Editor’s Note: This review covers only Episode 1. In addition, it was written taking into account the updated and improved translation.
Is it possible to play a game that is, in fact, not a game at all? The visual novel genre often walks this line, with many games that have little-to-no input required on the part of the player. Strictly speaking, a visual novel where there are no choices or different paths in the story is known as a kinetic novel. These novels tend to require outstanding stories or characters to make up for their lack of gameplay mechanics. In this case, World End Economica is a kinetic novel that fails to excel in any area.
Does the name Isuna Hasekura ring any bells? Even if not, you might be familiar with a series of novels he wrote called Spice and Wolf. Unfortunately, while that series was widely praised, the story and writing found in World End Economica is lacking. As you might have guessed from the title, finance is a key component of the story. I do not have a head for numbers or economics, so it seems fair to mention that up front. A good portion of the game is dedicated to discussing the ins and outs of the financial markets which, for most players, is likely to be exceedingly dull.
Wrapped up in the “excitement” of the economics world is Hal, a young man born on the moon. Yes, you read that correctly. World End Economica takes place in the future and on the moon. The reason for this is never entirely clear. The foreign nature of Earth’s satellite is never taken advantage of in the story, and the game would have made as much sense if set on a futuristic (or potentially even contemporary) Earth. While I’m certainly not opposed to a bit of sci-fi, it feels redundant in this game.
Hal is a runaway, and soon finds himself wrapped up in the lives of the other main characters. While escaping local authorities, he is taken in by Lisa, a woman who runs a local church. Again, the reason for her religion is never made clear. It could have played an interesting role in the story, but it’s never important. Instead, Lisa becomes a strange motherly/flirty-type Christian (or maybe Catholic?) woman who somehow lives in and runs a church that never has a congregation.
Aside from Hal, whose dream is to become a billionaire by playing the stock markets, Lisa also shelters a girl named Hagana. Hagana is a mathematical genius, and she and Hal eventually team up in order to beat the markets. Unfortunately, Hagana and Hal are two of the least likeable heroes I have ever had the misfortune of encountering in a video game. Hal is ungrateful and childish, while Hagana is rude and dismissive. Thankfully, their personalities begin to develop and grow as the game continues, but even by the end, my feelings towards them were lukewarm at best.
For the first episode of a three-part series, Part I takes a good length of time to beat at around 10 hours. That said, if sixty percent of the writing had been condensed, it would have been a more interesting and exciting ride. The game dragged on and on until I actually decided to double-check that it was only Part I. I never felt emotionally invested in the characters or the story, and even after a twist occurred at the end, I was just glad to be done. Perhaps if there had been dialogue choices that made me feel like I had a role in the outcome, my opinion would differ at least a little.
The visuals don’t do the story any favours either. Most CGs and backgrounds are passable, and a few are gorgeous, but it’s the characters and overall design where the game falters. There are only a handful of different locations visited, so the frequency at which the same backgrounds appear is tiring. Character design is ordinary, though Hagana is ghastly. Her abysmal and dreary design does her personality no favours. Additionally, all characters have strange shading on their neck that I couldn’t stop staring at.
There are no voices in the game, so it’s up to your imagination to fill in the blanks. While I suspect this was a budget issue rather than a design choice, it’s perhaps not as bad as it may seem. I cringe thinking about listening to Hagana mope about for hours on end, though perhaps a solid voice actress may have changed my opinion. The soundtrack is uninteresting, but passable. The futuristic-style beats fit, but are hopelessly uninspired.
World End Economica -Part I- continually misses the mark, but avoids being downright terrible. Hagana is a disastrous character, but the rest manage a passing grade. The visuals are occasionally impressive, but rarely above average, while the sound is forgettable. The overall plot has interesting moments, but is lost between unnecessary scenes and an endless stream of lessons in economics. The new translation is solid, but the localisers did little to liven up the script. While we may eventually see parts two and three in English, I won’t be jumping with joy to play them.