A common theme explored throughout the visual novel medium in general is the idea of people not being quite what they appear at first glance.
The reason for this is mostly a practical one: the very nature of the visual novel medium makes deep dives into multifaceted, layered characters a viable thing for creators to explore. Enthusiasts of visual novels are already accustomed to the medium’s slow pace and relatively limited interactivity compared to games with a stronger emphasis on their mechanical components, so writers and developers are more than happy to allow us the opportunity to get to know the main cast extremely intimately.
That doesn’t mean those first impressions the characters set don’t matter, mind you. On the contrary, they are extremely important for setting expectations as to how those characters will behave and interact — and then, in some cases, subverting rather than confirming those expectations. Let’s take a look at how Our World is Ended’s cast presents itself in the early hours of the game as the narrative is getting underway.
We join the story as protagonist Reiji Gozen is participating in some sort of experiment in the streets of Asakusa. We learn that he’s a part-time worker at a game development company called Judgement 7; we learn that he’s enthusiastic about new tech if not necessarily especially knowledgeable; and we learn that he has a big ol’ crush on Yuno, a girl of a similar age to him who also works part-time at Judgement 7.
Since we’re looking out through Reiji’s eyes, our first impressions of Yuno, who is assisting with the experiment, are somewhat coloured by our hero’s pre-existing opinions. “Eight out of ten normal men would deem her cute,” he explains, “while the other two would hail her as SUPER CUTE!”
To be fair, she is cute.
As we start to get to know Yuno (via Reiji) we learn a few things about her. We learn that she’s attractive and busty, but that she doesn’t really think about her appearance or how she presents herself to the world — she’s perpetually clad in a high school-style sailor uniform, for example.
She is typically honest in an innocent sort of way, but clearly also in possession of a great deal of empathy for others. You’ll never hear a negative word from Yuno’s lips; she’s always the one supporting others and encouraging them. Indeed, one of the first things we see her doing is cheering Reiji on as he is sweltering in the summer heat inside a particularly cumbersome set of augmented reality goggles.
We also learn a bit about Reiji in these early moments. We learn that he thinks fondly of Yuno in a very genuine sense, but also that he is a teenage boy with a typical level of horny hormones rattling around inside his head at all times; he finds Yuno’s ample bosom very distracting at the best of times, and during an event instigated by Judgement 7’s leader Sekai Owari in this opening sequence, it doesn’t take much for him to be brought to an almost complete standstill via his baser instincts… and he mostly accepts this side of himself — in his own head, at least.
“Owari-san is seriously underestimating me,” Reiji claims as Owari uses the goggles’ augmented reality function to overlay erotic pictures on the Asakusa environment… and a school swimsuit on Yuno. “I am not a small enough man to be lured and forced to act because of such a simple pleasur— yeah, right. I’m taking the bait and I’m doin’ it proudly.”
Our first encounter with Owari is also in this first scene, though it’s only over audio; an image of his face is overlaid with an avatar that he makes use of frequently in various circumstances over the course of the game, so all we initially have to go on are the things he says, his tone of voice and what Reiji tells us about him.
“Owari-san is an extreme pervert and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got arrested one of these days,” explains Reiji, “but I already know him well enough to tell that he’s no liar.”
Indeed, this would seem to be a fairly accurate descriptor based on this initial scene; we learn, for example, that Owari has deliberately set up the voice commands on the augmented reality goggles’ software to respond only to deliberately erotic-sounding phrases, mostly because he wants to make girls say them. He is more than willing to admit this without any shame whatsoever.
Once we finally meet Owari face-to-face upon Reiji’s return to Judgement 7’s office — sorry, “base”, as Owari insists on calling it — we discover the truth behind the fairly mature-sounding voice we’ve been hearing over the goggles’ voice chat function.
Owari is a bit older than Reiji — canonically he’s 24, though his looks are more in line with how Japanese popular media typically represents those over the age of 30. He doesn’t make a huge amount of effort with his personal appearance — one might politely describe him as a bit of a scruffbag — and is most definitely a filthy-minded pervert, but at the same time he’s absolutely honest and open in everything he does, clearly very intelligent and also an extremely talented programmer.
In other words, he’s someone who many people might find difficult to respect, but he’s definitely worthy of respect.
