Norn9: Var Commons Review – Adrift Through Time

    Title: Norn9: Var Commons
    Developer: Otomate, Idea Factory
    Release Date: March 30, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Aksys Games
    Genre: Otome

Otome games cover a variety of eras, from the modern New York, crossed with Los Angeles in Cupid Parasite, to the classical Japanese history in Birushana. But there exists one otome game out there that is said to defy that logic, and that is Norn9: Var Commons, a title originally released on the PS Vita but now with a Nintendo Switch port with a retranslated dialogue by none other than Anne Lee, a prominent translator.

Norn9 begins the story with Sorata Suzuhara, a child prodigy who recently won an award from Japan’s Prime Minister thanks to his outstanding ability. I think he and Senku from Dr. Stone would get along well. One day, while on a school field trip, he hears a mysterious song, wanders from his class, and blacks out. But when he comes to his senses, he is suddenly in 1919, during the Taisho era, Japan.

After meeting a strange girl who promises to help him get home, both of them board the titular Norn ship, a spherical-like structure that floats in the sky, defying all manner of scientific concepts while, at the same time, looking like it came straight from the sci-fi books of Star Wars. Inside that ship are special humans with abilities known as espers, who are dispatched by an organization known as The World to maintain world peace.

norn9 var commons review screenshot 1

The Prologue and its first chapters are very confusing at first. Honestly, so many questions came to mind, but the elephant in the room is Sorata. First, you get an elaborate prologue with him as the protagonist. Still, once you’re into a route, he is instantly benched as a random NPC, hardly appearing in any other chapters henceforth.

Once you’ve gone through the first chapter, you’ll be asked to choose one of the three girls, and each of them will have three love interest options. It is a bit more unique than other typical games of its ilk. I mainly found this system very similar to the worlds in Amnesia, which dispenses the use of a flowchart. Furthermore, the interesting point is that the Nintendo Switch version enables an automatic quick save whenever you reach a new chapter or choice, which is definitely a welcome addition.

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However, the Prologue is among the most confusing ones I’ve seen in an otome. Honestly, so many questions came to mind, but the biggest thing is Sorata. He only appears for the Prologue, and then, from Chapter 2 and onwards… it’s almost as if he didn’t exist unless you pick a particular route. Furthermore, you’re left with just questioning the overall premise of the whole narrative.

The artwork and soundtrack of Norn9 are certainly some of its biggest strengths. Still, the soundtrack suffers from the odd issue of sounding too loud, and the voice acting is muffled by it due to poor mixing. As a result, some characters felt extremely soft-spoken unless I had the BGM volume to the lowest possible and the voices on maximum. And the thing is that the developers are aware of this issue, as by default, the BGM volume is set at 30%, and the Voice volume is at 80%.

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One of the weaker points of the narrative that I thought Norn9 would have is the nine love interests, as usually, the more there are, the shorter the story on each has to be. But Norn9: Var Commons has a trick up on its sleeve. Generally, from what I’ve seen, the stories in otome games are usually one big plot with a set number of parallels, meaning one love interest’s ending isn’t generally connected to what happens in another.

I’ll do my best to explain Norn9’s routes and how they’re intricately connected, directly and indirectly. However, it makes you try and play all nine routes, or you won’t understand the bigger picture. Furthermore, there is also a “recommended route order” of which you should start first. While there is no penalty in going rogue and trying a route that’s besides the recommended, I’d still think that you should follow it, primarily due to the contents of the endings.

norn9 var commons review screenshot choice

I would be very bothered with myself if I didn’t mention this, but…I have to talk about the font. Comparing the Vita version, you can see that a white inside stroke was also added to the characters, and while that does fix a problem the Vita version had with window opacity, it just feels like a “solve one problem, get two others” sort of situation, because the left-hand margin of the first line isn’t consistent with the margin of subsequent lines, which just looks odd in my view.

Furthermore, the Log is also very weirdly formatted. While on the Vita, you had the individual text boxes, the entire Log is just crammed into this one giant wall of text, and you have to select a specific line you would like to rewind. That being said, the script did see some significant retranslations thanks to prominent translator Anne Lee, and many typos I’ve seen from the PS Vita release are gone. Still, if I’m being sincere, this awkward font spacing doesn’t do it any favors.

norn9 font comparison vita switch

By viewing certain events in routes and obtaining any endings, you’ll earn points which can be exchanged at the Norn9 Shop for side stories and additional illustrations. Furthermore, there is another mode called Norn9 Quest, which is, uh…hard to describe. First, you’ll choose a character, with three other characters chosen at the drop of a hat.

Next, you’ll have three events with the “enemy characters,” You’ll either obtain or lose points at the end. Yes, that’s it. I have no idea what the heck is the point of this because aside from selecting a character, just how many points you get is random, and you can even end up LOSING points from this, so I wouldn’t advise going anywhere near this mode unless you’re content with that.

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Norn9: Var Commons’ Prologue is a bit rocky when introducing the narrative and suffers from several plot holes. However, it still manages to pull you in with its crazy plot twists and overall sci-fi presentation. This, combined with its clever tactic to tempt you into clearing every single route for each character, is possibly one of the most cleverly written stories I’ve seen thus far. I can’t wait for the Last Era fandisk to complement this extraordinary narrative.

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

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