Ambition can be a dangerous thing. So many great games have been lauded for their complicated ideas and plots, but more have tried and failed to fulfil their potential. Visual novels, perhaps more than any genre, have more space to be ambitious with their reliance on plot, literature and characters. Take Steins;Gate as an example that has succeeded. Tokyo Babel tries to reach the same lofty heights, but it doesn’t manage to achieve what the greats of its genre have.
Tokyo Babel is the name of a floating purgatory formed by a group of angels and demons to house any survivors of a disaster called the Divine Calamity. Surrounding the purgatory are a series of parallel realms and universes which are facing devastation and destruction, and the survivors of these realms are brought to be sheltered here. With the help of any surviving humans, the angels and demons wish to ascend Jacob’s Ladder and reopen the gates of Heaven to restore order to the world and atone for their failures.
The set up is extremely intriguing — it takes a typical set up between three different races, but throws them into a precarious situation which borrows from religious lore. Unfortunately, the game’s potential is the biggest thing Tokyo Babel has going for it. While the build up to the main story is excellent, everything that follows is bloated and overlong. This is where my biggest issue with the game lies — it’s length. I don’t have a problem with long games, but if your visual novel is going to push 50 hours, then it needs to be consistently engaging and full of memorable characters, and this game doesn’t boast either of these qualities.
Tendou Setsuna is the primary narrator of the game, an extremely powerful human who’s been denied human treatment since birth. He’s emotionally muted, and it’s very difficult to connect to him as a result. He feels just like another anime protagonist attempting to find his purpose in life. On the flip-side, his female companions are far more colourful: there’s Lilith, the flirtatious and sometimes serious demon; Raziel, the often clueless but determined angel; and Sorami, the flustered but willing schoolgirl who does the best with her new found situation in Tokyo Babel. Again, each of them exist to fulfil your typical anime archetype and do so appropriately, but it does leave you willing after more. It would make a nice change to play one of these games and find a character that bucks the trend, but Tokyo Babel isn’t where to find this.
This even stretches to the vast company of angels and demons you encounter in the floating purgatory. Most of the action takes place inside a school-like facility where the characters train to embark on their pilgrimage. Astaroth, who acts as a sort of Principal for the school, is typically aloof, intelligent and mysterious. Perhaps the most memorable character, and for all the wrong reasons, is Samael. Only in a Japanese Visual Novel could you meet the angel Samael as a crazed and sadistic Lewis Caroll’s Alice-esque figure who cruelly pins Setsuna to the ground between her thighs.
Given the Tokyo Babel’s length, you’d hope for many opportunities to interact and get involved with the game. Sadly, this isn’t the case. While each of the choices significantly affects and changes the story, some of the decisions you make have hours of passive reading between them. While I’m more than happy to read pages and pages of text, I felt like I was shut out of the action most of the time. Your choices also determine who will accompany Setsuna to the final stages of his pilgrimage and sheds light on his relationship with each of the three women. The romances with them are unconvincing, forced, and sometimes awkward due to Setsuna’s nature, and feel very out of place in the narrative.
Praise must be given to the artists who’ve done a fantastic job at illustrating Tokyo Babel. In particular, the many fight sequences peppered throughout the narrative are dynamic, exciting and varied. The first fight sequence between Setsuna and Gethel is particularly memorable and impactful, but as a result, my expectations were set too high for the rest of the game. With each new fight sequence between Setsuna and one of the demons, I found myself gripped.
I wanted to like Tokyo Babel so much. I’ll admit I haven’t seen every ending, but while I really liked the concept and the ideas behind the narrative, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend a few more hours trawling through pages of text with a group of characters I hardly cared about. Some people will really enjoy the convoluted plot and the attempts at romance, but this game sadly wasn’t for me. If you’re a fan of long visual novels, you might want to give this a try, but there are far better examples out there.