planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ is a kinetic novel developed back in 2004 by Key – the studio responsible for such cathartic titles like: Kanon and Clannad. While this is certainly one of Key’s shortest works, it definitely doesn’t falter in eliciting an emotional response like those aforementioned. Thanks to the efforts of Sekai Project, in celebration of its 10th anniversary release in Japan, you can finally experience this bittersweet tale on Steam as an official English release.
Title: planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~
Genre: Drama, Sci-fi, Kinetic Novel (All-ages)
Developer: Visual Art’s/Key division (Localized by Sekai Project)
System: PC (Steam Store)
Length: 5 Hrs
Taking place on Earth in the distant future, planetarian tells the story of this familiar world ravaged by nuclear world and the aftermath that followed. With most of human civilization torn asunder – nonexistence in many areas, only dilapidated structures and a never-ending deluge of poisonous rain serve as a memento of the past conflict. Through the eyes of a middle-aged junker escaping the rain for a brief reprieve of scavenging in the toxic downpour for valuables, the tale unfolds as he comes in contact with a life-like robot named Yumemi, the lone guardian of the Planetarium he mistook for a military base. Awarding him as the 2,500,000th customer to visit the establishment, he is entitled to a special commemorative project that the desolated building hasn’t been able to show up until now. Despite the story taking on a sci-fi/post-apocalyptic bent compared to the usual school life dramas the studio is known for, it is actual very refreshing and works as a short story. If you have ever been interested in visual novels and not sure where to start – this a good place as any, especially if your going solely for the narrative and avoid anything soaked in debauchery.
As aforementioned, planetarian is a “kinetic novel” – a special brand of visual novel that requires no interaction on the viewers part besides enjoying the narrative. Of course, for the story that is told and submerged in both an atmosphere of wonder and foreboding, it holds remarkably well especially considering the age. The protagonist, a character that has no problem wearing his emotions on his largely stoic sleeves is immediately dissatisfied with his decision to continue scavenging, only to be buffered by the rain and now beening shown relentless hospitality by Yumemi. Wanting nothing more for the protagonist to enjoy the project she has in store, Yumemi’s kind-hearted personality mismatches that of the guff protagonist. The two do eventually come to a budding friendship as the protagonist learns about Yumemi’s past and the better understand the world he calls home. If you are the type of person that enjoys great, yet fluid dramas (that will most likely make you cry) and don’t want to spare a ridiculous amount of time, planetarian is respectful of that fact. Taking no more than 5 hours to complete on autoread, it is very much something you can play for couple of minutes at a time or knockout in half a day without having to feel rushed, the pacing unbalanced, or your time time sacrificed. Without veering too much into spoiler territory, that is all I can say and better left up you to discover the rest.
Of course, considering age – there are a few slightly noticeable negatives that do arise from the positives. While graphics and artwork looks appealing, the text output does suffer as the special effects and lighting utilized in various scenes can obscure the words to a degree. The localization was kind enough to allow changing the font styling, yet since the recommended works the best and that is even prone to spacing/jumbling, alternatives are nice, though prone to the same hiccups. On the flip side, the small yet powerful soundtrack selection is exquisite – featuring a couple of piano heavy pieces, a synthetic one, and a very lovely, if not tear-jerking vocal one that is used right the end. Like most visual novels, the system allows you view any text you missed, skip it, have it autoplay, and of course, save/load progress. The bookmark system is also a nice feature I wish more visuals novels included, as it shows where you are in the story and able to choose one of those specific spots if you want to revisit them. After completing the story, the CG and BGM mode opens up allowing you to listening to the soundtrack and view the illustrations at your leisure.
With visual novels gaining a little more notoriety than they previous had (enough to get on Steam, anyway), I do hope titles like planetarian grow on those unaccustomed to them and favored like they are among their ardent supporters. Considering the wealth of story craftsmanship from producers like Key and the hard-working localization teams bringing those stories to the masses like Sekai Project – both as well as more certainly deserve due credit by way of more people to be aware and reach out to their work. For now, I suppose it is one small step at time, but with us getting a title celebrating its 10th birthday by one of the most prolific studios – that single step might be biggest one of all to show that the market isn’t as miniscule as some may believe. Either way, whether you like the medium or not, planetarian is something if your opened-minded and up for, should put on your list. Who knows, you might be pleasantly surprise.
Pros: Short and engaging story, nice soundtrack, impressive system/menu features, great atmosphere
Cons: text output issues, little to no replay value
Notes: As of writing this (9/12/2014) you can get this product for $7.49 until September 19th instead of $9.99 on Steam in honor of its official release.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by Sekai Project. All images and rights to them belong to VisualArt’s/Key and for review purposes only.