Our World is Ended Review
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on Visual Novels, but over the last few years, I’ve found myself growing fonder of the medium. Series such as When They Cry, Muv Luv, Utawarerumono, and SciADV are all near and dear to my heart. Those stories, while maybe not for everyone, have more than secured their place among some of my top recommended lists for the genre. I love when a VN tries something unique; when they try to go out of the genre’s comfort zones to say something different, or to offer a differing perspective on an already tried and true narrative.
Going into reviewing Our World is Ended, I’d say I was pretty positive. At first glance, the art seemed interesting enough, and although the premise sounded rather similar to Steins;Gate (with a few choice words altered), I was interested to see what the writers could do with it. However, even within the first few moments, I could tell that the VN was not going to wow me.
It’s probably best to just get this out of the way: the title’s plot is a mess. The character writing is disjointed, and the entire experience feels like the author had a million ideas for the type of story he or she wanted to make, but wasn’t quite sure how to balance it all. Our World is Ended (OWIE, for short) attempts to tell a somewhat serious “end of the world” narrative about an AR headset that causes its overlays to leak into the real world, but anytime the game begins to get serious about what happens to the characters – without fail – a sex joke will be made at the worst possible time to completely deflate any of the tension that arises.
While it can be tricky to discuss the merits (and/or demerits) of 'fan-service' as a whole, I can understand the purpose of including it in games that are tailor-made for that sort of content, or at least when it appears in tonally appropriate moments. Fan-service in a series like Dead or Alive Xtreme makes sense in the context of the series that it’s representing. While I wouldn’t say Labyrinth of Refrain, a dungeon crawler I reviewed last year, handled fan-service in general well (some of the game’s unit outfits are definitely more than a little sketchy), I’d argue that it’s one of the most recent games that I can think of that handled such risque content well, so that it added to the experience rather than detracted it. That’s probably because the content, for the most part, had a reason to be there, and it wasn’t constantly tone-shifting every 5 or 10 minutes, and Labyrinth of Refrain let serious moments be serious and poignant moments be poignant. Instead, OWIE scatters these titillating moments and innuendo throughout its runtime carelessly without regard for the characters we are supposed to be sympathetic towards or the narrative we are supposed to care about.
I’d hoped that the constant tonal shifts might eventually wear down, but that never came to fruition. Instead, I was subject to exchanges such as the party looking for “a banana, cream, and a thick, dark long pole” to craft the “Climaxblade” in order to defeat a tentacle monster, at the behest of a very scantily clad elf lady literally programmed to be as erotic as possible. All while the party is supposed to be scared out of their minds about how the rest of their city disappeared into thin air. There’s a place for games that are meant to arouse, but I’ve probably seen actual porn that is less horny than OWIE can be.
...which is all a roundabout way of saying that I don’t hate OWIE because of its fanservice, but rather how the VN feels unfocused, and even at times insecure. As if it thinks it absolutely has to throw innuendo at the player in order to maintain their interest. Even worse, when the title seems like it actually had something to say, usually it does so without a hint of tact whatsoever. One of the main characters - a woman - is constantly described as being “disappointing in everything she does” throughout the story. She is eventually revealed to have insecurities deriving from having a poor father figure in her life, and this attempt at character building leads to ... her feeling very attracted to underage boys.
I don’t even know where to begin here, or even where to end. The moment that the narrative began discussing her being a pedophile was enough to get some alarm bells ringing, but when a big reveal about “why” she acted this way took place, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. This VN was originally released in Japan in 2017 – not very long ago. There are many things I could say about this, but the more I talk about this, the grosser I feel. It’s bad, it’s really bad. While the narrative leads to sympathy for its pedophile character, actual LGBT individuals are the brunt of jokes elsewhere in the script. It feels like the narrative is trying to say something with it, and I can't say I feel great about what that might be.
Even if it wasn’t for content like the above, I can’t say that OWIE would be any better as a VN. At best I could argue that the writers didn’t know any better, and used that sort of trope without thinking about the connotations, but even then it’s downright harmful to both members of the LGBT community as well as any individuals that might have suffered from abuse in their childhood. Likening pedophiles to people that got abused in their childhood, even if it doesn't outright say it, certainly doesn't do anything to help victims of such abuse feel any better - if anything, it just assumes that they're potential pedophiles. It's just gross on a variety of levels.
Outside of the narrative issues, the VN itself is... fine. The art is nice, the music is alright, and the UI is actually surprisingly impressive - one of the most striking UIs I've seen for a VN. It's a shame that the actual story and characters drag the rest of the product down.