I’ve heard Baldr Sky referred to as a sci-fi masterpiece and a favorite visual novel more than once. Is it worth the 70-hour reading time? I found myself skeptical of this but was quickly absorbed after diving into its virtual world.
Real Life Flame Wars
Baldr Sky takes place in a world where AI is an important influence in many people’s lives and a minority of people even have brain chips allowing them to access it directly. These ‘second-gens’ are connected 24/7 and some even prefer the online world to the real one. It’s understandable too—there’s a whole virtual world to explore in Baldr Sky’s setting and it’s almost as if you’re really there.
All things come with downsides though. Whether you’re a second-gen or regular person you can connect to this world, but if you die in certain areas there, you can die in real life. Break into someone else’s area to steal some information or have an unfortunate accident in an unprotected area and you might find yourself never waking up again. Hacking risks more than just jail time, and these days wars take place online too, not just in real life.
The protagonist Kou Kadokura is an online mercenary, piloting a mech and taking on missions in search of the truth behind a certain event that shook the world. Baldr Sky opens with an incident that leads to Kou losing much of his recent memory and bringing his personality back to a time when he was a fairly carefree student.
What exactly was he doing on that mission? What led to him becoming a mercenary? Much of the story is told through a series of jumps between flashbacks and the real world that slowly reveal this, and unravel a far greater mystery beyond it.
The scenes that take place in the present are often serious, hinting at a somewhat dystopian world, with occasional lighter moments thrown in, whilst past moments go back to those carefree school days. This worked well to keep the story from becoming too depressing, while not straying away from those more serious moments.
Friends and Fun
In the earlier parts of Baldr Sky, most of the time is spent experiencing those flashbacks to school days. It shows Kou meeting and reuniting with friends and works brilliantly to build a connection with them. These aren’t just friends, but become something close to family.
It introduces several heroines, the slightly perverted male friend common in visual novels, and a few other important characters here. There’s a great relationship dynamic between the group, which led to me enjoying many of the more laid-back moments of eating meals together or silliness around cooking disasters.
While many of these moments do follow the standard tropes of all of the girls being interested in Kou and the occasional conflict around that, it also works well to lay the foundation for the more serious plot moments. We hear about the development of nanotechnology on TV, are introduced to arguments between AI and anti-AI factions, and experience piloting mechs in the context of a tournament just for fun. Something that might be used for a comedic moment in the past sometimes becomes far more important later on.
While it’s paced out nicely between flashbacks, it tells the story of a romance here. It does some particularly interesting things here, especially around how a certain romance is first established. It does so in a unique way that fits into both one of the early mysteries and the sci-fi genre perfectly.
The school setting is occasionally used to explain some of the details such as worldbuilding around the evolution of AI. Fortunately, while there is a lot of depth to the setting, I never felt like it got to the point of spending too long explaining the lore at any time. It nicely spaced out the moments where it did go into detail, and used interjections from other characters to keep it engaging.
A Grim Present
The tone of the present time is set right away as we learn that several of Kou’s colleagues died on the latest mission. With his memories only reaching as far as high school, he wakes up from his dive into the virtual world to be surrounded by their bodies. Making their way through a slum to find a back alley doctor, Kou sees that the world has changed significantly since his memories ended. Military control and black markets have taken the place of a life spent in school learning about how to create a better tomorrow.
The first hours of Baldr Sky have Kou, who is now mentally a high school student, dealing with assassinations, crime, and trauma. People are killed, and worse, along the way in his investigation. It builds a strong contrast between the past by having dark and jaded characters appear frequently, including some of those who were much happier in the past.
Perhaps the only reason he manages to deal with it is due to the support of Rain, his trusted subordinate and the only heroine who wasn’t a member of his dorm back in his school days. Then later many of his other friends after reuniting with him and rekindling their relationships.
Without going into too much detail, much of the main story of Baldr Sky is about finding the truth of what happened behind the event that changed the world. Each person has their own motive and, much like real people, not all of them are rational. I found exploring this to be one of the best parts of Baldr Sky.
Whilst some moments have some fairly blatant foreshadowing, there are some incredibly surprising twists in the story. Some of the shocks added a real sense of excitement, which was heightened by action-packed moments with mech battles.
The further into the story you go, the more unhinged it gets. The earlier moments are more of an adventure with battles and infiltrations up front, whilst the end goes much further into concepts that would only work in sci-fi.
The way that Baldr Sky handles routes works very well. They’re unlockable in order and build on each other well, with more information revealed each time.
The first route explores not only Kou’s relationship with Rain, but much of the content of his missing memories and just what happened to lead up to this point. In the present though, she’s with you through some rather bad moments. It explores the lengths that some will go to in support of their ideals and shows the dark side of this society, which Kou wouldn’t be able to handle alone as he is now.
An important element of Baldr Sky is how there are multiple factions, each with their own beliefs and way of thinking. Doubt is often introduced about who from these factions you can really trust, and several of the heroines are associated with one or the other. Due to that, several routes after the first work to explore events from the point of view of different factions and have Kou work with them at times.
