World End Syndrome is a visual novel with dating simulator elements by the Japanese developer TOYBOX. It follows the 17-year old protagonist as he starts his new life in Mihate Town after moving away from his old town following a tragedy.
Unfortunately, tragedy strikes again soon after his arrival in Mihate Town. A number of murders and other strange incidents occur. The protagonist learns that the town has a legend of beings called Yomibito – the dead which are said to come back to life every 100 years and attack the living. He has arrived 100 years after the last incident.
This is primarily a serious mystery story, with elements of romance and the odd bit of comedy. Unlike many visual novels, there is no sexual content beyond some minor situations. Through your choices, you can discover the truth behind the incidents which start happening after your arrival.
The game is available on the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. I am personally playing on the Nintendo Switch version.
The story opens as the protagonist arrives in Mihate Town. He moves into a building owned by a distant relative and expects it to be empty, but finds another distant relation already living there – Maimi. After some (one-sided) negotiation, they manage to agree to live together.
He starts in his new school and finds that his teacher is locally famous for writing a popular fictional book about the Yomibito which is being made into a movie. By chance he finds himself dragged into a test run of the club she recently put together – the tribal studies club, or informally the mystery club.
Through this club, the protagonist spends time with five girls with very different personalities, as well as the stereotypical girl-crazy clown who ends up as his only male friend. He learns about the town’s history, about the legend of the Yomibito and about its many residents.
About two and a half hours into the story, the prologue ends and with it, the first attempt at the game. The first playthrough always ends in the worst ending. It’s possible to skip the prologue after the first time, so there should be no frustration in having to replay it.
The prologue plays like a standard visual novel, but from the second part which is referred to in-game as ‘chapter’ it involves more. Instead of only following the story with the occasional irrelevant choice like in the prologue, in this part you usually need to choose where you go each morning, afternoon and night.
Many events go on in the background and depending on choices and routes, certain mysteries are uncovered and researched. Some routes focus more on the mysteries of Mihate Town, while some are more focussed on exploring the characters. Even the character focussed routes give some important backstory, and all tie into the main story.
No matter which route you are on, many of the important story scenes are repeated. Some are completely the same, while some have segments tailored to a specific character. For example, a trip where the character who stays with the protagonist changes and a conversation between two other people that you see, but the script slightly changes based on whose route you are on. With the choices though, you can make playthroughs mostly different.
Your choices definitely matter in this story and a single unlucky choice can lead you straight to a bad end. Most choices are the standard for this type of game though – keep going to wherever the girl you want to choose is.
As well as the choices of location, each of the five girls is assigned a relationship statistic. Most times that you encounter them, it will show a colored light and increase. Some scenes and endings seem to be locked behind a required statistic. This is made easier on subsequent playthroughs as if you have encountered a character before, you can see their icon on the map.
After fulfilling the unlock requirements, there is a true end to the game. This follows one of the character’s endings directly. I personally felt like the twist came out of nowhere, but it did tie things up neatly.
There are also collectible items and missions to complete. Some of these unlock some bonus content, including a glossary of tips which expand the game lore, talking about past and future events.
Personally, I found the premise to be quite interesting. I was surprised to find that only two of the five character routes really explored the mysteries in-depth, but I enjoyed the ones related to the characters too. It was particularly interesting to see different perspectives on the other members of the town and events.
The pacing was great and the way that all the information learned through the routes tied together worked well. There were at times little hints in one route, which didn’t become relevant until you learned something else in another route.
Overall I enjoyed the story. It covered some very serious topics even outside of the core theme of death but managed to keep things light enough for easy reading through the use of comedy.
Right at the start of the story, you meet Yukino Otonashi. She is a new writer for a magazine and has come to the town to do a feature on it. A happy-go-lucky optimist and very curious, she starts to investigate the town. Sometimes this involves enrolling the protagonist as an assistant. Yukino is the oldest character with a route, being in her twenties. Her route is particularly interesting and is an important part of uncovering the mysteries in the story.