Also falling into this category is a character known as “Iruka No. 2”, a 26-year old morbidly obese Goth with a penchant for dreaming up fantasy worlds and bellowing absolutely nonsensical non-sequiturs at every opportunity. Iruka is particularly fascinated with occult-inspired ideas, and frequently makes references to things like the idea of “true names” and special “hidden techniques”, even though the only vaguely special thing he actually appears to be capable of doing is making his sunglasses shine dramatically at will.
Like Owari, though, despite having significant character flaws that might make him difficult to get along with, Iruka is clearly an intelligent man who is dedicated to his job and extremely talented at his specialism: creative writing and world design. He passionately believes in his creations and in Judgement 7 as a whole, and in turn it’s clear that he’s a valued member of the team even with his idiosyncrasies.
Next up is Natsumi, another character with a distinctly Gothic-inspired aesthetic. She occupies the opposite end of the spectrum to Iruka, however; rather than embracing the more flamboyant side of things, she prefers to keep herself to herself, avoiding the company of others wherever possible and often actively putting people off interacting with her through a rather sharp, acidic tongue.
Natsumi is an artist, and she makes a point of highlighting the fact that she’s often somewhat torn between the things she wants to create and the things Owari and Iruka ask her to create. She takes great pride in her work, however, and despite her complaints, she always fulfils her briefs to the letter; we see quite early in the narrative that even when Judgement 7’s games are slated by the general public — which they often tend to be, despite their best efforts to shill for themselves on “subchan” — Natsumi’s art at least tends to attract compliments.
Then we have Yuno’s older sister Asano, who is frequently described by Owari and Natsumi (and Reiji, to himself) as a “saddening” individual. There are a few reasons for this; the one that many of the characters (including Asano) tend to fixate on is that she has considerably smaller breasts than her younger sister. Despite her own complaints on the subject, Asano is frustrated by the fact that others tend to judge a woman’s worth by the size of her breasts.
Asano’s “saddening” nature is more than just a matter of her bustline, however. Over the early hours of the story, we learn that she doesn’t have any real friends outside of her colleagues at Judgement 7, frequently attends karaoke by herself (because she prefers it that way, obviously), has a knack for breaking technology and, despite being the company’s music and sound designer, is completely and utterly tone-deaf.
She’s harsh and aggressive, but it’s clear that this is something of a defense mechanism as she’s obviously unaccustomed to people having a kind word to say to her. When Reiji happens to say something supportive, she doesn’t really know how to react or deal with that, and she tends to keep even the people who are close to her at something of an arm’s length. There’s obviously something “going on” there, though exactly what isn’t made immediately apparent.
And then finally we have Tatiana, whose first appearance on-screen is as a voice chat avatar that is nothing more than a bikini-clad pair of breasts. Owing to this, Reiji has naturally already jumped to conclusions by the outset of the story, and thus finds it rather difficult to accept that the girl he had been fantasising about for some time was actually a middle-schooler. A middle-schooler with a genius-level IQ, yes, but a middle-schooler regardless.
Tatiana is an interesting case because while she’s extremely intelligent and talented at programming, she is completely lacking in basic social skills, requiring “attendance” at all times by at least one member of Judgement 7. She’s not sure how to take care of herself, she frequently throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her own way, and she has difficulty dealing with certain social situations.
In many ways, Tatiana is an extreme example of characteristics that are common to all of Judgement 7’s members: they have all kind of fallen out of step with common society in one form or another, and thus have a certain amount of difficulty in dealing with various situations.
In some cases, their lack of “synchronisation” with the rest of the world is down to a character flaw, such as Owari’s perversion, Iruka’s paranoid delusions (or exaggerated attempts to appear like he has paranoid delusions, at the very least), Asano’s abrasiveness and Natsuki’s obvious discomfort at interacting with others. In others, such as Reiji and Yuno — for want of a better term, the two most seemingly “normal” members of the cast in the early hours of the story — it’s a seeming matter of apathy to a certain degree; a simple lack of desire to conform.
While this group of characters may appear disparate at first glance, they all have one thing in common: Judgement 7. While each of them may have different things to say about their life situation and how content they are with it, the one thing that cannot be argued with is the fact that Judgement 7 has brought them all together. And it’s about to provide them with a shared experience unlike anything else they’ve been through by themselves.
Natsumi probably says it best: “If we don’t make new games, Judgement 7 will be over instantly. If that happens… I’ll lose the place I belong to.”
We all need a place to belong, even those of us who feel like we might want to withdraw from society altogether. And when we find that place, we need to hold on to it as tightly as we can, whatever the cost.
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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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