Even among the already niche-interest community of Japanese video games, visual novels tend not to get a ton of hype about them… at least here in the West.
That’s why when a new one comes along and its localisers are confident enough to refer to it as “a new masterpiece of narrative visual novel storytelling”, it’s probably worth taking notice. Of course, it’s pure marketing-speak, but it also demonstrates a certain amount of faith in the product — and perhaps a track record of the game being well-received back in its native territory.
Is Red Entertainment’s Our World is Ended, also known as 俺達の世界わ終っている (Ore-tachi no Sekai wa Owatteiru) worthy of the descriptor “masterpiece”? Only one way to find out!
Our World is Ended, as we shall refer to it hereafter, first released for Vita in Japan back in 2017. Its blend of self-referential comedy, cautionary science fiction and cheeky fanservice was received well by long-running publication Famitsu, scoring straight 8’s across its four reviewers, and a casual glance around user reviews on various Japanese retailers as well as blogs suggest that the public appreciated this game, too.
We never saw a localisation, however. Although by 2017 the Western market for visual novels on consoles — particularly Vita — had become pretty well established as a distinct sector to PC’s eroge-centric audience, a lot of companies were hesitant to take a chance on a niche-interest title for a niche-interest console. Visual novels, with their strong emphasis on text, remain challenging and demanding projects for localisation companies to take on, and thus it’s understandable why there might be a certain degree of hesitance there if the final work might struggle to build a substantial audience.
Wind forwards a couple of years to 2019, however, and it seems that the Japanese original version of Our World is Ended did well enough on its home turf to warrant a full, enhanced and expanded remake for modern systems with bigger user bases… and for localisation specialists PQube to take an interest in the project for a Western release.
With the remake’s additional content — supposedly about 30% extra over the original game’s material, including some new characters — that means the version that came West is basically the definitive edition… and with a Switch version in that worldwide launch lineup alongside PS4 and PC, you can still play it on the go just like the Vita original, too.
So why is this game particularly worthy of note? Well, a big part of that is the team of people behind it. For starters, the director of the game is Naoki Morita. Morita is best known for his extensive past work on the well-regarded Sakura Wars series from Sega. We haven’t seen many of these games get an official Western release over the years, but those who have had the pleasure of engaging with the series tend to think very highly of it.
Judging from his somewhat enthusiastic Twitter feed, Our World is Ended has been something of a passion project and labour of love for Morita — both in terms of the game itself, and in how its real-world setting allows him to express a clear sense of affection for the Asakusa district of Tokyo in which the game is set, and which is not far from Red Entertainment’s offices. He even went so far as to use a scene in the game to honour the much-loved Asakusa cafe Angelus, which closed down on March 17, 2019 after 73 years of serving coffee and cake to a loyal clientele.
Morita’s use of a game to pay tribute to a real-life locale is not at all unprecedented among Japanese popular media. Titles such as Steins;Gate and Akiba’s Trip celebrate otaku “holy land” Akihabara with loving recreations, warts and all; Persona 5 gives us a fairly broad, somewhat surface-level but still convincing cross-section of central Tokyo as a whole; 428: Shibuya Scramble allows us to see Shibuya and its environs from a variety of different perspectives; and while the Yakuza series’ setting of Kamurochō is technically fictional, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the real-world district of Kabukichō.
This is quite an interesting contrast between typical Eastern and Western approaches to games with a clear sense of “setting”. While there are exceptions, many modern Western games with urban settings tend to unfold in, at most, heavily stylised versions of real-world locales or, more typically, completely fictionalised cities perhaps loosely based on a real place.
The last time I can remember walking around an actually convincing version of London (i.e. one that wasn’t all red phone boxes and quaint little pubs) in a Western game was 1993 CD-ROM adventure City In Trouble Year 2000. By contrast, I reckon there are several districts in Tokyo you could drop me in and I’d be able to find my way around purely by remembering things from video games I’ve played in the last five years, so long as I remember not to begin pulling the trousers off random passers-by “just in case” they’re vampires. But I digress.
Besides Morita, another noteworthy figure who worked on the game is character designer Eiri Shirai (aka “shiranori“), whose most successful and well known work outside of Our World is Ended is the manga, light novel and anime series Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash.
