Dead End Valentine Review—Death Is Like Two Boxes of Chocolates

DeadEndValentineTitle

Earlier, JeremyR presented his impressions of the Japanese-only PlayStation Mobile visual novel Dead End Valentine, but due to the language barrier, he could not provide a full-on review. I have a somewhat pitiful command of the language, so armed with that, my interest in the title, and an online Japanese-English dictionary, I played it myself to see how it was.

Dead End Valentine blazes a trail not only in being the first visual novel on PSM, the first Japanese-only PSM title released in Western regions, and the first visual novel ever covered by this site, but probably also in being the first really cheap visual novel available on a gaming device. While such games are readily available in Japan on PCs (most notoriously in the form of eroge—erotic games), consoles, and portables, they’re just as expensive as any other Japanese game on those platforms. At less than $2, this PSM title is cheap not just by Japanese standards but also by those here across the Pacific. As one might expect from that price, it is a noticeably cut-down experience compared to a professional grade visual novel, but it does at least support pretty much all the features of its costlier brethren.

The Options Menu

The Options Menu

The screenshot above shows every part of the game’s user interface, which is touch-only. On the left is the drop-down main menu, whose selections are, top to bottom: Controls Help, which really just tells you it’s touch-only; Backlog, the log of the story you’ve read in the current session, a standard visual novel feature—though there’s no audio playback, since there’s no voice; Auto, to have the story advance pages on its own; Skip, to fast forward; Remove Window, to display just the art of the current scene, if you reeeeally want to see the whole thing; Save, giving you 4 slots, more than sufficient for this game; Load; Options; and, Close Main Menu. The Options menu, which I’ve opened here, lets you pick from slow, normal, and fast speeds for each of text display (per screen), effects display, and the Auto display. Under those options are the button for resetting to default and returning to the game’s title screen. On the right side are volume settings for music and sounds, plus a weird setting for whether or not to show the main menu drop-down’s button icon at the top left of the screen.

So, in terms of the interface, everything’s pretty much there. If you’re interested in this title as an introductory visual novel experience, it does provide for that, the sole noteworthy missing element being that it doesn’t mark which choices you’ve selected before when you come to a branch. That isn’t much of an issue, though, due to one of the game’s problems: it’s a bare-bones story, with few branches.

You're probably not supposed to remove the text window to look at a barely used piece of background art.

You're probably not supposed to remove the text window to look at a barely used piece of background art.

That Dead End Valentine is a low-budget project is clear from not just the game’s assets but even in the length and complexity of the story. While most visual novels have a variety of endings that are determined by your choices throughout the game, this one really only has one line of story. That is, most of the branches don’t lead to further branches, just, well, leaves. Considering how much asset reuse goes on in the game anyway, you would think that the relatively inexpensive effort in writing more story could have been done without straining the budget.

And speaking of the assets, those are less than spectacular. The entire soundtrack consists of a handful of forgettable loops. Maybe it was just three of them, “normal,” “danger,” and “happy” moods. The visuals consist of two backgrounds and two female characters, who share not only the same school uniform but even the same hairstyle. Beyond that, there’s the fact that the line work in the illustrations has the distinct look of art done entirely in a rudimentary computer drawing program, with no variation in thickness, no warmth that pen-drawn line work would have. Facial expressions change, but I don’t recall the body poses ever varying; it’s supremely skimpy in the visuals area.

She's, like, totally copying my hair!

She's, like, totally copying my hair!

However, it’s a visual novel. The story is the most important part, right? That’s what people buy them for, right? Unfortunately, the story here is an exercise in stereotypes. It’s Valentine’s Day, which in Japan means it’s the day girls give chocolate to the boys they like. Ordinary high school student Shunpei finds himself the object of affections of two girls he’s known since at least elementary school. Kyouko, his classmate, is the stereotypical “little sister” type, clumsy, quick to tears, and desperate to stay at her protector Shunpei’s side. In short, she’s the game’s moe blob. Kazumi, a grade or two higher, who was Shunpei’s karate classmate in years past, is the stereotypical “older sister” type, eager to take care of him and provide support and stability (by the way, I think it must be unusual for a moe blob and a big sister type to share hairstyles). Kyouko arranges to meet Shunpei on the school rooftop, the setting of way too many appointments in manga, and Kazumi finds him there first. Upon Kyouko’s late arrival, Shunpei is forced into a nasty choice. To cool things down before making that decision, he takes the girls to a family restaurant called “Warren,” and that’s where the game proper plays out. You guide Shunpei’s choices as he listens to the girls make their respective cases, and you do your best to let him survive.

Survive? Yes, survive. The plot is stereotypical; the characters are stereotypical; the one real twist in the equation is hinted at in the “Dead End” of the title. Each of the girls has a hidden ability. I won’t go into further detail, but suffice it to say that the game’s mostly linear structure is intended to give a wider variety of quick bad endings. Those endings (sadly only really distinguished in text, not visuals) are the selling point. What it all boils down to is whether you are interested in a very rudimentary and short, but technically serviceable, visual novel with boilerplate character types but a variety of parody-level bad endings. Is that worth $2 to you?

I'm suddenly reminded of NBA Jam.

I'm suddenly reminded of NBA Jam.

Personally, I found it mildly amusing. The brevity was also generally welcome, since I can’t read Japanese fast. However, the artwork was more than a little disappointing, as was the simplicity of the branching and, heck, of the characters. At its best, this was just a bite of dark-as-death chocolate, with a couple of nuts.

6.5/10

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Technorati
  • Live
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace

Comments

3 Responses to “Dead End Valentine Review—Death Is Like Two Boxes of Chocolates”
  1. O says:

    Based on those screens, the option menu is the most entertaining part of the game.

    Good job. The review definitely smells of onmode-ky.

  2. JeremyR says:

    I don’t know, that rooftop is fascinating.

    But yeah, good job.

  3. Sniper D. Luffy says:

    at least the roof isn’t on fire…

    $2 for a game i can’t understand….i get more out of Days of memories…

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!