Text based adventure games are nothing new. Before the sprite there was the character and pc gaming's first games were born, no more advanced than a 'Fighting Fantasy' book these basic games relied heavily on good narrative and descriptive writing in order to draw the user in. Gaming has since moved on with more advanced hardware and changing tastes. The Nintendo DS over the past years has managed to almost single handily rejuvenate some genres once thought dead and gone. Lux-Pain is a Text based Graphic Novel but has Killaware succeeded in being able to draw a gamer into this games world? Read on and find out.
The somewhat idyllic Kisaragi city has a secret, on the surface everything looks calm though a few mysterious deaths attract the attention of FORT, an organisation of sorts that deal with the paranormal. You take the role of Atsuki Saijo an agent of FORT. Astuki is a young, mild mannered man with a special ability, using a power called Sigma he can look into people's souls and uncover their motives or even release them of their burdens.
The game follows the logic that everyone has a 'Shinin,' which from what I can tell is almost like your Soul. When a person feels pain or despair a Silent can be born from it, or a person can contract a Silent from another infected person. The Silent is a worm like creature which draws its victim into a deep depressive state ultimately forcing the person to commit suicide or kill someone. Atsuki's ability allows him to tap into the spiritual world and see a persons Shinin, he can also exorcise Silent.
To avoid suspicion Atsuki is enrolled into a local high school where he meets the rest of the games protagonists. The actual characterisation of the other characters is poor, though each appear to have their own very distinct personalities the way in which their mannerisms are portrayed in text form is extremely inconsistent, a good example is the character Yayoi, for the most part she is a polite and well mannered girl but in once instance she began speaking in broken slang for no apparent reason.
And that brings me head on into the localisation of the game, before I begin to talk about the gameplay mechanics I'd like to get this out of the way. The localisation stinks, not for a long time have we seen such gleaming errors in both spelling an grammer, simple words like 'what' are frequently misspelt along with characters names and a plethora of random words. For me the straw that broke the camels back was the use of 'a lot,' the fact they spelt it as 'alot' tells me that the people localising this game did not proof read and the quality controllers obviously weren't doing their jobs right. Some lines don't even make sense. If you can look past all that you'll find the 20 hour experience well worth the time.
Most of the gameplay takes place on the bottom screen as you'll spend the majority of your time talking to other people and tapping through reams of text, like with the 'Ace Attorney' games portraits of the people you talk to will appear as they speak, you can have two portraits on screen at once if you're having a three way conversation and every now and again you'll be asked to express an emotional opinion, these opinions are rather pointless as it's pretty much a guess as to whether you'll get it right and in no way does it affect the actual story or events that transpire in it.
The top screen is interesting, it shows a shadowy version of the portrait of the character below, if the character has an emotional reaction then a wave of colour blows over the shadowy portrait. The only use I noticed was it offers an early indication if someone is infected with Silent, or if you incorrectly answer a question and it upsets the character.
Here is the scene, you've cornered someone you think maybe infected with silent. The normal procedure is to probe their Shinin using your Sigma. To probe their Shinin you have two tools at your disposal, search and erase, to search you tap various areas around the character portrait and a coloured indicator will tell you if you're close, once you think you've found one then you select the erase function and scribble out the area you identified. To erase the worm you have to keep your stylus pressed on it until it explodes, this gets difficult later on as the worms will try and move into the areas you haven't scribbled away. Once you've erased all worms you'll be presented with another screen, this is where you imprint the Shinin and learn whatever information you can, the information is presented in a string of broken sentences that appear on the top screen and can be quite telling as it'll always show a characters true intentions. I found this mechanic in particular to be most intriguing especially when you are forced to perform Sigma on a dead man and you get to see his final thoughts before he died.
If however the person's Shinin is extremely evil in someway you'll have a chance to exorcise it in the Inner world. A Silent fight is simple, on the top screen there is a bug like creature with a health bar, on the bottom screen a blank canvas with another health bar, the bottom health bar is yours. The bug creature will make an attack gesture and a small hole will appear on your canvas, your job is to close the hole before it explodes causing you damage. There are three main types of attacks, the first is simple, when the hole turns white tap it then it'll close. The other two involve tapping a protective cover until it cracks then cutting it repeatedly until it closes and dragging the corners open then cutting it like before. I found these mini games hectic at first as I didn't have a clue what to do, you soon get used to it though and in fact it gets to the point where you go into the final battle confident you'll win. I would have preferred more variety in the Silent fights especially when you're fighting three or four an Episode.
The game itself is split up into 21 'Episodes', 19 if you don't follow the correct path in the previous few episodes. Episodes pretty much consist of; go to school, prowl the city then report back, rinse repeat. Strangely it never feels boring or routine, you never know what's going to happen which is great as it keeps you constantly guessing what's going to happen next and the episodic format of around an hour per episode really gives you the feeling this could be a TV show or an Anime.
Presented in a simple 2D anime style, the art is nice if a little bland and uninspired at times, the character portraits are nicely designed though they all have very jaggy edges which prevents them from looking like they're in the environment, if anything they look like cut out pictures on a painting. The only 3D in the game is during the Silent fights the bug creature is 3D though it's nothing to really write home about.
One major plus point to this game has to be the soundtrack, so many beautifully crafted tracks add suspense to a desperate situation or highlight the evil intentions of a character. I really can't push how great the music in this game is, I'm just glad when you complete the game you gain access to all the tracks.
How surprised I was to find voiceovers in this game. That's right, maybe 20% or so of the game is fully voiced over and my what a lovely job they did too, each character portrays themselves in a not too over the top manner and you can really feel the friendship between the characters in their banter, the audio shows no signs of compression though it can be a little low on the volume side. One complaint if I may, the voiceovers don't quite match the onscreen text. It's not too bad as the localisation makes the voiceovers a lot more understandable than the actual text written but I digress.
As said before the game is split into episodic chapters, each taking around an hour or so to complete. The game can be saved on any map screen though you can't save during battles or while you're having a conversation, portable? No. For the simple reason that the Silent fights require some finesse with the stylus, finesse you're not going to get while sitting on a train.
So, you've spent 20 hours on the game and you're done, what now? Well there are extra's such as the games soundtrack as mentioned before but to me I'm going to put the game away for a while, like a good book I'll come back to it at a later date and play through it again. It's one of those types of games, the type you keep for a very long time. The game itself has little to no replay value though.
A very bold and interesting attempted to bring a very Japanese game to the West, though the localisation is patchy at best I think the meaning of the game still remains and it has a lot to teach us about ourselves and how we view the world around us. The soundtrack is definitely worth looking into even if the game doesn't appeal to you. It would have gotten an 8.5 but I just cannot forgive how bad some of the English is in this game.