We have seen quite a cluster of niche games released for the PS Vita. One set of games that have seemed to be a mainstay is the visual novel genre. Games like Danganronpa and Steins; Gate are a couple of examples on how that genre has grown on the Vita.
Norn9: Var Commons is a new otome/science fiction hybrid, visual novel game that hopes to find resonance with the Vita audience. In what essentially starts out as an interesting story, turns into a dating sim, but that is not the problem as otome games tend to go that route, the problem is the story itself.
The plot is simple at the beginning; a boy genius is somehow sent a century into the past where is runs into a girl that has problems remembering who she is. They eventually run into a sphere shaped ship that houses two girls and nine guys who have powers known as “espers”. The focus shifts from the boy to the three girls when a hole is blown into the side of the ship and the crew decide to break off into teams.
You then get to choose which girl you want to play as and eventually you pick which guy you want to teamed up with; each girl has to choose between three predetermined guys. This eventually turns into a love story and who have a set of responses throughout the game that can give a good ending or a bad ending, and depending on the guy, there is sometimes a third ending. This sets the game up for the drama and it does deliver it for sure.
Picking the right responses are key in this game and fortunately, when you pick the right one you see the guy’s affection for you grow. Even if you don’t see the arrow indicating this, there is a rewind feature that allows you to try again.
The game really pushes you to try and get all the good ending from all nine of the storylines at the very least as that is the only way to get the epilogue in the game. For the trophy hunters out there, you will have to get all the endings in order to achieve that coveted platinum trophy.
The science fiction element to the story isn’t too bad the first, or maybe even second time you play it, but there is nothing there that will make you want to continuously play the game over and over again with the few different options of characters to play with the choice of different male counterparts.
In fact, from a story telling standpoint, the story just dives into the other characters and makes no real mention of the boy genius it starts out with. For an otome game, this isn’t unheard of, but there is essentially no real reason for this character to exist in the first place when you look at the different story perspectives. The only real way to get any kind of closure on that character is to unlock the epilogue.
Another aspect is that is strange is that after you pick your “partner”, the game is essentially just character arc building and by the end of the play through, the plot stumbles back into play as if the writers forgot there was a reason behind the pairing in the first place. Reveals happen all at once and when the twist happens, it’s not that overwhelming as there was no build up to it in the first place.
That’s where the game does the most disservice for itself. For a game that is made so the player can do multiple play throughs with different people, you probably won’t really want to as it’s not that interesting.
The presentation, however, is where the game shines the most. Norn9 gets the majority of the details, both small and large, right. Both the audio and visual aspects of its presentation are great. The set pieces are gorgeous and the characters are handsome (some are probably prettier than the girls), and the ladies are lovely. The soundtrack is stellar as well, as it should be, as famed composer Nobuo Uemastu (Final Fantasy) wrote the titles main theme and the piano pieces in the game by Kevin Penkin are beautiful.
Norn9 has a lot going for it. The music and set designs are excellent are the story starts off interesting, but then it starts to taper off and lose itself in the drama that by the end of whatever play through you are doing, you probably won’t even care and will be anxiously waiting to get to the credits. It is hard to recommend this game because there are so many out there for the Vita that are better and more interesting. If you are a completionist, get ready to use the fast forward feature in the game…you’re going to need it.