|Publisher:||Marvelous Entertainment Inc., Ignition Entertainment|
|Developer:||Killaware Co., Ltd.|
|Official Site:||English Site|
Lux-Pain is the latest Japanese visual novel for the Nintendo DS to garner an English localization. It's a game in the same genre as Ace Attorney, Lifesigns: Surgical Unit, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and Time Hollow. Basically, Lux-Pain is a game driven primarily by its engaging supernatural storyline with some interactive gameplay elements as well. After spending about 20 hours with it, here's what I have to say:
Lux-Pain takes place in the modern Anytown, Japan setting of Kisaragi City. Kisaragi City is facing a serious infestation of powerful soul parasites called The Silent. The Silent feed on peoples' negative emotions and cause them to commit murders or suicides. Protagonist Atsuki witnessed the murder of his parents at the hands of Silent when he was a child, but he survived and underwent an experimental surgery to remove his own Silent infection. This allowed Atsuki to accept the psychic power of Sigma to probe people's minds and even influence their thoughts. Atsuki has since allied himself with a group of underground special operatives called FORT to investigate Silent-related crimes and purge the parasites. He currently works undercover as a transfer student at Kisaragi High School.
Throughout his journey, Atsuki will meet up with many of Kisaragi City's residents (some of whom have telepathic powers of their own) and use his Sigma powers to extract information from them and/or eliminate their Silent infections. He must then use that information to help FORT figure out the larger truth about what's going on. Pieces of the plot and additional worldbuilding can also be found via FORT's database, watching news broadcasts or checking email on Atsuki's PDA, checking the chat boards at a cyber cafe, and even normal conversation devoid of mind probing. As you can tell, players will need to spend a lot of time reading, as is normal for the genre.
The plot is not 100% spoon-fed to gamers, so some effort is required to peel back its layers. That effort is well rewarded because the story, setting, and characters become quite engrossing, particularly during the middle and end portions. The main plot is sometimes cryptic, but good, and the subplots that stem from it are intriguing as well. The ending itself, though, is a tad abrupt and leads me to believe that there is much more to tell. If a Lux-Pain sequel is developed, then I would definitely play it.
Punctuating the plot is above-average English voice acting during major cutscenes. The only issues with the voice acting are that there isn't enough of it, its low volume is sometimes drowned out by the music, and that the spoken dialogue does not match up with the text written on the screen. The spoken lines are always better than the written script, which often reads choppily and has some egregious spelling and grammatical errors. Some of these technical errors are acceptable, such as the posts on the cyber cafe's chat boards. However, seeing "Burse's Office" instead of "Nurse's Office" a couple of times, male characters sometimes being referred to as she (and vice versa), inconsistencies in character name spellings (particularly between the dialogue and the database), and text implying that the game takes place in America when it clearly takes place in Japan among other textual errors in the script proper lead me to believe that different parts of the text were localized by different people and the final product was not sufficiently proofread for consistency.
Lux-Pain's gameplay intertwines with the plot and consists of four small gameplay systems: the Sigma, Conversation, Friend, and FORT systems. The Sigma system is the most interactive system where players literally scratch away at people and places with the stylus in order to expose and extract wriggling worms of information from their souls. Occasionally there are boss battles within particularly troubled souls that play like different variations of Whack-A-Mole. The Sigma interface requires scratching with the stylus while switching between modes with the left shoulder button. The interface takes some getting used to and stylus response can sometimes be finicky. There is also no option to change the control scheme, so controls may feel awkward for left-handed players.
The Conversation and Friend systems are visual novel mainstays. Atsuki initiates most of the conversations with people, but there are times when a character will ask him a question, and the game presents either a dialogue choice or a spectrum of emotions (such as "surprised" or "angry") to respond with. Depending on Atsuki's responses, some characters may form closer friendships with him whereas others may remain distant. As Atsuki forms close friendships with people, they may send personal email to his PDA and bonus scenes can be unlocked. This provides replay incentive because one playthrough cannot unlock every bonus scene.
The tale can be difficult to follow due to the many people, places, events, and terms to keep track of. This is why the FORT system is the most vital and useful in the game. FORT provides Atsuki access to a database that updates a wide spectrum of information about everything as the game progresses and even offers a hint system to remind players of Atsuki's main objective. It is essential to check the FORT database often because the information therein fleshes out the people, places, events, and terms in Lux-Pain far more extensively than the game proper does. In a nutshell, the game is hollow without the FORT system. Even from the get-go, there is vital information in the database regarding the history of Atsuki, the Silent, and FORT.
That being said, the menu interface is disjointed and clunky. There is a lot of information to keep track of in the game and thus many menus, but finding and navigating the set of menus with the desired information feels unintuitive and takes some getting used to. Still, the mere existence of the FORT system to keep track of everything in the game is great because without it, following the story would be a nightmare. This is one game where players absolutely must read the manual in order to glean the full experience, because there is no in-game tutorial. Visual novels are typically a "pick up and play" genre, but Lux-Pain is not.
Lux Pain's graphics mostly consist of anime portraits atop photorealistic backdrops. It's a typical visual novel style of presentation. The character designs are decent, but lack the stylistic flair of characters in, say, a Megami Tensei game. The locations themselves also look fine, if somewhat generic. Other graphics include the polygonal bosses and the overland, which is an aerial view of a prerendered town atop a techie looking red laser grid. The overland's color scheme makes it appear as if it is eternally dusk, even in the sunny mid-afternoon. The most appealing graphics belong to the fully animated intro and semi-animated cutscenes. For those who like the art style, a small artbook is included with every copy of the game. I'd say it's a nice freebie.
The game's cool anime intro features a decent vocal song by Yoko Takahashi. Composers Kenji Ito and Yasuyuki Suzuki put together the rest of the game's music. RPG fans may recognize Kenji Ito's name from the SaGa series. There is a decent variety of music throughout the game. Darker scenes have more atmospheric music whereas happier scenes have a more poppy sound reminiscent of typical love adventure songs. There are even some pieces that use distorted guitar, such as the boss themes. Although some compositions are better than others, none of the music is bad, and many tracks are worth listening to in their entirety because the good parts are frequently not in the beginning. The title theme itself is a microcosm of the game; the beginning is a bit slow, but the middle and end portions are much better.
Lux-Pain is a decent, and quite lengthy, visual novel for the DS, although it does come with some stipulations. If you prefer your stories completely spoon-fed to you and are averse to digging through database menus to read backstories about everything, then Lux-Pain may not be the right choice for you. If you are averse to twiddly and sometimes unintuitive gameplay that requires reading the manual beforehand, then Lux-Pain may not be right for you. But if these aspects do not bother you and you are in the mood for a slightly askew visual novel for your DS, then Lux-Pain is worth a look.