The next character that you meet is Maimi Kusunose. She is the distant relative mentioned previously. Maimi is shown to be incredibly bossy, quick to anger and talkative. Despite this, she never seems to hold a grudge for long and is very popular in school. I personally didn’t enjoy her character much at first, but she grew on me after going further into her route.
Miu Amana is a very serious and quiet girl. She is known for making short and biting remarks to Kensuke, the protagonist’s male friend, but being friendly towards Maimi. Her family has a long history in Mihate Town and is known for being involved in the local mythology. She is often seen wearing a maid outfit while working in her family’s café. Miu is barely shown in other character routes, perhaps due to her being so quiet – even when present she rarely speaks. I enjoyed her route the most due to the story and much like Maimi, her character grew on me after time.
Saya Kamishiro is from the Kamishiro family, which has its hand in much of the running of Mihate Town. Again, her family has a long history and is known as the family who destroyed the Yomibito one-hundred years ago. She can be cold towards others and rather haughty, but she is shown to be very driven and at times, kind. Saya’s route was an interesting dive into her life and some of the background of the town.
Hanako Yamada is the final character with a route whom you meet. She is shown to be terrible at interacting with people and hides her face behind giant glasses. Despite her issues with people, she is incredibly compassionate. Her secret is that she is actually Rei Nikaidou, an idol acting in the World End movie. The characters do not realize this, but it is made obvious from the first meeting to the reader. Hanako was my favorite character in this story. Her route wasn’t the most important, but despite covering some serious topics it was probably the most light-hearted.
The protagonist himself I’ve not named as you actually choose his name part of the way into the story. After the recent tragedy, he could be described as empty and depressed. As time goes on, he starts to come back to living a normal life. Being a visual novel protagonist, he doesn’t have a particularly strong personality but he isn’t a completely blank slate for the player to self-insert as many are.
Aside from the characters mentioned, there are quite a lot more and many are decently fleshed out. The cast is actually fairly expansive for a visual novel.
I personally took about two hours per character route, not including the prologue, which as mentioned took me two and a half hours. This makes a complete playthrough take about twelve and a half hours if you avoid bad endings. This was making use of saving at choices and skipping previously seen text.
Regarding saving, a rather bothersome issue was the constant prompting for saving. Throughout the entire game, it asks the player to save each night, rather than relying on the player to save when needed as with most visual novels. Even if declining, it is rather slow to load the save prompt and then move onto the next segment.
The writing and editing itself are very well done. I’ve not noticed any occurrences of typos and formatting errors, which is impressive for a visual novel.
I found that the artwork is all to an incredibly high standard, despite very few CGs. Many of the backgrounds are slightly animated and segments of video have been added in. The character sprites are particularly well done and characters are shown from the front, side and back which is unusual. They have been partially animated too with blinking eyes and moving mouths which synchronizes properly to the lines being said at the time. The character designs are actually done by Yuki Kato, from the BLUEBLAZ series.
The background sounds and music are well done. I did not find that they overly stood out, but they helped to set the mood.
The voicing is done very well overall with voices which suit the character personalities. The prologue section is fully voiced, aside from the protagonist who only is only voiced at the very start. Unfortunately, the chapter section is only partially voiced with only important story events having voices and otherwise just being text or the occasional voiced word meant to represent the sentence.
The included options are fairly standard for a visual novel, but the inclusion of the unlockable tips section with background information was appreciated. There is also a section to show collected items and a section showing which girl you have the most points with. On the PlayStation 4 version, there are also trophies, some which require going out of the way of the main story to acquire.
I would personally recommend World End Syndrome to visual novel fans who enjoy a light mystery story and romance. All of the characters are interesting, if not always likeable. The overall story comes together very well too and it works as a good example of a way to go through basically the same story several times while keeping things fresh.
WORLD END SYNDROME IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to the publisher PQube for a review code for this title.
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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.