Punch Line is the kind of anime your grandma thinks every anime is. It’s got wild characters with bright, neon hair, it has high school girls running around as crime-stopping superheroes, there are talking cats and world-ending conspiracies, and to top it all off, there’s a wild heap of panty shots and crazy nosebleeds. It’s an absurd, hyper, corny as hell Japanese animation that embraces some of the biggest tropes of the medium and runs them straight off a cliff. At the end of the day, it’s a show with heart and charm, but it’s also a show that never really seemed ripe for a video game adaptation. That didn’t stop dev-team 5pb. from trying, though.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Punch Line, and the thing that made me check it out back in 2015, is the fact that it’s written entirely by Kotaro Uchikoshi. If you don’t recognize that name, he’s the creative mind behind the twisted time-travel trilogy of Zero Escape games. Seeing that name attached to a show like Punch Line got me more curious than I’ve ever been in my life, and if you’re at all a fan of the writer, checking out Punch Line is a huge treat. It’s such a massive departure from the tone of Zero Escape, yet in the midst of all the mindless sugar-pop fun of Punch Line, you still get some character moments and plot twists that scratch that classic Uchikochi itch.
Uchikochi returns to writing duty for the Punch Line game, and he brings a lot of his work on the anime with him. The video game is a pretty thorough adaptation of the original anime, with scenes straight from the anime being cut into it pretty regularly. It was fun to see these bits of the show again, but I was a little put off by the idea that the entire game would just be a retelling of the original show. A lot of the appeal of Punch Line comes from it being a traditional anime series, so why bother trying to experience that again through a video game adaptation? Thankfully, due to the gameplay hook of this adaptation, the story ends up taking a massive shift at the halfway point and was enough of a departure from the original show to entice me to continue playing.
Some of Punch Line plays out in the form of visual novel scenes with the core cast rendered in beautiful 3D models. Your player character, Yuuta Iridatsu, turned into a ghost when an object fell out of the sky and crashed into his head, booting him out of his own body. He was unconscious when this happened because he saw some panties and had a massive super-powered nosebleed that knocked him out, but let’s not worry too much about that. As a ghost, Yuuta needs to manipulate the rooms in his apartment building to spook and scare his neighbors. Doing this will help increase his spirit abilities so he can manipulate more of his surroundings and find a way to get back into his body.
The spirit segments play out a little like Ghost Trick or Deception, with you dropping or moving objects in different rooms to set off chain-reactions of….well, reactions. By knocking down a note and spilling some salt, you’ll manage to change the way events in a scene play out so that certain characters go to new locations or discover important items they were overlooking. From the get-go, these bits of gameplay are really unique puzzlers that task you with a style of critical thinking I rarely have to do in games. Unfortunately, the way they’re presented ended up ruining what could have been a truly addictive and rewarding experience.
There’s an incredibly stilted pace to all of your actions that really ruins the flow of gameplay. When you interact with an object, time awkwardly pauses and unpauses as the object clunkily undergoes some kind of change. Then, after an equally awkward pause, characters will react to the change, and a stand-by message will cover the screen as the object is returned to its original position. You’ll see these kinds of scenes play out whether you chose the right or wrong object, and they constantly throttle any kind of momentum or impact your actions could have had. It’s satisfying to figure out the right scares and chain together the correct interactions to move the story forward, but that satisfaction is dulled by the frustration I felt with how slow and clumsy it was.
Furthermore, you can only manipulate pre-determined camera angles to choose your targets rather than fully explore the environments, giving everything a faux-sense of 3D that fails to make you really feel like part of the action. These camera angles play an important part in the gameplay, but it’s something that could have probably been implemented with full 3D exploration as well.
See, if Yuuta sees a girl’s panties, he’ll have a massive nosebleed and pass out. Him passing out sets of a convoluted series of events that ultimately leads to him failing to stop a meteor from crashing into Earth and wiping out the entire human race. Because of this, you’ll need to quickly pull your view away whenever a camera-point lands you into looking at someones exposed derriere, or else the world explodes and time gets reset. It’s a weird plot device that plays on the expected pervy tones of most anime, but it’ll probably land the wrong way with anyone who isn’t accustomed to it from the original anime.
I often feel like video game adaptations of anime are great entry points for people unfamiliar with the source material. Punch Line, however, is hard for me to recommend to anyone but the most hardcore fans of the original anime. While this game has interesting ideas that approach the same genre as cult-classic Ghost Trick, the sloppy presentation and pacing make it more of a chore than a pleasure to play through. A lot of the appeal of the original anime has also been lost in the switch of mediums. Fans of the anime will likely get enjoyment out of the new stories and beautiful character models. Anyone else is better off starting with the original television series or simply avoiding Punch Line altogether.
Version tested: PS4 – also available for PS Vita