This is my first review on Visual Novel, especially OELVN (Original English Language Visual Novel). But this is not my first experience with Visual Novel itself. I have read so many Visual Novel throughout this 4 years (although not in consistent schedule) ranging from Japanese VN (fully English translated of course) to original English VN, be it long (up to 50 hours, like Ever 17, Root Double : Before Crime; After Days) or a short one yet memorable (like Narcissu, Song of Saya) and a couples of other OELVNs.
It wasn’t until Christmas holiday this year until I picked up something to read again (mainly to lift up my boredom because I’m so low on motivation to continue my project). But unlike my almost infinite time back then on college days, this time I would like to read something quick. So I browsed a couple of listed VN based on tags, and SICKNESS seems to fit my criteria (short, dark, and hopefully, enthralling).
So without further ado, let me tell you my opinion of SICKNESS.
This is the synopsis given on VNDB, and it pretty much covers what’s going on, without spoiling much to the fun:
Following the deaths of his parents, Suoh is left without a home or source of income. All he has is his twin sister, Sara, who he promises to provide for, even if doing so means throwing his life away.
Using the entirety of their savings, the two move to another city, wherein Suoh quickly finds work. Sara commutes to her old school, Suoh works long, physically-demanding hours, and the two survive off instant food, barely scraping by. It isn’t a happy life, but they make it work.
Or at least they did, until a violent outburst set into motion a rapid descent.
Amid a physical altercation with his boss, Suoh blacks out, waking up to find a corpse laying at his feet. His knuckles bloody, his muscles aching, he realizes that he has just murdered his boss, the person responsible for his continued well-being. But rather than lament the loss of life, all Suoh can think of is how badly he needed the money, and what he’ll do next to get it.
Drawn by the scent of blood, one of Suoh's coworkers, a young man with criminal connections, offers him a not so legal revenue stream, one encouraging violent behavior and rewarding the capable.
And from there, everything spirals out of control.
STORY : 7.5/10
Developed by Zetsubou and published by Unwonted Studios, I wasn’t aware there was a studio with that name until I encountered SICKNESS. So I literally expected nothing groundbreaking when reading this. I thought “Oh, this is just unpopular publisher; let’s just hope this isn’t turning into actual trash.”
And boy, oh I’m so wrong here. I underestimate them.
Despite a couple of flaws and (kind of) uncompleted/unsatisfying ending, SICKNESS managed to get me glued into the screen, at least for 4-5 hours nonstop (with abusing AUTO function of course), and then resumed it again after a short break until the end of the day, because the storytelling is decent and the pace just feel right. Hell, even I adore the writing style. It’s simple, straightforward, but didn’t feel too forced or hollow.The only unusual thing I noticed is the writing switches back and forth from past and present tense first-person narrative. For example when Suoh described the events he told it in past tense, and when he is thinking on his head he described it on present tense. It’s rather unusual attempt on visual novel (from what I’ve read so far or had I just noticed this), but then I’m not a grammar NAZI so I push that matter aside. I don’t even have a skill to write a decent story myself, be it on my native language let alone English (which tenses matters much), so who am I to criticize? xD
SICKNESS told a story about Suoh, a young teenager (supposedly in his 17s). Faced with the reality that suddenly forced him to drop out from high school and eventually have to work to support his dear sister, somehow his life turn upside down when the first “tragedy” occurred. Even though he is only 17, his reasoning and actions seems oddly mature enough for his age. He talks and acts when he needed to, and assess the situation first before jumping to conclusions. As for so, I find it’s impossible to not rooting for him. I’m tired with so-typical highschool protagonist in harem/otome game which either too damn naïve or dumb to realize something obvious, or failed to make a simple action for God’s sake.
Of course, he is not a 100% a nice person from the start. While Suoh is deeply cares about family matters (and maybe a little possessive towards his twin sister), he is also a coldblooded person when the time dictates to do so (what a “professional”, he is). In fact, he is aware of this contradiction too. That’s what made him interesting I guess, although his action is not always justified.
So what about the “Sickness”, as for the title? Answering it would be a major spoiler to the story, although you may have guess from the synopsis alone. But the fact that this “sickness” is not used properly on the climax, let alone discussed after the ending make me wonder, is it really important to include on this story? Despite being on title, the concept of “sickness” is not that well-defined. Maybe this one of the aspect I find lacking from this visual novel.
