Title: World End Syndrome
Developer: Toybox Inc.
Release Date: May 2, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Arc Systems Works/PQube
Genre: Visual Novel/Adventure
It’s rare to find visual novels that take chances nowadays. I’ve come to see this cookie-cutter approach to visual novel structure and character development as the norm and it’s been fine. However, ever so often, there are these visual novels that release that throw away much of the structure that visual novel fans are used to and deliver a vastly different way of storytelling in terms of giving players something new.
These are my thoughts on Toybox Inc.’s newest visual novel World End Syndrome. The game has some pretty unconventional ways of presenting itself, that requires a semi-understanding of the genre, but when it gets down to the story being told, my eyes were hooked. Going into this game knowing little to nothing about its background only made the experience better and I can promise you, it’s not a visual novel that I will soon forget.
World End Syndrome begins with a strange opening that might leave you in a state of confusion because of how vague it is. The game will constantly do this to you as little things happen here and there that have you begging for answers. Players assume the role of a truly nameless protagonist, so be sure to have a name ready for your character because there’s no default name. Following the events of an incident, the protagonist has moved to his uncle’s mansion in a tradition fictional Japanese beach town. As you might have guessed, his uncle isn’t living there, but it just so happens that his female cousin is, which comes with its fair share of awkward interactions.
The protagonist begins school and is dragged into joining a “Mystery Club” on campus by the annoying best friend character Kensuke. It just so happens that this club is made up of the romanceable female characters in the game. Ultimately, the club’s goal is to provide research into the findings of supernatural happenings, fueled by the writings of their homeroom teacher, Yamashiro, who published the best selling book called “World End Syndrome”.
This is a visual novel that enjoys letting you get comfortable and then shaking things up very quickly because it’s uncovered over time that there might be a spirit in the town that is rumored to go around killing people every 100 years. Being that the story takes place around this time, it just so happens that people around town are popping up dead. While saving the town and cracking the case is not really on the list of things to do for the protagonist, he seems to find himself in the middle of this mystery which doesn’t always lead him to a happy ending.
World End Syndrome takes about three hours to actually start. Why do I say this? Well because you’ll be forced into the worst ending your first time through the game no matter what. After completion, going through it again will reveal a new response at the end of the opening three hours which will then begin the actual game. You see, World End Syndrome isn’t a straight visual novel at all. It’s actually more of an adventure game with sim features. Each day of the month, players can decide what the protagonist does in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Traveling around town and meeting up with friends will boost your relationship with them, but the game doesn’t actually guide you on a specific route.
There are times where two characters wish to see you on the same evening and it’s up to you to decide who to hang out with, or you could just go to bed or somewhere else. The freedom that the game gives you is astounding and I was really impressed with the ways that it handled my interactions with characters and remembered who I had conversations with. For instance, I found myself at a lounge one night where an investigator asked me to meet her again there in three nights time. I didn’t think anything of it really, but I found myself at the school the next day where the protagonist brought up the encounter to Yamashiro who told him she likes retro games and that Yamato, a waiter at a cafe, has them. So the next morning I went to the cafe and asked him about the games and he let me borrow one. So when the night of the meeting came, I went to meet the investigator and the meeting went well because I had the game and knew key information about her.
Events like these are everywhere and there are so many places to go that makes it clear that World End Syndrome is a game that is going to require a few playthroughs. Thankfully, the game saves your system progress so events and items gained are saved over playthroughs which means players are free to go find additional events during other playthroughs.
Although I enjoyed the adventure sim features of the game, I couldn’t help but remember that this is supposed to be a murder mystery game. Well, that doesn’t come in until certain events are completed over multiple routes. Once the true ending is unlocked, the cards on the table and World End Syndrome reveals its hand of twists, betrayal, lies, and death. The game seems to use these happier routes to distract the player from noticing its dark underlining themes. It does a great job at making the player feel uneasy when it wants and for that, I applaud the development team for knowing how to play with the reader’s emotions.
I enjoyed each of the characters, even the side characters, which made getting to know everyone so much better. They all fall into their own personality type, but the only one that gets a little overwhelming would have to be Kensuke, but I think this was on purpose. Everyone seems to be holding onto a secret that is revealed over their routes, but its the main protagonist who surprises me. This is because he’s written as a character who keeps to himself for the most part and doesn’t open up to people, but once you are locked into the romanceable routes he turns into a love-struck child who gets giddy over text messages. While this is fine overall, it just felt a bit sudden in the story as if he changed overnight.
Music in World End Syndrome is great and perfectly sets the mood for the game within any scene. In terms of character illustrations, I felt these were a bit too static and didn’t give the characters the range of motion they demanded. They stand out even more because the background illustrations are so well done. Each background has an animation within it such as a fan or wind blowing in the grass, which looks beautiful. In terms of UI, the game has a nice “Skip Read Text” function that will come in handy for other playthroughs as well as an amazing key terms feature that allows players to read more context on things that are said.
I’d also like to address the localization team who I felt did a wonderful job at making this game understandable for the western audience. There’s a lot of Japanese folklore references and jokes between characters that must have been interesting to localize, but I was impressed by how true to the text they kept even for some of the ages of the characters which are normally changed during the process. However, there was a Lady Gaga reference during a scene, which I felt fit naturally, but I’m not sure if that was in the Japanese version or not.
World End Syndrome is a surprising visual novel that knew exactly what to do to make its dramatic murder elements more impactful. The game gives you a chance to learn and care about all the characters while focusing on collecting items and completing missions. So much so, that you end up forgetting about the murders that have been happening around town. It says a lot about society and how we’re so quick to move on from tragedies in this sense, but this game drags you right back in when you least expect it and it usually leads to an unhappy ending.
World End Syndrome left me emotionally bruised and beaten after completion. This is one mystery that is almost impossible to put down, especially when the conclusion is in sight. There’s so much to this game that I wasn’t expecting which made it all the better. The game has a high level of quality within its adventure and story elements that can’t be ignored by fans of the genre. If romance and murder mystery is your thing, then World End Syndrome is going to leave you speechless after its conclusion.
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