THIS WON’T BE A BTS PARTY!
K-Pop – It’s a genre I didn’t quite get into. To be fair, I never give it a chance either. While I’ve heard of bands here and there, my only real exposure has been with anime or video games. Buried Stars is set in that world. It incorporates the idea of musical competition. An elimination process where the talented survive and the weak disappear. Quite fitting too as death will play a role. This is a dark visual novel with more twists and turns than a European roadway. One that deals in heavy and sensitive topics. So be warned; there’ll be no punches pulled. Now without further ado, let’s find out if this can excel, or if it’s dead on arrival.
TEAR THE PLACE DOWN!
As fans cheer and lights shine, Buried Stars begins. The placings of the contestants taking part in a show of the same name are read off. As the competitor in first is revealed, chaos ensues. The entire stage shakes and debris drops to the ground. Screaming echoes out through the area. The screen then goes back. You’re buried underneath rubble – pun intended – until you hear a voice. Someone is out there. You shout out and they hear your call. He digs through the rocks before lifting you out. Shortly after, you’re both joined by the other contestants and a staff member.
With nowhere to go, they try using their show issued smartwatches to call for help. One of them can get through. On the other end, the rescue team notifies everyone to stay put. They’re digging their way through now. However, it’ll take several hours to reach the six. With everyone’s mental state at risk, will there be any survivors left? Or will it turn into a bloodbath?
LET THE VOTES BEGIN!
Buried Stars is an intriguing murder mystery that follows six characters, each one with a distinct personality. So much is built upon the foundation of their development. I liked that. The reactions they have to situations are real and don’t feel manufactured. I can’t help but praise the phenomenal narrative. In the same breath, I’ll also not shy from pointing out how needlessly convoluted it is. I felt like it bogged down the story with unneeded fluff. Before I get into those specifics though, I’d first like to introduce you to;
- 1st Place: Gyu-Hyuk Lee – I can only describe him as the ying to your yang. The very man you rescued when the collapse began. In the aftermath, he’ll be a sort of confidant. Someone rational to bounce ideas off of. One aspect I noticed was his expressions. They conveyed such sadness. Like something weighed on his mind. And it does. Depending on your bond, you’ll uncover a tragic backstory of pain and abandonment.
- 2nd Place: Juyoung Min – I honestly feel she’s the best written. Within the first hour or so, you’ll discover she has an anxiety disorder. She suffers from panic attacks. As someone that does too, I can sympathize. I also know an authentic reaction when I see it. For example, as further tremors persist, she’s engulfed in stress. She’ll immediately go into fight mode. Her nerves backflip, causing her to snap at the others. This was a real response. It has the exact effect on me. For this reason, I feel she’s the most important. Her inclusion shines a spotlight on an ignored disorder. You’ll later learn a few troubling endeavors she had to endure. Perhaps the trauma that led to her condition?
- 3rd Place: Inha Oh – A girl shrouded in mystery. Not much is known about her. Her introduction boasts little. You do learn that before the show, she was a dancer. That’s really it. Because the story branches, it’s possible to never reveal anything further. I didn’t at first. The path I took simply teased more.
- 4th Place: Do-Yoon Han – The player character. He’ll be who the others look to. In other words, the level-headed one. During the first hour or so, you’ll learn of a label given by the fans of Buried Stars. He’s the betrayer, and he’ll get slack for it on Phater – a fictional social media platform. Also on there, you’ll find individuals from his past. Ones that appear a bit salty.
- 5th Place: Hyesung Seo – A brash and impulsive individual. Someone utterly obsessed with his rank. Even after the collapse, his results don’t sit well with him. I felt Line Games did a fantastic job conveying his immaturity and fragile ego. In his mind, he’s the greatest. So even though his life is in danger, he’s determined to get votes. He’ll take to Phater to promote himself. And he’ll do whatever it takes to better it. Now, I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite, but I can’t deny how much of a smug worm he is.
- Floor Manager: Seil Chang –Upon first meeting him, I could tell that he’s passionate. Seil loves the show. During early discussions, you’ll learn that he tries to help other competitors. And he always worries about Inha and the others. He tends to get along with most people but has a dislike for Hyesung. Why is that?
