Import Review: The junker goes: "UTINNI!!!"
Comprising nearly seventy-five percent of PC sales in Japan, visual novels have become a staple among hardcore Japanese gamers. The equivalent of ?choose-your-own-adventure? books in America, many of these games has been well noted for their strong aesthetics as well as beautiful storytelling. As one of the most prominent softhouses in Japan, Key has played a prominent role in changing people's ideas about these games from nothing more than gratuitous sex romps to literary wonders. Their secret: the creation of the ?crying game? formula which is to create a heartrending story about star-crossed lovers who are ripped apart. At times, these pieces can reach Shakespearean levels as they draw the reader into the story's unique world, and thanks to a number of fan translators in the west we could finally begin to appreciate Key's work.
As one of the first fan translated works back in 2005, Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume (the Reverie of a Little Planet) presents players with a story that takes place in a future post-apocalyptic world ravaged of its natural resources that is suffering from overpopulation. Players essentially take on the role of a junker (think of Jawas from Star Wars) who have been scavenging items from past cities in order to survive. Being chased by a patrolling mech, he goes into hiding within the ruins of a department store where he eventually meets up with a female robot named Yumemi. Trying to avoid any potential spoilers, the story goes on to explain his misadventures with the robot as he begins to realize that he was staying in the store for too long despite his own logic....you can make your own guesses as to what happens from there.
Being a purely story-driven game, the two characters in Planetarian are among the strongest I've seen in a visual novel for quite some time. From the mysterious junker to the optimistic Yumemi, players will enjoy watching the characters unfold in front of them and how their relationship grows.
Story aside, Planetarian is presented in the form of a kinetic novel where the player isn't presented with any choices. So for those of you looking to control the story, tough luck. Just sit back, enjoy the story, and then cry buckets by the end of it. Allowing the reader to control the story at his/her own pace, players can click through whenever they want to advance through a scene as well as set bookmarkers using the save/loading screen. In addition, the story is segmented into different chapters like your typical DVD movie in case you want to re-read any chapters later on in the future. For me personally, I just set the story on auto-scroll and sat back for the three to four hours of the game.
Although the game is published by Key, fans of their other works such as Kanon
would be surprised to know that most of their famous staffers such as composer Shinji Orito, artist Itaru Hinoue, and scenario designer Jun Maeda took a backseat in the project. Instead, the work was done by Yuchi Suzumoto (scenario writer), Eeji Komatsu (artist), and Magome Togoshi (composer).
Thankfully, Key didn't miss a beat even without their head staffers. Using a beautiful blend of CG and hand-drawn images, Eeji Komatsu did a fantastic job in creating a personal world that everyone could relate to even though it was set in the future. The haunting images of the desolate city being compared to the time when it was alive strikes a nerve in the reader as it brings up issues of how war destroys our planet. While the only character that the reader sees is Yumemi, her expressions have a timeless appeal to them that constantly changes depending on the mood.
Similar to their other works, Key does another fantastic job with their original soundtrack. Although its relatively short at about eight-ten pieces, all of them are soft enough for easy listening and can pluck at your heartstrings at any given time. The voice actors in the game do an excellent job at conveying character emotions.
As an extra bonus to those who finish reading the story, the standard CG mode and jukebox are available to use at your leisure.