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Review

Review: YU-NO – A girl who chants love at the bound of this world

Visu­al novels and adven­ture games play­ed a big part in the histo­ry of Japa­ne­se video­ga­mes, but many of the more influ­en­ti­al tit­les never made it out­si­de Japan. YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world was one of the­se games, having a lar­ge influ­ence on tit­les like Steins;Gate and Clan­nad. Over 20 years later, the remake of YU-NO has made its way here and, after play­ing through every main rou­te, it’s hard to say if it was actual­ly worth wai­ting for.

Star­ting off a few mon­ths after the death of his father, a stran­ge packa­ge is deli­ve­r­ed to the prot­ago­nist Taku­ya Ari­ma. Ope­ning it, he find a let­ter from his father who is see­min­gly still ali­ve. The let­ter goes onto exp­lain that tra­vel bet­ween par­al­lel worlds is pos­si­ble by using the device that was also sent to him. Taku­ya resol­ves to use this device, the reflec­tor, to dis­co­ver the truth behind his father’s disap­pearan­ce. Most of Takuya’s jour­ney takes place over the peri­od of three days, whe­re he must tra­vel bet­ween time­li­nes to find clues and items that will lead him toward his goal. Unli­ke many visu­al novels, whe­re the dif­fe­rent rou­tes are hid­den to the play­er, YU-NO dis­plays them all in a long set of win­ding pathways. Many of the rou­tes are con­nec­ted to one ano­t­her, with the map giving you a con­ve­ni­ent way to see what impact your choices can have.

For our first attempt, we just went along with the sto­ry and picked wha­te­ver choices seems appro­pria­te at the time. Most time­li­ne bran­ches are deter­mi­ned by what area you tra­vel to at cer­tain points, so to start with it seems like unlo­cking every rou­te will be easy. But soon you’ll run into rou­tes that are locked unless you have a spe­ci­fic item, which usual­ly comes from a com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent rou­te. This is whe­re the Auto Diver­ge Map­ping Sys­tem, or A.D.M.S., comes into play, allo­wing you to jump bet­ween rou­tes wit­hout having to restart from the story’s begin­ning. The reflec­tor, which allows Taku­ya to time tra­vel, can also place a save point at the cur­rent point in time. Using this, you can place a save at a key bran­ching point in the sto­ry, or easi­ly return to a rou­te that requi­res an item to pro­gress fur­ther. You can only make saves using jewels that are pla­ced in the reflec­tor, mea­ning that you always have to be care­ful about whe­re you use them. It’s an inte­res­ting sys­tem that works well once you get the hand of it, though it can lead to some repe­ti­ti­on when you need to keep time­li­ne jum­ping to get one item for mul­ti­ple rou­tes.

As for the cha­rac­ters and over­all plot, it’s a mixed bag. Taku­ya is aggres­si­ve­ly hor­ny most of the time, lea­ding to an annoy­ing amount of sex jokes and attempts at flir­ting. The­re are many sce­nes that are sup­po­sed to be serious which are rui­ned by the main character’s anti­cs, lea­ving the game with an incon­sis­tent tone. It’s fine to have a prot­ago­nist that acts goofy or inap­pro­pria­te at times, like Oka­be in Steins;Gate, but it real­ly beco­mes a pro­blem when a character’s anti­cs get in the way of important plot points. Taku­ya does get bet­ter in cer­tain rou­tes, and when he’s not rui­ning sce­nes with sexu­al innu­en­dos his cha­rac­ter can actual­ly be rather com­plex. He’s coping with the disap­pearan­ce of his father, his rela­ti­ons­hips with the various women in his life and the fact that his head­tea­cher likely knows some­thing about the disap­pearan­ce of his father. Ton­ing down how he acts may have impro­ved the sto­ry, though YU-NO’s origins as an ero­ge (a game with ero­tic con­tent) are pre­sent throughout the ent­i­re game.

