Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Visual Novel Review: Angel Beats! Track Zero Bonus Chapter

The Angel Beats! Track Zero Bonus Chapter visual novel is an adaptation of the bonus chapter from the Angel Beats! Track Zero light novel, which is the prequel to the better-known Angel Beats! anime series.  (In other news, people die when they are killed).  The visual novel was a side project made in the Ren'py engine by the Angel Beats! Visual Project, a group currently working on Angel Beats! Third View, a retelling of the anime through the eyes of a character who doesn't belong to the Battlefront.  (I say "currently working on", but as the last update to the development blog was 11 months ago, it may be safe to say that the project has found itself in the afterlife)
The Visual Project isn't an officially endorsed work, but it is a direct adaptation of one.

Pictured: Iwasawa, Hisako, and those two girls whose names you haven't bothered to remember before now

Storywise, there's not much to say about the visual novel to those who have read Track Zero.  To the large majority of people who haven't, the story takes the form of a set of diary entries by Sekine Shiori (The blonde guitarist in GlDeMo, in case because you don't remember her name).  These diary entries tell stories of her fellow bandmates, fleshing out their personalities (in the case of Iwasawa and Hisako), or finally giving them a personality (in the case of Irie).  The stories are fairly humorous and light-toned (true even without adding "compared to the parent series" to that sentence).

Artwise, the game is pretty well off.  The sprites have a somewhat distinct-looking art style utilizing thicker lines and dulled colours compared to what you find in other Visual Novels, but the style is consistently applied and does well to give this visual novel its own identity.  If there could be a complaint about the art, it would be that the "new identity" may be a bad thing if it results in too much of a divorce from the art-style used in the anime.  The style also doesn't carry over to the CG images, which generally show up once per chapter (There are 4 chapters).  Ignoring the slight clash between the visual styles for the two different types of images, the CGs are also well illustrated (and may be coloured or duplicated versions of illustrations from the Track Zero bonus chapter, although I cannot confirm or refute this at this time).
Not Pictured: Nobody Important
Implementation-wise, the game has some issues that bring down my opinion of it a bit.  The first chapter of the game insists on pausing the text every time a comma appears, which becomes really annoying in cases such as the above image, where you sometimes have commas separating phrases for an end result of needing to click four times to get through a line and a half of dialog.  Most Visual Novels don't pause at commas or periods for a reason: The player is already doing a lot of clicking, there's no need to inflate that any more.

The excessive clicking dies down after the first chapter, only to be replaced by another problem: The author of this visual novel has discovered Ren'py's shake effect, and applies it (with a sound effect) whenever anything that could be vaguely said to have emphasis occurs.  Exclamation Point? *THUMP*.  Character answers with only one word? *THUMP*.  Haven't *THUMP'd* in a while? *THUMP*.

The excessive use of the effect eventually began to annoy me enough that I muted the sound on my computer, which is a bit of a shame because the Visual Novel did an otherwise good job of using tracks from the Angel Beats! OST to give the appropriate feeling during each scene.  I would have liked to listen to more of that, but not at the cost of having a pounding sound go off in my ear on every other screen of text.

There also seems to be some weird issue where the skip function works on the first time through, but is disabled if you decide to go back and replay one of the diary entries, although this is minor compared to the other things.

Not pictured: Yuri.  Okay, so maybe there's a hint of that...
Overall?  If you've read the chapter this is based off of already, there's really no need to, unless you want to read the thing again with sprites to match the dialog.  If you haven't read Track Zero, it's definitely something you might want to check out (Even if you haven't seen Angel Beats!, the only scenario where your understanding would be hampered is a little bit in Irie's entry).  The Track Zero Bonus Chapter Visual Novel is a good and faithful adaptation of a humorous side-story.  Just make sure you turn off your sound before trying it.

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