Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Norn9: Var Commons (PS Vita) Review

Norn9: Var Commons starts off in our modern world, but quickly transitions to a fantastical floating ship that contains its own eco-system.  On board are 12 travelers that were assembled by The World, a mysterious entity that will use these people to spread peace to the entire planet.  Most of the people gathered are called espers, who each have a special power, like the ability to create fire or erase memories.  At first I wasn't sure why the story started in the way it did, but without revealing too much, it does make sense at the end.  It also took me a bit to keep straight who was who, but after awhile it sank into my thick skull.  Going through multiple times really helps that out.

After the story gets started on the ship, you will have the ability to choose one of the three heroines as your main character.  Then after a bit more plot, you can choose one of two males (the third is unlockable) to be your partner, with whom you will forge a relationship.  Before this point, they don't show much romantic interest in the possible partners, but that makes sense.  Once you do start down your chosen path, the relationships are much more obvious.  The relationships start a bit quick, but after that the progression is pretty good.  You also get many choices in how to respond to your partner in situations, so you can deepen the relationship or not.

Who you choose will affect your path through the game, but the plot as a whole is relatively unchanged.  There are different endings to the story, though.  And while the core is similar, character interactions and some events are not.  Plus, with using different characters each time, you get multiple perspectives on certain events.  The few parts that are very closely repeated do offer an option to skip those parts, which is pretty cool.  I'm a fan of multiple perspectives in storytelling, so I find the story and character interactions to be really interesting, and I enjoyed them.

Each route takes about 3 hours if you are not just smashing through text.  With three different girls each having three different partners, you get a solid time investment going through all of them.  It's also different for each partner, since how their personalities, pasts and power interact with each other makes for an interesting tale.  Sometimes a particular pair has opposite powers, such as fire and water, and sometimes they seem different, but would work way too well together.  Each story is pulled off very well.  There's even some pretty emotional scenes in the game.

My first run through the game went off without a hitch.  I deepened my relationship, and got the good ending.  My next go around didn't end so well.  This seems to be par for the course for me (see Amnesia: Memories).  I thought everything was going well, and then... pow, it ended.  It didn't even feel like the end of the scene I was in, as I expected something else to happen.  But nope, dialogue finished, and it saved the system data and dumped me at the title screen.  No game over screen, no clue what I did wrong, nothing.  The previous choice was several scenes before this, so I don't even think it was related to that.  Needless to say, it put a damper on my mood, but I just moved on to another guy.  That... sounds weird.  I also switched main characters and resumed playing a different path.  Sadly there was no awesome option to go back to where I had screwed up (see Code: Realize), so I'll just have to go through the route again and try different options.

There are unlockable items the game offers, such as short stories from completed character routes, comics, music and pictures.  They are purchased with points you earn at certain places in the game.  However, to get everything you will have to play the strange mini-game called Norn9 Quest.  I had some trouble finding it at first, since it isn't a traditional menu item (you select the World's ship from one of the extra menus).  In this mini-game, you choose a character, and the computer will choose three opponents.  Then each one play a random scene and gives or takes some points.  At the end, the total is added (or subtracted) from your total.

That's right, you can actually lose points doing this mode.  The silver lining is that you cannot go below zero, so spend what you can before starting it, or just close the game before it saves.  To me it's kind of dumb that they can cost you points, since the whole thing is random and you need to play the game several times anyway if you want to buy the extra stuff.  I'm ok with losing points in the mini-game, but don't take any negative balance from my accrued stock.  That's just silly.  The judges don't take from your savings account if you fail at Jeopardy!.

Despite the sudden end and the randomness of the mini-game, I enjoyed Norn9.  There were several unique characters, and I like the multiple perspectives on many of the events that take place.  The character interactions are good.  There are several different routes through the game and hopefully I can one day finish them all.  Fans of visual novels should definitely check out Norn9: Var Commons.  I also see there is another game in the series, so I hope that gets brought over to the US too!

[Edit: 11/04/15] I have now frequently had the game lock up when exiting the Norn9 Quest.  It just sits on a black screen and I have to exit the game from the Vita's menu.  Now I usually exit after each run through it so I can spend the points I get (since you can lose them), and that may exacerbate the issue.  Hopefully this will be addressed in a future patch.

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