Norn9: Last Era Review – A Complement to the Sci-Fi Love Experience

    Title: Norn9: Last Era
    Developer: Idea Factory, Regista
    Release Date: August 31, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Aksys Games
    Genre: Otome, Adventure

Back in the days of the PlayStation Vita, Idea Factory released Norn9: Var Commons, which was a title that charmed people with its rather unique style of narrative. After the success of the title, they proceeded to develop Norn9: Last Era, the fandisk, which provided some additional stories and served as a way to expand the worldview and the narrative established by the previous title. Unfortunately, while the original Vita release was never localized, that changes with the Western release of the Nintendo Switch port by Aksys Games.

Before we get into this review, however, I should mention that this contains some potential spoilers from Norn9: Var Commons.

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There are four modes to Norn9: Last Era, and it starts off with Prelude. In this mode, you’ll watch a story that takes place before the events of Var Commons, from around the time the love interests boarded the titular Norn, from Masamune Toya’s perspective. This story provides some much-needed context, but it does assume that you already know most of Var Commons‘ events.

Something that is introduced to Last Era is the Response System, where words in the character dialogues will be periodically highlighted in red. Tapping or pressing right on the D-Pad will have the characters explain what that word means. If you’ve played Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, this system will feel really familiar, as it will unlock further dialogue centered around that specific word.

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After you’ve cleared Prelude, three other modes unlock: Concerto, Fugue, and Fantasia. In Concerto, the story takes place after the Happy Endings of the Var Commons routes. As for Fugue, it provides a “what if” scenario from the Normal Ending of the previous title and tells it from the love interests’ point of view. Finally, we have Fantasia, which is a side story containing some amusing banter between the cast as they suddenly turn into chibi-style characters.

You also have the usual Norn9 Store containing some BGM you can purchase with Tickets, as well as an extra mode called Norn9 + Life, where you choose one of the heroines and interact with the other characters on a board game. It offers much more interactivity than the extra mode on Var Commons, but it continues to have the randomness of each event, either making you lose or gain Tickets that you can spend in the in-game store I’ve mentioned previously.

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Furthermore, the charm in this mode wears off extremely quickly because, unlike the previous game’s extra mode, you are practically forced to grind for tickets if you would like to purchase all of the extras from the Norn9 Store. And you’re almost guaranteed to run out of interactions before you’re even close to purchasing anything that will make the grinding remotely worth it.

While you can do any of those modes in any given order, one thing is obvious: Last Era is simply unfit to accommodate players who have not played Var Commons at all. Even the opening cutscene opens up with the major spoiler about the year the game takes place, and every single story straight up assumes that you already have some knowledge of the previous title, at least to some extent, such as Natsuhiko, Ron, and even Akito’s secrets. Still, that wasn’t so much of an issue to me, as I felt that’s sort of an inevitable consequence of the fandisk nature of this title.

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It must be said, however, that there’s a surprising amount of additional content here, with each Concerto having a prologue and three full chapters for each of the nine love interests and Fugue having another four chapters. I personally really liked the Prelude and Fugue modes the most, with both helping expand my conceptions of the narrative previously established by Var Commons, as well as knowing the characters a lot more.

As for Concerto, it’s a cute epilogue, but besides two very specific routes, most of it felt as if the writers had absolutely no idea how to expand from certain epilogues from the previous game. And Fantasia…while I will agree it’s supposed to be a light-hearted comedic banter, it’s so short, and quite honestly, the premise behind it all is just not enough to hold a candle to the other modes.

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Unfortunately, one glaring issue that persisted from Var Commons continues to plague here in Last Era, and that is the awkward text line breaks. They’re incredibly inconsistent, and the first line’s margin is always more to the left when compared to the other margins, which bothered me to a disturbing degree. A real shame, too, because the translation has got to be one of the most polished scripts I’ve seen in a good while, barring some very small issues, but it’s constantly being held back by this weird formatting.

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Norn9: Last Era is a fandisk that nicely expands on the narrative. Still, if you did not enjoy Norn9: Var Commons, then you’ll find it very hard to enjoy Last Era, and it becomes clear that the targeted audience for this title is clearly those who have already consumed Norn9 in some form of medium, be it the previous game or the anime. Some of the systems in the Western release also share the same issues, such as the awkward text lines, which diminish the experience a bit. Furthermore, half of the content that’s available just isn’t up to snuff when compared to other fandisk releases from Idea Factory.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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