An unforgettable summer story of romance and mystery begins to unravel into something so much more.
Title: World End Syndrome
Genre: Romance, Mystery
Developer: Toybox Inc
System: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Length: 20-25 hours
Other Info: VNDB Page
Whether you like it or not, visual novels continue on a steady trajectory of both growth and attention from English speaking audiences. With titles from the other side of the lake such as Steins;Gate and Danganronpa enjoying marginal success thanks to their madcap characters, unconventional stories, and just being inexplicable in nature, all it takes is a chance for the uninitiated to put aside their misconceptions and maybe, they might find some level of engagement and joy to be had from the low interactive medium. Of course, for all the good, not so thrilling visual novels have managed to infiltrate the ranks to bolster the already tenuous public opinion. From the creator of the poorly received Tokyo Twilight Ghosthunters, Arc System Works found it worth a shot to publish another Toybox Inc. work: World End Syndrome. Fully expecting another repeat of the mediocrity of the previous title, World End Syndrome actually has more to it than meets the eye.
For fans of occult themed mysteries fused with the unmistakable taste of slice-of-life/comedy that only anime could employ, World End Syndrome introduces the audience to the town of Mihate, a seemingly peaceful place by way of the protagonist moving into the area to start a new life. Of course, after joining a weird club at his school that researches folkloric oddities and making new friends, he finds himself wrapped up in a couple of strange occurrences that prove to be more than mere fairy tales. Spanning across 6 different unique routes, the audience will see the protagonist find love with his fellow female club members, but also diving deep into the history of Mihate and the legend of the Yomibito, a phenomenon that see the dead coming back to life every 100 years. Having so many twist and curve balls interwoven into the overall narrative and building suspense with each finished route, I really have to hand it to the scenario writers for not only having all of this all nicely paced out to give the readers some breathing room, yet also ready to throw you off with some new revelation. Where many anime fans and the like will be privy to the subversion going on in the story, it is still worth sticking around for what happens next and how the characters react to it all.
Speaking of characters, this is another area that World End Syndrome tends to do well. Still having the same standard cast of tropes ready such as the goofy comedic relief to seemingly out of place pop idol, again, the writing and details that go into the characters make them far more interesting than viewers are able to see initially. This is an aspect that goes double for the protagonist: a reserved and troubled young man that has more than a reason for ending up in Mihate and leads to some of the greatest developments later on. With most of the other cast members he connects with dropping their own personal secrets into the light for all to witness, after completing one route, you can’t help but want to start immediately on the next without hesitating to see how everything links up. Their are some points where the writing definitely has mentally lapses that both depend on what events you choose to see during any given route and by design, but manages to work out with the player able engage in a few side activities that answers many questions, but creates more at the same time. That being said, if you are coming for the characters and love to laugh, World End Syndrome also has a pretty mean funny bone, and some the best moments come from the school life / slice-of-life moments with the cast rapidly firing and playing off of each other. Many “TIPS” in the game (basically defining terminology you are introduced to that may or may not need defining) also have some really amusing descriptions that will probably lead you to have a collection of screenshots of the game when finished. Not sure if it was by the hand of the original writers or localization by PQube, yet thankful for it either way.
Having played this exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, the usual key details such as the character artwork and CG scenes are just as pleasing to the eye as I hoped if not better. The animation and effects used were also a big surprise – albeit, feeling a little budget imposed. The only sore point with the aesthetics comes from the audio quality: neither able to hear the music or effects being too loud. There is the traditional menu where you can tweak the sound level for each specific value, but without the use of headphones, it seems like no matter what the settings are, something seems off. Again, not a horrible oversight or deal breaker, but something that could be better scrutinized to quality checks. Of course, on the subject of quality checks, while I was praising the overall dialogue, there are times when parts of the script seemed to go by QC without notice. Nothing too outrageous than the usual syntax flubs or a few lines that could use a little editing.
Knowing it will not set the visual novel genre ablaze to pick up even more traction and likely ignored for other offerings, World End Syndrome is one of those experiences that deserves the little attention it will receive and then some. Also, with the game ending itself right on weirdest note possible that reeks of a possible sequel that will never come, I sincerely hope that Toybox Inc will allow for some sort of update or append to see what else the writers have up their sleeves. Besides, they kind of left one resolved plot that still needs some explaining to the party involved. Taking only around 18-21 hours to finish the main story and another 2 or 3 hours for finishing collectibles and events, it also doesn’t take too much of a time commitment either. Being far from perfect, yet also hitting the points that it needs, I will have to say that World End Syndrome at least tries to give the visual novel genre a good name and succeeds at it.
Final Verdict: Eerie, exciting, and oddly comforting, World End Syndrome provides readers with a thrilling journey worth sticking out down to the final fade out. With a story that builds upon itself with questions and answers each route and still more questions left by the time it is complete, it is the perfect lazy and uneventful summer read or whenever needed to kill the doldrums. Of course, with it being stuck on gaming consoles and players likely to find better options, it is at least suggested for fans of visual novels, but would not dissuade others from giving it a chance.