This is main­ly felt in the rou­te based struc­tu­re of the game, with the ending of each main rou­te usual­ly having Taku­ya in a rela­ti­ons­hip with one of the main heroi­nes. For some, like his for­mer tea­cher Mit­suki, the­se feel some­what believ­a­ble. Taku­ya alrea­dy knew them well, and having them beco­me even more inti­ma­te during the sto­ry is believ­a­ble. But for other rou­tes it can come across as rus­hed, and a litt­le cree­py in the case of his step­mo­ther Ayu­mi. Adding to this is the sen­se that the romance in each rou­te is dis­con­nec­ted from the main sto­ry­line, often the­re for the sake of fan­ser­vice ins­tead of anything more mea­ning­ful to the plot.

If you can igno­re some of the wea­ker ele­ments of the sto­ry, the initi­al 20+ hours of YU-NO still mana­ge to be pret­ty enjoy­a­ble. After get­ting used to how Taku­ya acts in most situa­ti­ons, there’s an intri­guing sto­ry fil­led with sus­pen­se­ful moments and mul­ti­ple con­cur­rent plot lines that all work tog­e­ther to keep you hoo­ked. The game is at its best when you’re con­stant­ly dis­co­vering new infor­ma­ti­on throughout each time­li­ne, try­ing to pie­ce tog­e­ther what is real­ly hap­pe­ning behind the sce­nes. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, the­re are a few are­as other that some of the game’s cha­rac­te­ri­sa­ti­on that can get in the way of enjoy­ing the sto­ry. For star­ters, some rou­tes tend to repeat the exact same dia­lo­gue, lea­ding to a hea­vy reli­an­ce on the skip func­tion. The­re are also times whe­re it can be hard to tell what you need to do next, espe­ci­al­ly when items are invol­ved. The hint sys­tem does alle­via­te this some­what, allo­wing you to see what items are nee­ded for cer­tain choices, but it can still be frus­tra­ting having to search for the one thing you’re mis­sing.

Wor­se than repe­ti­ti­on though is the way YU-NO’s loca­li­sa­ti­on has been hand­led. You’ll be spen­ding most of the game rea­ding through text, so it’s disap­poin­ting that the trans­la­ti­on is noti­ce­ab­ly incon­sis­tent. From jokes that make no sen­se to the wrong pro­nouns being used for cha­rac­ters, the­re are many small (and not so small) mista­kes that should not have made their way into the full release. It’s far from the worst loca­li­sa­ti­on we’ve expe­ri­en­ced, and later sec­tions don’t feel as slop­py, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re get­ting a les­ser expe­ri­ence com­pa­red to the ori­gi­nal Japa­ne­se text.

As a who­le, Yu-No’s first sec­tion is still enjoy­a­ble for the most part, even with the many issu­es cau­sed by some annoy­ing cha­rac­ter traits and the poor loca­li­sa­ti­on. Howe­ver, all of this world buil­ding and time spent with each of the heroi­nes leads into the second part of the game, which is whe­re ever­ything falls apart. Wit­hout del­ving into spoi­ler ter­rito­ry, Taku­ya is at his worst during this part of the sto­ry. The way he acts does not fit with the cha­rac­ter deve­lop­ment he has during the rest of the game, and by the end it feels like most of the time you spent play­ing meant not­hing. Fur­ther­mo­re, the non-line­ar sto­ry­tel­ling is repla­ced by a line­ar and rus­hed sto­ry­line that lacks any of the intri­gue or cha­rac­ter deve­lop­ment that was pre­sent befo­re­hand. This all leads up to one of the worst ending’s to a sto­ry we’ve expe­ri­en­ced, put­ting the final nail in the cof­fin for what could have been a decent adven­ture game. Sure, most major plot points are exp­lai­ned, but in a way that is far from satis­fy­ing.

Conclusion

An irri­ta­ting main cha­rac­ter, disap­poin­ting second half and poor loca­li­sa­ti­on ruin what could have been an inte­res­ting sto­ry. The uni­que time tra­vel mecha­nic is thrown asi­de for a line­ar fina­le that ruins all of the sus­pen­se ear­lier rou­tes built up, and at the end we were just left fee­ling disap­poin­ted.

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