|Official Site:||Japanese Site|
KID is a Japanese software developer well known for popular Love Adventure series such as Memories Off and Close To. Never 7 is part of their Infinity series. Though I've had no exposure to the rest of Infinity, I was able to get into Never 7 without much problem. Never 7 is my first experience with a Japanese Love Adventure, and I can clearly see why such games are so popular in Japan. So it was with an open mind and a taste for games that defy my conventions that I jumped into a game that drew me in and left me wanting more.
The graphics aren't anything special. The game is seen from a first-person perspective and the graphics consist of plainly designed pre-rendered backdrops with never more than two 2D character portraits when a character speaks or is spoken to. Sometimes there will be close-ups depending on whether the character is standing close to you or not. Often the characters will change emotion for their lines, but the game is presented primarily with still pictures. Many times during introspective or expository scenes, there will be no portraits -- just a boring backdrop and lots of scrolling text in the text box. There are no FMV cinematics or anything, save for the intro, which even then, has average CG. This is definitely not a game for those who value flashy visuals.
But what makes the graphics so special are the character designs. How do the Japanese do it? The character designs in this game are so appealing that they turn a grown man like me into a drooling moronic zombie. I know the girls the story revolves around aren't real, but damn if they're not drawn so gorgeous that they appeal to the senses like nothing else. My personal favorite character design is of Haruka Higuchi, the dark haired beauty with smoky eyes and an air of mystery surrounding her.
The sound is also a mixed bag. There is voice acting whenever a character, other than yours, speaks. The seiyuu all do a good job capturing the essence and proper emotions of the characters. There are a few instances where the character will have a very angry expression, and the seiyuu will deliver her lines in a neutral tone of voice, but overall it's pretty good. Also, I felt the voices generally sounded somewhat muffled and would have liked better clarity and crispness in the sound reproduction. Sound effects are sparse, and again, would benefit from greater clarity.
The soundtrack is very nicely done, though. The compositions are not very complex, but they capture the mood very well and many of them will get stuck in your head. The nuances of the music definitely aid in understanding the mood of the story. The music is synth-heavy and has a nice 'anime pop' sound without ever getting grating or annoying. The music adds a nice complement to the visuals and story segments. I particularly liked the music that played during the end credits after a 'good' ending.
I always favor soundtracks where each character has his or her own theme and this game is no exception. Each girl has her own theme music that captures the essence of who she is. It's no coincidence that my favorite character theme is that of my favorite girl in the game -- the aforementioned Haruka. Her piece is a slow, semi-melancholy piano piece with some synth interjected into it. I always looked forward to hearing it because it usually meant a scene with her.
The gameplay (if you can even call it that) is very limited. This piece of software is an interactive novel. You just read lots of text, look at the pretty pictures and every so often, you're presented with a choice. So you move your directional pad and press 'A' to select your choice. Pressing A also scrolls the text.
Pressing the X button at any time during gameplay brings up the menu where you can save or load your game, adjust the sounds, quit, or look at the options (which is very useful). What's nice is that when you bring up the menu and just let it sit for a while, the text changes from Japanese to English. So at the very least, importers can read the menu selection. However, this game is FAR from importer friendly, which I'll explain later.
You can save any time you want, and it's recommended you do so. I tended to save each time a decision screen came up, so if I ended up picking a bad choice, I could open up the menu again, load a previous save, and make a different choice. Perhaps that could be considered cheating in a way, but my motto is: "If the game lets you do it by default, it's not cheating." What is also nice is that if you go back to an older save, pressing START allows you to fast forward the scenes you've seen till you get to fresh material.
The option screen is cool. Sure, there are the standard things, such as adjusting the screen position and changing the color of the windows, but the coolest thing is the VMU display. Among the many things you can display on your VMU is a meter to show how well you're doing with each girl. There are three blocks and, if you're doing well, they'll have hearts in them.
Oh, and the game has an omake mode. After you beat the game, you can open up cool things in it, like a picture gallery of the girls (the more time you spend with one, the more pictures of her you get), a music test (sweet) and other stuff. Sure, the omake mode isn't anything more than the bonus modes of other games, but I still love things like a music test and a picture gallery. The game also has an 'Append Story' mode where you can play new scenarios that can be downloaded from KID's website.
Okay, so thus far the game seems pretty ho-hum, right? Well, what is the driving force of a novel? That's right, the storyline and writing. Just like a text novel can't capture you without a strong plotline and compelling writing, an interactive novel game like Never 7 is primarily dependent on its plot and writing. And thankfully, both are excellent.