Shirai’s work is immediately recognisable, with a light, airy style about it. Although Our World is Ended is rather colourful and vibrant, Shirai’s trademark style is to use a somewhat pale, washed-out, watercolour-esque appearance, giving much of his artwork something of a “sepia” tint to it.
There’s a distinctly “soft” feeling to his work that carries across into Our World is Ended’s character designs — though the in-game appearances of the characters eschew a full-on watercolour look in favour of a pleasingly “careless” feel, where each character figure looks like they’ve been lightly splattered with paint around their edges. It’s a bit of a twist on the “dirty photograph” look that 5pb. and Nitroplus’ Science Adventure series — which Our World is Ended is often compared to for various reasons — has made its own over the years.
The scenario, meanwhile, was written by Tarou Achi, who has worked on a variety of light novel series over the years. One of these, known as Boku no Chi o Suanaide, won the Silver Prize at the prestigious Dengeki Novel Prize awards in 1997, while his Dokkoida?! and Kage Kara Mamoru! were adapted into anime series in the early 2000s.
Finally, the event artwork and backgrounds are the work of a company called “Cre-p“, who have contributed to a variety of interesting projects over the years, ranging from mobile titles Brave Frontier and its Final Fantasy-themed successor Final Fantasy Brave Exvius to the Ace Attorney and Sword Art Online: Alicization anime series, Compile Heart’s Dragon Star Varnir and Death end re;Quest on PS4, and Kenichiro Takaki’s even-more-gay-than-Senran Kagura beat ’em up, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni for Vita.
Quite a lineup of talent, I’m sure you’ll agree. And that’s just the development team; mix in well-established voice actors like Eri Kitamura (Cordelia from the Atelier Arland series and Homura from Senran Kagura), Kikuko Inoue (who has been appearing in a wide variety of video games and visual novels since Hideo Kojima’s 1988 classic Snatcher), Tomokazu Sugita (Yuuya from Corpse Party and Ragna the Bloodedge from BlazBlue, among an enormous string of other roles) Ryōta Ōsaka (another veteran of the business whose first role was in Koei’s 1994 PC-FX title Angelique) and plenty more besides, and you really do have an all-star cast and crew behind this game.
As for the game itself, what we have here is a thoroughly modern tale that explores the possibilities of augmented and virtual reality, and how those technologies might come to interfere with our perceptions of what is real and what is not. We’ll delve more deeply into these subjects in a subsequent article, but suffice to say that as time marches onwards, the main narrative thrust of Our World is Ended only feels like it is getting more and more relevant.
Outside of the main narrative, Our World is Ended is also the latest in a growing line of works from Japanese popular culture that eschew an exclusively teenage cast in favour of a slightly older group. Yes, both the protagonist and one of the lead heroines are 18-year old high schoolers, but the majority of the main cast are significantly older, mostly between their early 20s and 30s. The game depicts modern life working at a small startup company — a game and tech development studio, in this case — as unglamorous, stressful and frequently unrewarding, but also emphasises the feeling that shared hardships can bring disparate types of people together. In short, it’s a game that really gets the modern world, and that while it’s easy to be cynical and depressed about what our lives are like in the late 2010s, it’s better to be able to laugh about it if you can.
Interestingly, at the other end of the spectrum, the game also shows great understanding of and respect for the stylistic history of Japanese games, particularly role-playing games, visual novels and eroge. Sekai Owari, the character who appears to be the oldest member of the main cast, frequently makes it clear that he has grown up with games and yearns somewhat for the good old days; when a series of peculiar events appear to be summoning some of the company’s creations into reality, one of the first to appear is the sort of massive-chested, overbearingly sexual female character you’d expect to see in a late ’90s PC-98 eroge, and it becomes immediately apparent that her existence is mostly Owari’s “fault” — though the other cast members aren’t entirely blameless, either.
These are all things to explore in more detail very soon! For now, suffice it to say that Our World is Ended is a game that will appeal to anyone with an interest in sci-fi, game development, modern Japanese culture, tits, technology, augmented reality and the classic Japanese gaming scene. It’s an intriguing addition to the growing library of cool visual novels on modern platforms — particularly Switch, which has absolutely taken the baton from Vita pretty much flawlessly when it comes to niche-interest Japanese titles — and a title I hope you’ll enjoy exploring with me over the coming articles!
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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