planetarian -the revierie of a little planet-

Hope.

Post-apocalyptic.

A melancholic environment.

The above are all valid keywords and terms when describing the themes in the apocalyptic visual novel planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~  by Japanese-developer Key – a kinetic novel fast approaching its 10th anniversary in November later this year.

It is important to stress that this is not a game – nor is it an interactive novel, but rather a kinetic visual novel meaning that the player, unlike traditional visual novels, is given no choices in terms of how the story progresses. An approach which undeniably puts a lot of pressure on the story as it needs to be stellar and very solid to both entertain the player and justify the price. My review will thus primarily focus on the story and illustrations rather than the game mechanics. Though, it is important to remember that the game is nearly ten years old, and that the UI and resolution-options thus are limited and clunky due to that.

The world a wasteland with a consisted poisonous and corrosive rain - all a direct result of humanity's warfare on themselves.

The word is a ravaged wasteland which suffers from a consistent poisonous and corrosive rain – all a direct result of humanity’s warfare and inability to forgive and communicate properly.

planetarian introduces the reader to the ravaged remains of an once magnificent and monumental civilization which, due to depletion of limited natural resources, overpopulation and a failed Space Exploration Project, has become the victim of its own biological- and nuclear warfare. Once started, the war wouldn’t end and the bloodshed continued for thirty rough and unforgiving years – well into an era dominated by automated war machines set to kill anyone trespassing their territory on sight and capable of withstanding the now poisonous rain.

Whilst humanity remains present in small, unfriendly and very scattered groups, the story only includes one human-character; a middle-aged soldier and so-called junker (a person who enters dead cities on their own in an attempt to scavenge and track down valuable and undamaged objects) – simply referred to as ‘the junker’. Our main-character enters a derelict city and finds himself in the Flowercrest Department Store, where he unexpectedly is greeted by the ever talkative gynoid attendant, Yumeni. It quickly turns out that Yumeni is completely unaware of what have happened the previous 30 years as the databases she connects to are long gone. She thus welcomes the protagonist like a regular guest and refers to him as Mr. Customer, and proceeds as if nothing is wrong by showing massive loyalty and attentive while sharing happiness.

There are only two characters throughout the entire story, one of them being the talkative robot, Hoshino Yumemi.

In fact, Yumeni welcomes the junker as the store’s 2 500 000th visitor (despite him really being the 2 497 290th), and insists on showing him a special commemorative projection – an offer which he despite his aggravations accepts. Unfortunately the projector device, Miss Jena, is malfunctioning and the junker is required to repair it. As the junker works on the projector, he continues to observe and talk to Yumeni, whose innocence, amazing work ethic and almost childish happiness makes him grow fond of her.

The above ultimately means that a great amount of the dialogues consist of pure small-talk – something which appears subtle at first, however, is the fact that the small-talk perhaps are the most important dialogues. They truly show the differences between the junker and Yumeni, and how the two of them are respectively born and created into two different worlds years apart.

The illustrations are all very well-made with rich colours.

As the story progresses, it is evident that writer Yūichi Suzumoto understands how to play with the reader’s emotions and how to create a unique setting for his story. Mixed with very appealing illustrations, music and dialogues the character development furthermore remains intriguing and charming.

When that’s said, then planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~  is not a game (or story) for everyone. A passion for anime is an absolutely minimum requirement, and an acceptance of the fact that there are no choices or interaction to be made beyond the dialogue speed. However, if you like anime and don’t mind a kinetic novel, then planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ is a great choice for an emotional and solid story.

Buy planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/316720/

A press copy was kindly provided for reviewing purposes.

Papers, Please. Review, Please.

Papers, Please, which celebrated its 1-year anniversary last week, is described as “a dystopian document thriller” – quite an intriguing mouthful for a game description, but nonetheless a very fitting description for a truly unique game. Heavily influenced by the border systems present during World War II, Papers, Please introduces the player to the communist state of Arstotzka, which recently ended a 6-year war with its neighbors and otherwise reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Winning the lottery would be a nice thing – everywhere but in Arstotzka and in Shirley Jackson’s novel. Unlike Jackson’s novel however, the player gets to live after winning the lottery, but they are forced to take the job as an immigration inspector. And without further ado or formal introduction, day one starts and the player has to face foreigners wanting to immigrate and citizens wishing to return – all with both poor and good attempts to cross the border and (re-)enter Arstotzka.

