Ever 17 is part of KID's Infinity series that includes the love adventure Never 7. I played Never 7 on Dreamcast and loved it. It was a very interesting love adventure with an intellectually stimulating storyline. Ever 17 is very much a standalone game whose cast, setting, and plot have nothing to do with Never 7 but is consistent with the Infinity trademark of an intellectually stimulating love adventure. However, calling Ever 17 a love adventure is a misnomer. To me, it's just a darned good Japanese adventure game that just happens to involve deep interactions with various females and endings concerning them.
In a game like this, story is everything because there really isn't any gameplay beyond reading lots of text until you come to a point where you need to make a choice. If you have ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books back in the day or any variants thereof like Time Machine, Find Your Fate, Which Way or other gamebooks like that, then playing Ever 17 is like reading one of those books. The box even says that the game is a hybrid of Choose Your Own Adventure books and Japanese anime. Replay value is quite high since a single playthrough can be done in a weekend, and for subsequent tries there are options to fast forward to decision sequences or use a shortcut to start from a more advanced point in the game. Nice. The game also allows you to save anytime you want, boasts 65 save slots, and temporarily quicksaves at decisions during a play session. This is great for those of us who bookmarked and dog-eared pages in our Choose Your Own Adventure books so we could see what the alternate choice at a certain point would do.
The story takes place on an artificial resort island off the coast of Japan called Insel Null that houses an awesome marine theme park called LeMU. Insell Null is funded by the Leiblich Pharmaceutical company in Germany, thus explaining why all the attractions in LeMU have German names. LeMU starts at the surface and descends into three tiers below sea level. The air pressure inside LeMU is calibrated to be equal to or greater than the water pressure of the ocean so that it doesn't implode.
The two main characters you can play as are a college student named Takeshi and an amnesiac teenage boy who's referred to as "Kid." Takeshi was planning to spend the day at the island with a bunch of his friends, but they got separated so Takeshi finds himself running frantically around LeMU trying to find them. Meanwhile, Kid is elsewhere in LeMU sitting on a bench eating an ice cream cone. He has been waiting on this bench for a very long time for someone, but he is not really sure who he's waiting for. He's not even sure of who he is. While he's thinking about all this, a cheerful LeMU staff member, who answers to the name You (short for Yubiseiharukana), finds him and decides to be his friend for a little while. After some time with You, Kid finds a young girl that he thinks he may have been looking for, but every time he approaches her, she disappears.
After some additional exposition to get a bead for both characters and some run-ins with a mysterious pink-haired girl named Coco, the plot thickens when both Takeshi and Kid have strange encounters with a mysterious person in a lemur mascot costume. The lemur mascot gutpunches Takeshi when he asks for help, runs off, lures Kid into the girls' changing room, quickly puts the costume on Kid and runs off. As Kid confusedly wanders around in the lemur costume, an angry Takeshi comes up from behind and unmasks him. The scared Kid collapses due to heat exhaustion from not being used to the mascot costume. You happens to be in the area and Takeshi helps her bring Kid to the infirmary to rest. During his rest, Kid has visions of both Coco and the other mystery girl he encountered.
Meanwhile, Takeshi leaves the infirmary and makes for an open elevator so he can check the next floor for his friends. In the elevator is a dark-haired and rather surly girl named Tsugumi who harshly scolds Takeshi for being an annoyance. All of a sudden, there is a blackout and both Takeshi's and Kid's thoughts are racing. It is during the blackout sequence where a seemingly innocuous decision determines whether you play the rest of the game as Takeshi or Kid. I thought that was a pretty slick change of pace from more traditional character selection methods.
Wouldn't you know it, the game takes place on the one day LeMU springs a massive leak, the communication systems go down, and our six (possibly seven) stranded heroes are sitting ducks with only 119 hours left until LeMU implodes from the excessive water pressure outside. Their only hope is that a rescue squad will reach them, or they'll find a way to escape. Swimming to the surface is out of the question, because the wetsuits and emergency escape submarines are all gone and the water pressure 167 feet below sea level will crush your lungs unless you're a very experienced skin diver. Climbing out can be scratched, because the entire first floor of LeMU is completely flooded, rendering the emergency hatches useless. Basically, it's a Murphy's Law situation, where anything that can go wrong, does go wrong at inopportune times.
It is under these dire circumstances that our diverse cast of characters begin to form strong bonds with each other, and it is their interactions, dialogue, and relationships that create the bulk of the narrative. Not everyone is as they seem and some of the deep conversations between characters are quite philosophical and intellectual. I'm a sucker for that. I found each and every one of the characters interesting and the more you play, the more developed they become. LeMU itself has many secrets to discover and there are hints of a conspiracy from the outside making for a complete narrative driven by characters, setting, and events.
The writing is quite good content-wise and reads like conversation should, but there are noticeable hiccups in the text. The usual suspects like spelling errors and grammatical faux pas (i.e. "your" vs. "you're") are present as well as some rarer hiccups like words running together without spaces. It's nothing I haven't seen before in other Hirameki titles, and theres definitely room for improvement.
The game has eleven endings and depending on who you play as, some character interactions will be deeper than others. For example, if you play as Takeshi you can open up deeper interactions with Tsugumi but if you play as Kid, she's just a supporting character. On the other hand, if you play as Kid you can open up deeper interactions with You, who is just a supporting character in the Takeshi storyline. Each subsequent playthrough reveals more about the plot, like the layers of an onion. Believe you me, even after two playthroughs, I'm still confused with regards to certain events and characters, namely Coco who proves quite the enigma.
I really like the graphics in this game. Sure it's the standard 2D anime still portraits on static backdrops, but the backdrops in this game are bright, vivid and nicely detailed so they're not boring to look at, even when scrolling through text when nobody is on the screen. The character designs are also quite appealing. There are a few moments in the opening cinema when CG is used, and while the quality is good, it's nothing wow-worthy. Aside from this, vibrant graphics with pleasing hues and no graininess are always a plus in my book.
The sound is top notch. The game features full Japanese voice acting and the voice actors do an excellent job portraying their respective characters. One thing to note, however, is that the voice.dat files may not have been properly written to the disk in early versions of the game, so they may not install properly. Hirameki has the voice.dat file for download on their website. But even without the voice acting, the music is very good. There is a wide variety of synthesized music with varied instrumentation to represent the many moods and scenarios of the game. Takeshi Abo's compositions for this game are vibrant and readily grabbed my ear; a vast improvement over his work in Never 7. The sound effects are also well done. Audio quality throughout is very crisp and even sounds good through laptop speakers.
Ever 17 is a fantastic adventure game and I'm glad Hirameki decided to publish it for a US audience. There haven't been too many Japanese graphic adventure games published in English, but of the few that have, I would certainly rank Ever 17 as one of the best, if not the best of that bunch. If you are an importer who likes the genre, then you've likely already played this. If you are not an importer and the genre appeals to you, then Ever 17 is a must-play. Normally when I'm done with a game, I usually want to shelve it for a while and not go after alternate endings and such, but with Ever 17, as soon as I got an ending with Takeshi (a bad ending) I went right back and replayed the game as Kid to try and open up new story paths. I got a bad ending with Kid as well. I still have a million more questions about LeMU and the cast and won't feel a full sense of completion in this game unless I go through all the possible paths. That desire to want to replay the game so often is one of the highest accolades I can bestow.