The story is presented mostly through text, so having a very strong command of reading Japanese is a must if you want to play this game. I had trouble reading some of the story segments and definitely missed out on a lot. Some of the girls talk about abstract concepts such as philosophy and even such complexities as scientific theory. There is also a lot of Japanese wordplay during dialogues. So even with a good command of Japanese, the meatiness of the writing makes for some challenging reading. But I always love a challenging read and this game is no exception.
If you don't press start at the title screen, you will be treated to a rather cryptic opening cinematic. It shows the characters, but also something about DNA. This will have you scratching your head, but does feature into the plot.
When you start the game, it is April 6th and someone has just died. The lasting image is that of a little bell in that person's hand. Before anything else happens, a red-haired girl wakes you up with a start. In reality, it is April 1st and you are Makoto Ishihara, a third year university student. You and some classmates (whom you've never met before) are sharing a lodge in a resort-type area for summer vacation.
Said classmates include the aforementioned red-haired girl named Yuka Kawashima. She is, for all intents and purposes, the group leader, and she's a total lush (she loves to drink alcohol). I already mentioned Haruka Higuchi before, and the third classmate of yours is Okihiko Iida. He is a spoiled rich-kid type with a strong jealous streak. I regarded him as a rival for the girls' affections.
Other characters you'll meet are the Morino sisters, Kurumi and Izumi, who run an Italian restaurant nearby. Kurumi is the youngest cast member at 17, and is clearly the perky 'kawaii' one. Izumi is 22 and more maternal. You will also meet Saki Asakura -- an old friend of Yuka's who also lives nearby. Saki is rather hot-tempered and has a short fuse. Sure, these characters all seem archetypical, but they do have a lot of depth and are developed quite well. However, one must play a certain way to see a particular character develop. If you make the choices that lead you down one girl's storyline, the others may get shafted in the character development department, since the girl of choice is in the spotlight the most.
Okay, so back to the plot... how about that dream? It felt so real. Will someone die on April 6th? Signs point to yes as you sometimes encounter flashbacks of that dream throughout the course of the story. The game takes place over six days, then, in my case, looped back and allowed me to 'summarize' the six days over again and make some different and more meaningful choices. It seems your character is somewhat psychic and thus, with the newfound knowledge of the loop's previous events, you could prevent some tragic events from occurring. But be careful because one wrong choice and it's curtains for you. There is also a brief seventh day scenario, provided you make the choices toward a 'good' ending. If not, the bad ending ends on the sixth day.
I have mentioned choices a few times before in this review. This is because the story plays a lot like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. You read for a while, and then you come to a place where you need to make choices to advance the plot in various directions. And like Choose Your Own Adventure, every choice you make, no matter how subtle, has an impact on the story. An example of a more obvious choice is in the beginning: Do you play a semi-interactive game of tennis with Yuka or chill on the beach with Haruka? A choice like this is the first step on whose storyline you decide to follow. Other choices are more subtle and there are many opportunities to pick your dialogue. An example of a more subtle choice is, say, if you're with a girl, do you choose to look into her eyes or take her hand? Reactions often vary with the dialogue and other decisions you make. Each girl's storyline either has a good ending or a bad ending so replay value is quite high.
What I really like is that this tale is not the bombastic, apocalyptic, beat-the-bad-guy kind of story I've experienced time and time again in most RPGs and adventures, but instead is a more personal, character-driven, emotive, human tale based around gentle romance. You really get into it when, say, the girl you're with is crying, then you make the correct dialogue choice and she smiles again. And if you make the wrong choices and she gets angry or upset at you, you smack yourself. The interactivity of the game on a more personal scope was a refreshing change to the RPGs and adventures I've played, where the scope is more global/epic and less personal. To be honest, I generally prefer tales with a more intimate scope.
The only downside to the story is that there are a few plot twists that are really far-fetched, but as long as you can remove yourself from your reality and accept the weird occurrences as part of the game world's anime reality, then you will enjoy it. Just hop on the merry-go-round and have a good time.
Finishing one scenario took me about 15 hours, but I play story-centric games rather slowly. That seems short, but the amount of plot and characterization that fit into those 15 hours is quite high. The pacing was wonderful, and there was never ever a lull. And, like I said, the game has a lot of replay value, so if you go after each girl's good ending then you're looking at over 40 hours of play from the game.
All in all, I really enjoyed playing this game. It was a unique experience for me, and I hope to play more games like this in the future. I enjoyed the strong writing, interactivity, and more intimate scope of the storyline. Like a novel, the storyline and clever writing were the strongest points, with the addition of pretty visuals, great music, voiced dialogue, and interactive choices as icing on a very moist and chewy cake. Sure the whole idea of 'Love Adventures' may not be everyone's flavor, but for those willing to try, Never 7 is a terrific choice.