Throughout the entirety of the game, you’ll be trying to find a way out. Having grown tired of waiting for the rescue team, everyone decides to take matters into their own hands. As time passes, horrible truths will come to light. Our characters will find a body and be tormented by a presence on the internet. One that utilizes their fears and messes with their heads.
BUILDING UP TRUST!
The core mechanic of Buried Stars is known as “the rapport system”. You’re essentially trying to gain favor with the others. However, you’ll also risk losing it. If it does eventually get to a certain point though, you’ll unlock a “rapport event”. These consist of background stories respective to whomever you‘re speaking to. I enjoyed this idea. As trust grows, one tends to share deeper secrets. To take advantage, each communication section will have a set choice of keywords. In my initial playthrough, I was a bit blind. It’s never explicitly shown what’ll do what. As a result, I went through all pieces of dialogue. This proved tedious. It stretched out what should have been a 10-hour affair into 30. Fortunately, this‘ll be rectified on the second run.
If you look towards the corner of each keyword information box, you’ll see an icon. Well, that is provided you chose it on the first run. You’ll only see these on options already picked. As I’m a masochist, I read everything. This will usually be a heart, with blue representing an increase. Red indicates a lowering, and then half and half is a dialogue choice. The correct answer depends on the character you’re talking to. You’d assume an agreeable one is the way to go. It won’t be. This is something I adored. It went even further to assure each character felt like a believable person. While Seil might respond to positivity, Gyu-Hyuk prefers it straight.
What aids in the stretched length is that apart from red or blue, you’ll see blank hearts too. As I’m sure you’ll surmise, these garner nothing. It’s merely exposition for the story. However, a lot of the time, it was pointless. There were no developments and the little personality blips were just that, blips. Buried Stars suffers from this. Having Hyesung express his thoughts on Juyoung’s panic attacks added nothing. It was a disappointment honestly. This story has an amazing mystery. I wanted to push forward to see the reveals. While a few were telegraphed, it barely scratched the surface. The fluff brings it down.
That’s enough waffling about that. Continuing on with the blank hearts; these have no effect on your rapport. However, this won’t preclude it from having one elsewhere. I’d regularly see a drop to my “sanity” – Buried Stars equivalent to a health bar. Just as depletion can happen though, there are ways to replenish. By simply replying and receiving positive reinforcement, that will do it. If it does still empty, it’s game over. Just as an aside, if that were to happen, oh boy. It goes 0 to 100 real fast.
CAN YOU EVEN GHOSTWRITE?
There were some strange blemishes I found sprinkled throughout. Nothing major but as a literary nerd, I have to point it out. Further in the game, both Inha and you are discussing a clue. It’s a letter, and she will comment on how she hopes that none were stolen. Although, in a previous chat – with her no-less – it’s revealed that there was indeed stolen mail. Because of how keywords are situated, it comes across as awkward. Like the pay-off came before the setup.
While on the topic of a second play-through. I loved all the little nuances hidden throughout. One thing you’ll not notice the first go around are the instances of foreshadowing. And those moments you first perceived as innocent are a bit creepy now. It made having to take another whirl feel new.
AND THE TRAPPED VERDICT IS…
Buried Stars is such a fantastic addition to the murder mystery genre. Said to be inspired by Danganronpa, it shows. While the story here is much more serious, I pushed me forward as it did. Despite the tedious nature of reading all keywords, I couldn’t quit. Perhaps that was a byproduct of my thoroughness though. With this in mind, I did something I don’t normally do. I replayed, answering with only replies that boosted or provided keywords. To say that my experience improved is an understatement. Because of this, I really do recommend playing with a guide, such as this one from our friends over at Knoef Trophy Guides. Well, unless you’re a masochist like myself.
The voice-over work is Korean and Japanese. I played with both and preferred the latter. The way each line was delivered helped emphasis it’s cadence. In the same vein, I enjoyed the music. I noticed the heavy presence of string instruments in the OST, especially the guitar. Made me think of Do-Yoon. Before this, he played bass. While not the same, he was also in a band. My only real gripe is the loop is a bit short. it got repetitious after awhile. There were also some recordings of characters speaking weren’t subtitled in the extras menu. An odd oversight as for all I know, I could’ve missed out on important information.
I fully recommend Buried Stars. It’s a great mystery that had me guessing. Lose yourself and enjoy the ride. Just maybe not for that steep asking price. While I still rate it highly, I also say wait for sale;
BURIED STARS IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to LINE Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.