While the heroines are charming enough and have a split between personality types with a caring childhood friend, energetic sporty girl, shy introvert, and more, I felt that the main attraction was instead finding out what happened to a certain group, what happens if you side with an anti-AI group, and so on. I’ve not spent much time discussing the heroines because, whilst romance and living life with his lover is a motivation for Kou, I never felt like Baldr Sky was a romance story or focused overly on them.
I did find that some earlier routes felt like they shared too many points, and skipping read dialogue is often not possible in Baldr Sky which made this unfortunate, but during most routes this wasn’t too much of an issue. The only time it was a major pain was the Reminiscence route, which had large amounts of previously explored story, but had some important extra information in new or expanded scenes.
Each route has multiple endings that depend on dialogue choices or how you perform in the gameplay sections. I always found that getting the best ending for a character was easy, to the point that I actually struggled to get the normal endings for some of them.
Whilst in many visual novels alternative endings aren’t worth exploring much, in Baldr Sky I’d recommend reading them as they are significantly different. Some include interesting foreshadowing for events later in the story, expanded information on what actually happened, and just some otherwise interesting story.
With that said, it can take quite a while to replay to get these due to the gameplay portions, especially if you don’t have access to the scenario skip feature which is unlocked very late in the game. Some of the conditions aren’t always clear either, even with the unlockable in-game hints.
Baldr Sky’s gameplay involves moving your mech around and taking out others, whether through shooting or melee. You can keep your distance where needed, back off to avoid damage while recharging, then jump in and attack. It seems relatively simple, at least at first. Earlier battles are slow-paced, but later it becomes busier.
The gameplay is a lot more manual than many other games. For instance, it doesn’t auto-select only the weapons that will work at that range, leaving it possible to shoot a bazooka at so far a range that it won’t hit the enemy.
You might be able to push through early battles with the basics in up to normal difficulty, but there is a lot more to it. Finding ways to combine attacks well, knocking enemies down, flying in the air briefly to avoid certain weapons, and so on. Little details like taking more damage depending on certain gauges building up can become important later on.
There are a few difficulty spikes, even in ‘very easy’ mode, that require some skill in the gameplay side of Baldr Sky to pass. As well as that, there are a lot of weapons to unlock which level up as you play, so creating a good weapon set and learning how to use them is important.
Battles often get very hectic. It’s hard to keep track of the heat gauge that stops you from using weapons when full for example. It’s far more intuitive to learn timings and combo patterns that work. Some weapons are more complex too. For example, the Gatling Gun uses a filled-up heat gauge instead of an empty one. You can almost max it out with a regular combo, then switch to a Gatling Gun to get almost a full gauge’s worth of that attack and finish the combo off.
Regular patterns don’t always work though. Enemies do vary and some are better with close or long-range attacks. Some are near-immune to certain weapons too. One enemy had me frequently using a rather difficult-to-aim flying kick attack as it spent most of its time in the air, out of the reach of certain guns or regular kicks.
The battle gameplay makes for a nice break in the story. Battles are relatively frequent and often last less than a couple of minutes. It adds some excitement and gives more of a sense of involvement in these battles that are part of the story. I did feel like it was too many at times though, and whilst they’re fun enough, they’re nothing too special. Two Survival Modes are included with endless enemies leading to multiple bosses at once and surprising character team-ups for those who enjoy it more.
I would recommend switching to a controller for the gameplay segments, but it isn’t required.
Where’s The H?
Unlike the Japanese version, the English version of Baldr Sky does not contain 18+ content and there is no official way to patch this in.
Whilst I’m always in favor of uncut releases, I do feel like Baldr Sky can stand on its own without it.
World of Light and Dark
The sprites of Baldr Sky are nice enough, but it did take me a while to get used to certain design choices. As much as I liked her, Nanoha reminds me slightly of a bug with her big red eyes and light green hair. An odd choice was to have certain expressions not have a nose which always threw me off.
More positively, their sprites really show their personalities in most cases, like Makoto’s timidness with her expression and crossed arms or Aki’s tired slump. I did like Noi’s gothic lolita style clothing too.
Baldr Sky uses color well, if in a fairly obvious way. The past is almost always shown in bright shades, while the present is shown in dull and dark colors. It’s simple, but it works well to set the scene.
The low resolution of 800×600 was a downside. I was concerned that the battle gameplay might be difficult to deal with due to the low resolution, but I never lost track of enemies or my own avatar.
It’s worth noting that Baldr Sky is fully voiced, including the protagonist. The voice actors all fit the roles well. It includes a few songs too, one of which I was pleased to note was by KOTOKO.
Baldr Sky is an excellent sci-fi visual novel, with decent gameplay sections. There are some sticking points such as having to repeat certain sections, but the quality of the overall story overpowers them to make this a strong recommendation.
BALDR SKY IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Want to check out more visual novels? Why not check out our review of Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen? We have also covered a wide variety of visual novels both original to English and localized from Japanese, which you can check out here.
Many thanks go to Sekai Project for a PC review code for Baldr Sky.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.