages in and vote for who they like the most. The contestant with the least amount will be eliminated from the competition.
However, a freak incident strikes when the venue crumbles down on live television. In the heat of the moment, the main character, Do-Yoon Han sees that some especially large debris is going to fall onto another contestant and shoves him out of the way before being buried under it himself. He’s quickly rescued by the contestant and the floor director, learning that while it seems the audience made it out safely, debris has trapped them and the other three contestants in the very slowly collapsing stage area, with the rest of the venue threatening to follow suit.
Together the crew can either explore the area and hunt down any potential exits, or find a good place to bunker down and wait until a rescue team arrives. Of course, it won’t be quite that simple since death has a way of weaseling into these situations and an anonymous twitter user, I mean, “Phater” user claimes that more death will arise if the cast doesn’t confess to their sins.
This presentation is absolutely stellar. Characters have various 2D renders and are carefully placed within the collapsed venue, which is displayed in 3D. This leads to the creation of some incredibly dynamic scenes. The raw structure of this title is broken up into three different sections, with the first being your standard visual novel story delivery. During these moments characters interact and you’ll be able to make some choices during the dialogue.
The second section has you investigating areas, which simply have you examining the environment looking for any noteworthy points. The main meat of the game, however, is found within its segments called “Communications.” In communications, you talk to a selection of your allies about topics of your choosing. You’ll be able to find out how each character thinks about the current state of affairs, as well as details surrounding the sketchy background of the show.
As the narrative progresses, the cast will respond positively or negatively if you pick out certain topics or throw questions to you and judge your answers, allowing you to increase or decrease their rapport. Increasing their rapport by finding the right topics will allow you to access special events, in which Do-Yoon and another character will talk about their backstories.
It’s a cool play on how relationship mechanics work in other games, as Buried Stars finds a way to make the information immediately relevant to the current situation as well as brings the protagonist’s past into them. Each of the main cast members has all sorts of relatable qualities as well as their own hidden depths and I ended up liking every character that you can interact with a whole lot.
Another important feature is the menu options found within your smartwatch. Here you can access character profiles, the current vote totals the cast have, in-game text messages, voice recordings, a phone you can use to call the other cast members with a customizable ringtone to boot, and the Phanter app.
Going through your social media feed is a vital part of this title and will give you all sorts of insightful topics, along with supportive comments, and hate posts. It’s a very interesting way of putting even more details to consume into the story, which gives you the ability to see how people on the outside are reacting to the plot. Something rarely touched upon, if ever.
In regards to more standard menus though, this title has a clean UI and some really nice looking boxes and transitions. There’s more of a standard array of options, with a selectable Korean and Japanese dub, and they’re both excellent. Overall sound quality is amazing, with an unabashedly fantastic soundtrack that gives this mystery an atmosphere like no other.
The English script can at times feel a little stilted, which is admittedly somewhat disappointing, but it’s minimal. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of continuity errors and while I’m sure some people will find the opening of the game rather slow, I didn’t mind in the slightest. The story is densely packed with all sorts of plot-important details that thread amongst each other impeccably.
This is a tale that has clearly been written by people with a lot of experience with ontological mysteries who have set out to create a truly unique experience, which they did. The sheer care and precision this story was crafted with setting up moments where I would attempt to predict how something would play out using my own meta-knowledge, only for the game to surprise me with a twist. The entire experience is about 20-hours long, which includes time spent replaying and testing out different decisions to acquire that fabled and glorious true ending.
Buried Stars came out of nowhere but it has become one of my favorite visual novels of this year. The titles’ fantastic presentation paired with the gripping narrative creates a unique experience within the genre. The localization can seem flat at times, but this is well worth the time of any adventure fan.
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