8
Our overall verdict "silver"

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During a school field trip Sorata Suzuhara is suddenly abducted and thrown back in time. It’s a perturbing situation, and just to flummox him further, he is lead into a flying ship masquerading as a giant globe. Aboard he meets a distinctive group of young travellers all heading to America for a secret mission. They are espers, people blessed with special powers, and together they are tasked by an unseen body named The World to bring peace to, well, the world. Unfortunately, someone is a tad put out by all this and so the group must deal with a deadly enemy and a traitor who is out to sabotage the ship and kill all the espers. As Norn9: Var Commons is an otome game (girlie stuff) there is sweet romance to be had amongst all the chaos and drama.

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Norn9: Var Commons is a Japanese visual novel. If you’re a fan of these already you’ll know the drill, but for those of you who don’t, a visual novel involves reading through a story and making choices that will affect the end. There are usually many different endings, good and bad, and a one true ending. The fun part is finding all of the endings and piecing the story together. In Norn9 there are multiple paths depending on which of the female characters’ stories you chose to follow. Once you have selected a character you can then select a boy you are interested in. To get a good ending you will need to raise the Affection Level between you and your beau as high as possible. To do this you will, at intervals, be presented with choices on the way you act and respond to various situations. Make the right choice and you’ll get a sweet and happy ending. Get it all horribly wrong and your stud muffin may even end up dead.

Unlike many visuals novel, the paths and endings in Norn9 are vastly different, which makes sense as you are picking different characters and spending time with different boys. Don’t think this is one of those games where you will spend most of your time skipping text. Every path is completely and utterly different and each one, taken at a steady pace, will take you several hours to play through. Luckily, if you are looking for a good ending it’s easy to spot when you go wrong and even easier to rectify it. When you make a choice that ups your Affection Level, a little up icon will flash over your chosen fella. Make a duff choice and a step towards a bad ending and you’ll get no such icon. All you need to do is push up the left stick, rewind and pick another option. There are some exceptions to this such as the timed choices, so saving often is a wise habit to get into. All of the guys have good and bad endings, but some will throw you through a heart-shaped loop with extra conclusions. Which path you choose is up to you, but the selection screen does give you some helpful advice on where to start.

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The game’s great writing is immediately evident in the main plot and there are some things to think about concerning the main topic, war, and there are excellent parallels between this and your romantic antics. It’s all about seeing things from different perspectives and being able to empathise. It also throws up the question of exactly what makes a bad guy. You may very well get a completely different feeling for a character depending on which girl you play and who your love interest is.

While there is plenty of plot to sink your fangs into, this game is really all about the relationships and each one is very different from the next, giving plenty of variety. If otome games are your thing, you’re not going to go far wrong with Norn9. All the guys have distinctive personalities, as do the girls’ whose fates you will be guiding. The writing is solid, never boring and when you change girls you can really feel the writing shift and the tone change. The characterisation is excellent. In particular Itsuki’s playfulness, Sakuya’s gentle acceptance, and Akito’s fear of hiyokos and … let’s just call them ‘issues’ for the sake of dropping any spoilers, is all very well done.

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Many of the characters will invoke some strong emotions and reactions. We all love to hate, don’t we? In that case we need to talk about Ron. His cold sociopathy is truly chilling. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m sure many players will be drawn to him, but I absolutely despise him. The thing is, he’s so well written, so unapologetically himself, that despising him is a real pleasure. Ron is the most unfluffy character you’ll ever meet in an otome game. It takes a brave writer to attempt sympathy for this sort of character. The other thing about Ron is that his paths are a titchy bit more tricky. In addition to trying to either solidify or trash your relationship, our Ronald has an extra factor to complicate matters and lead you to yet another ending. If you weren’t disturbed by him before, try his tragic love ending.

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Once you’ve completed all the happy endings available for all characters, the true ending will unlock. It was with huge relief that I discovered this, in fact, wasn’t another playthrough, but an Epilogue. It’s much shorter than the previous paths and does an excellent job of providing much desired closure the story’s central plot issues.

Graphics are spot on for this type of game with some lovely stills and some nice animation. The music will do its usual job of getting jammed in your head once you’ve passed the ten hour mark and will probably stay there until the next game comes along and shoves it out. Trophy hunters put your hands together, because Norn9 has a gorgeous stash of thirty trophies including an attainable Platinum. You’ll need to find every ending to get many of the trophies and luckily due to the ‘Skip All’ option you can whizz between choices quickly and without fuss. There are also trophies available for unlocking goodies in the Norn shop and for playing the extra mini Norn Quest game. Norn Quest is a little retro text adventure that relies on pure chance rather than any skill. Pick a character and the AI will choose three other characters as your enemies. Points are awarding or taken away depending on the random confrontation you have with your frenemies. It’s a cute and a lovely little addition to a very nice game.

Conclusion

While Norn9 has a wonderful and thought-provoking central storyline, this game is all about wining and dining the lads. Break hearts, mend relationships, woo the gorgeous boys and fall in love. Great writing, colourful characters and a satisfying search for the true ending, Norn9: Var Commons is a solid and fervent visual novel for fans of the otome genre. Pucker up, people.

S J Hollis Rating – 8/10

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S J Hollis

S J Hollis has been a keen gamer since the Atari 2600. She freely admits she thought E.T. was a good game but would like to stress her tastes have since dramatically improved. She is also an author, a morning person and thinks Elf ears are sexy. Follow her on twitter @SJHollis_