There are plenty of well-written visual novels out there. From old school classics that inspired a generation to the modern hits that generation created in turn, there is no shortage of verbose and gripping visual novels available to get into. However, very few these combine ground-breaking writing with equally inspired and rewarding gameplay mechanics. When one comes along that manages that feat, it’s a special occasion. World End Syndrome is one of those very special visuals novels.
In World End Syndrome, our nameless 17-year old protagonist is on a one-way train to Mihatee Town. He was involved in an unfortunate accident back home that resulted in the untimely death of his older sister, so when he receives an invitation to transfer to Mihate High School, as well as permission from his extended family to stay in their unoccupied vacation home in the town, he decides to make his way down to the quaint beach town to try and escape his problems.
Things go well for him at first. He meets a variety of new friends and finds himself entangled with a group of unsurprisingly attractive young women – I mean, it was always going to hit a few anime and visual novel tropes, wasn’t it? – from a quiet and aloof classmate to a loud and confident newspaper writer who’s come to town to investigate some supernatural rumours. See, there’s a lot of folklore associated with Mihate Town. One such tale is the legend of the Yomibito, which says that once every hundred years or so, resurrected spirits will return to the town to cause misfortune. It’s almost been a hundred years since the last Yomibito incident, and as you learn just a few hours into the game, it isn’t just a fairy tale.
Initially World End Syndrome presents itself as a very straightforward visual novel with very few choices, but as soon as our main players are introduced and some drama starts dropping, a shocking event causes the game to suddenly end. Credits roll, and you’re tasked with coming back to the story with your knowledge of previous events, this time being given the ability to freely explore the town, choose who to talk to and where to go during each day. Different locations will have different characters there, meaning you’ll uncover different parts of the story depending on where you visit.
The game has an excellent save system that records each major story beat you’ve participated in, letting you reload and revisit various parts of the timeline as needed in order to get the route you’re currently seeking. I always have huge problems with keeping track of visual novel routes and endings in my head, so having a system like this that makes it so much easier is a god send.
It’s also great to have a system like this that helps me explore more of the narrative, because it’s really an incredible story. Right from the beginning, World End Syndrome balances breezy slice-of-life moments with an ominous horror atmosphere perfectly, and that mix persists throughout the entire game.
There’s a focus on romance in World End Syndrome, sure, and you’re tasked with spending time with specific girls in order to get closer to them and achieve their endings. As you go along those routes, though, you learn about the hardships they’ve faced in life, and go through a number of shocking experiences together. World End Syndrome does a great job not just of developing a gripping atmosphere, but also of creating well-developed and three dimensional characters who steer as far from generic archetypes as possible.
That balance between romance and horror is amplified by the incredible presentation of the game. Blazblue veteran Yuki Kato designed the characters of World End Syndrome, lending sharp art and vivid colors to every character portrait and illustration in the game. Furthermore, every background in the game is gorgeously illustrated, and features constant movement and detailed lighting that add an incredible sense of life and depth to them. Beaches and trains have an incredible welcoming atmosphere to them, while dark alley-ways and empty night-time parks carry an ominous sense of dread with them that kept me on the edge of my seat.