Just like some others visual novels out there, SICKNESS offers so many option/choices throughout the story, and only by choosing the (combination of) right option you’d be able to access the “right” ending. There are many bad endings which end the story prematurely, some of them is blatantly obvious, which is unlikely you’d go with that option except you have desire for protagonist death, while some of them is quite subtle, but being a veteran player myself, I could easily avoid that (haha/slap). The “proper” ending itself divided into 3 routes….eh, more like 2 routes with respective girls (spoiler : your sister and your coworker) and 1 routes when you’re being indecisive with those 2 girls.I won’t spoil much from here, just read it for yourself and if you’re stuck, there’s walkthrough on Steam you can consult.
In summary, while I found the ending lacks of closure, and the term “sickness” isn’t well defined, I personally enjoyed the flow of story and the interactions between characters.
ARTWORKS (SPRITES) : 7/10
Sprites is decent despite being too “anime”-ish. For dark VN like this I’d prefer the sprites to be more into “realist” type, with rough strokes and darker color palette maybe? But it’s just my preference after all. Granted, even dark VN like Root Double and Higurashi have some disturbing moeblobs sprites. Some of the sprites also look off and flat, nevertheless it doesn’t distract the enjoyment too far. (and for cute, blushing Sara I couldn’t ask for more). The expression of main characters is diverse enough so that it matches well with the narrative being told/spoken.
To sum it up, the sprite serves well for the purpose but nothing spectacular and worth noting.
ARTWORKS (CG) : 6.5/10
The CG here is a mixed bag. Some of them are decent enough (well, a few I guess) to be printscreen-ed and you could make nice wallpaper with it but many of them suffers from the “wrong/ weird anatomy” syndrome. The face suffers from some inconsistency too. Iguess because I’m an artist myself (albeit an amateur one) I could see while I’m being a little nitpick with this one…I just want to point out the truth. I supposed it has to do with so many CGs provided for such a cheap price VN, but if Unwonted Studios want to attract more readers with decent visuals, they have to struggle more than this.
It’s not as the quality of CGs is really annoying or bad, they serves and illustrates the event being told just well, but not enough to be called “high-quality CG”.
ARTWORKS (BG) : 6/10
Here’s what I am wondering about: Richmond city is a dark city with seemingly not good enough place to live (at least what’s the narrative told, and within my comprehension), but why am I seeing an image with a clean, comfortable and spacious-looking city?
And also, the siblings Suoh supposedly lived in cramped, narrow space with superficial furniture available, but all I could see is a big enough and comfortable space for one family to be living in. Who can I blame for the inconsistency?
Put it simply, some of the BGs doesn’t represent what it’s being told/spoken, but there are quite a variety of them, and it’s not looking ugly either. Being generous that I am, and making BG itself is a real pain the ass (at least what my experience told me), I’ll give this aspect a 6.
SOUNDS : 7/10
I don’t paying much attention for the sound effects/BGM, because none of the aspect bother s me so much, if it’s not too annoying/jarring. Aside from the lack of voice acting (which I found this is understandable, due to the price and all), I don’t find this aspect lacking anything in particular.
SYSTEM : 7/10
Actually the system is all well and functional, and there’s no bug from what I’ve encountered so far. There’s also some useful keyboard shortcut being implemented, like simply pressing F will switch from windowed to fullscreen view, without . But I guess that’s the default behavior of this visual novel engine, that is, Ren’Py. Being familiar with the visual novel engine (Ren’Py), maybe I’m being nitpicked about this aspect, but I find the lack of history/backlog feature bugs me. Sometimes I clicked the text too fast and I want to go back to the former, in case there’s something I miss, but there’s no such luxury for me. I don’t know why the developer disable this (should be) default function, but for whatever reason, I think that this option better not be disabled. The disabled rolling back function is fine (to prevent the readers redo the choices maybe?), but a history/backlog function should exist. And also, when reading like I said I like to use auto function, but there’s no indication when this auto function is turned on/off. Again, this is maybe just me being perfectionist and all.
OVERALL (7/10) Rate : B-
Recommended for who likes reading dark story and avoid many visual novel character archetype, without thinking too hard about the closure.