"If you were to take all the classic clichés and tropes found in C-grade anime and visual novels, mix them up, then stick them to a board, you would end up with a story on par with the one found in Koenchu."
The visual novel market continues to grow (albeit slowly) in the west, and we've gained access to a greater ranger of higher quality titles. Though there are typically years between their releases in Japan and elsewhere, they're finally starting to arrive, which is fantastic news for the genre. Up until now, however, the majority of releases internationally have been sub-par at best and, sadly, Koenchu is one of them.
If you were to take all the classic clichés and tropes found in C-grade anime and visual novels, mix them up, then stick them to a board, you would end up with a story on par with the one found in Koenchu. It follows Souta and his female friends at a voice acting school where they, uh, actually, don't do a whole lot. Most of the plot leads up to their classes' performance of Romeo and Juliet, but it jumps between trips to the countryside, cosplaying in Akihabara, and arguing with rival upperclassmen in a way that makes it difficult to actually care about any of them. It feels as if the developers tried to squeeze in as many clichés as they could, even if it hurt story continuity.
To make it worse, the English localisation is incredibly poor. There are spelling and grammatical errors, strange word choices, and extras such as the hints and ending lists haven't even been translated. In fact, all the dialogue in the hints section has been removed, and every single line just says "DUMMY." Between in-game weeks, the game even throws quotes at you from everyone from ancient Greek philosophers to Michael Jackson, and they have no story relevance whatsoever. I found it hard to believe I was playing a game that had been released to the public.
As a slice-of-life visual novel, you would expect the focus to be on building strong relationships with female characters and developing romances, but for most endings, that is not the case. While many of the girls are likeable, though also slotting into archetypes, they have little to no character development and few romantic options. I looked forward to when Souta would realise and reciprocate his childhood friend's romantic feelings, but even in her ending, it didn't happen.
While slogging through the text, you'll occasionally be presented with ten question quizzes. Often they are posed by fellow classmates or teachers under the premise of teaching you about voice acting (seiyuu
) or anime culture. Some of the questions did reflect this, but in others I was tested on Julius Caesar and spelling. It made no sense at all. The game also promises ten hours of in-game radio to listen to. What they fail to mention is that none of it has been dubbed and there are no accompanying subtitles.
Like the radio, the music is a disappointment. The soundtrack is low quality and shaky at the best of times, and it fails to even set the scenes. The sound effects between in-game weeks are ear-grating, and the "plopping" as you click between menus isn't much better. The Japanese voice acting is passable, but nothing special, so after playing through the game in Japanese, I decided to start again to hear the English dub. Surprisingly, it was great. The entire cast do a wonderful job of reading their lines. Their deliveries sound natural, and their voices match their characters. Unfortunately, the opening theme of the game music has also been dubbed, and the singer barely manages to hold the tune.
You may have noticed from the screenshots that Koenchu uses blurred photographs for backgrounds. It's an odd choice that adds a small amount of realism in favour of poor quality visuals. Characters fare a little better, though often stand in odd, uncomfortable-looking poses. CG art is solid, but made worse by the garish pink HUD.
If you've played visual novels or watched any anime before, there is nothing for you in Koenchu. While such an audience may in fact be its target, it fails to deliver in any area that we haven't seen hundreds of times before. For first timers, there are simply far better choices, especially considering the embarrassing localisation. I just hope the English voice actors have gone on to bigger and better titles; they deserve it.