Papers, Please requires an eye for detail. All papers must be checked properly and the regulations, which are updated daily, must be upheld accordingly.

Papers, Please requires an eye for detail. All papers must be checked properly and the regulations, which are updated daily, must be upheld accordingly.

The gameplay appears extremely simple, but as the game progresses and more regulations are added to the border-security and immigration processes, the harder and more complex the game becomes. The player has to ensure details ranging from name, day-of-birth, sex and passport number to appearance, height and work pass’ are in correct order. Should the player fail to do so, more than three times per shift, a penalty is applied which ultimately hits the player hard as they are under a massive pressure to support a wife, mother-in-law, son and uncle with food, heat, medicine and shelter.

This ultimately introduces a great range of moral choices – should the player bend the rules after hearing some visitor’s heartbreaking stories and let them enter; knowing the consequences? A few achievements are in fact challenging the player’s moral stance – for instance, should an aging woman be allowed to visit her son despite having discrepancy in her papers? Similar, as the entry requirements tightens – following the significant increase in terrorist attacks inside Arstotzka against the oppressive government – more people may be detained. The choice, however, ultimately is the player’s – but as the nearby guard continues to declare his willingness to share his payment, which happens to be based on the amount of detains, the more tempted the player becomes. It becomes a simple matter of survival and thus prioritization.

The player faces several moral choices which directly affects their economy and thus the lives of their family.

The player faces several moral choices which directly affects their economy and thus the lives of their family.

An interesting aspect to Papers, Please is the sound effects, audio and graphics. There are no identifiable voices (in any language), but rather extremely robotic and inhumane voices – something which follows the unidentifiable, gender less and anonymous queue outside the inspector booth. Both elements together with the Kafkaesque, colourless and overall dystopian environment greatly amplifies the alienation between the state and the people.

The lack of human compassion is stunning, but perhaps very fitting for a totalitarian bureaucracy which values the state above everything and everyone. This, once again, introduces the player’s role – no action is inconsequential, and with every coin having two sides nothing is just black and white. Yet the player is ultimately the only one who can question the procedures and do the unexpected and unwanted; show compassion and empathy. The choices will ultimately impact the player’s family directly as illnesses, hunger and cold all follows rapidly though.

No action is inconsequential.

No action is inconsequential.

At first glance the game appears to be completed in just a few hours, and whilst that may be accomplished, then Papers, Please offers twenty different endings – some with very different happenings. The player may find themselves stealing passports for an upcoming escape with their family, disarming a bomb or handing out job-offers for Engineers. It is safe to say that it takes a fair amount of hours to get through all endings, but the game does face some issues when it comes to replayability.

Upon having completed the main endings, the remaining endings appear most attractive for achievement hunters and players who wishes to complete everything. Though it does seem as if developer Lucas Pope (@dukope) made a calculated move in this regard. After completing the game, players are able to re-play the game from any day they wish. Similar, an endless-mode may be unlocked. Both elements help make the game interesting post-completion. This encourages most players to go through all the various endings – something which is very much recommendable.

Not everyone is pleased with the government - but everyone needs to cross the border, one way or another...

Not everyone is pleased with the government – but everyone needs to cross the border, one way or another…

Papers, Please is in truth an unique game which pokes to the player’s moral and human compassion. It introduces the player to a very special and dystopian environment which, if allowed, greatly influences the player. It is not a game for everyone, but those who wishes to find a raw pearl within the ocean of indie-games and for those who treasures great narrative and design, this is the game.

Glory to Arstotzka.

Buy Papers, Please on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/239030

Buy Papers, Please on GOG.com here:
http://www.gog.com/gamecard/papers_please

Buy Papers, Please on the Humble Store here:
https://www.humblebundle.com/store/p/papersplease_storefront

Buy Papers, Please from the developer’s website here:
http://papersplea.se/