Ever17, released in 2002 by KID and three years later by Hirameki International in its English version, is probably one of the most important games for the so-called “western visual novel scene”. Although there already were some translated visual novels before it, it can be argued that this game left such an impression on a number of people that an impetus was born that would lead to the growth of both the community and the number of translated titles. Ever17 certainly is the kind of work that can, under the right conditions, leave a great impression on its reader. Those historic considerations aside, it is now 10 years later and we are in a position to judge it with a bit more perspective, which is what I intend to do here.
Ever17 was released by KID, a now bankrupt company that used to have relevance in the industry in the early 2000s, when eroge/ADV games were flourishing. It was mainly written and supervised by Uchikoshi Koutarou, known outside of Japan for the Zero Escape series, and author of the Infinity Series which Ever17 belongs to.
The game’s genre will surprise no one who knows Uchikoshi’s tastes: a sci-fi mystery, full of concepts anywhere from actual science to mysticism, and with a few big twists lying in wait of the reader.
Ever17 has the interesting peculiarity of having two protagonists, an average teen named Takeshi and an amnesiac kid simply named The Kid. Early in the story, a choice will lead you to play as one or the other, although it is advised to first play Takeshi’s routes and only then The Kid’s ones – in fact, that choice is enforced in the remake. Having two protagonists is not too common, and as you can guess it’s not an arbitrary decision either. The game starts as our two protagonists – who don’t know each other yet – visit LeMU, an underwater amusement park. A massive accident happens that leaves half of the facility underwater. Most people managed to evacuate in time, but six of them ended up trapped, including our two protagonists. The path to the surface and the communication lines are cut off. In addition, LeMU is under constant assault by severe water pressure, limiting time to find a means of escape to 119 hours.
Let’s stop for a bit on the setting because it’s pretty interesting. An amusement park is not an uncommon choice for an author trying to set up an atmosphere creating a feeling of anxiety. Presenting a normally vivid, lively place as dysfunctional and devoid of life creates a powerful sensation of the uncanny. To the disquietness of a deserted amusement park, add the claustrophobic fear of being cut off from the rest of the world, stuck under threatening masses of water and you have a lot of potential for a thrilling story. Another interesting part of this setting is the very sciencey flavor that is introduced from the beginning and remains pervasive throughout the novel. The occasional rudimentary science explanations and the ‘science feeling’ approach have a pleasant tone to them. Let’s just say that I found the introduction very promising: a setting full of potential, a distinct flavor, and an overall efficient execution.
But once our the scene is set and our characters are in their huis-clos, disappointment begins. There are numerous issues with the first four routes of the game, and the lack of realization of the potential I mentioned before is only one of them, perhaps not even the worse one. Oh, the game does have a certain atmosphere. There are a few disquieting moments, there are bits of foreshadowing that pique the reader’s curiosity, there’s some action, and there are some interesting explanatory scenes that build upon the closed universe we explore. The fact that all of this is supported by Abo Takeshi’s soundtrack helps, because it’s both pretty good and very fitting.
But it’s just… not as exciting as it could have been. I think the main shortcoming of those four routes is the writing, which is an issue on several levels. First, at the prose level. It’s rather obvious that Ever17’s prose is bland and fails to engage the reader. Some might oppose me with the usual style/plot distinction saying that only the plot interests them, but I don’t buy into that concept. You can’t, in a work of fiction, completely distinguish “events”, “plot”, and “ideas” from the way they are delivered, because you can’t ever get rid of language. Yes, the wording of a sentence is important and relevant to what you are trying to convey, whether it’s a trivial event or the main message of your entire work.
Second, at the scene level – which is not entirely distinguishable from the “prose level”. It’s basically just that the way events unfold in those routes is neither efficient nor entertaining. Some would probably talk about “poor pacing”, or something like that, I guess. Now you could disagree and say that this is the result of a poor translation. Perhaps. I’m not inclined to think a game released in 2005, when the market was so niche and the concerns about translation issues so few, had a lot of effort put into its script. The fact that the script still features numerous typos and errors doesn’t really suggest otherwise. As I said, I did not check the Japanese version to see if it was better, however I went to check what our fellow Japanese eroge fans had to say about that, and overall they seem to have been pretty bored by those four routes too.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this can still be called a “writing” problem or not, but there’s definitely a structural issue in those routes too: they’re too god damn redundant. Not only are Takeshi’s routes particularly lacking in interesting content, they also have way too much text and events in common that you can’t really skip over (well you always have the option to, but it’s not thought out as a common route that you can skip after your first reading and it’s a pain). Same with The Kid’s routes, even if they are a bit more interesting. This also has consequences on the character development. Ever17 is definitely a sci-fi mystery that should be read for its plot twists, because that’s the main attraction. But it also has an eroge structure with romanceable characters and lots of slice-of-life scenes, which I have some grievances with. Oh, it’s not too bad. In fact, when the epilogue came I realized I had grown kind of fond of all those characters at some point. But still, was there really nothing better than chicken sandwiches and kick-the-can to put some fluff in between foreshadowing and setting-relevant scenes? Not only are the routes too redundant, some of that redundant content itself isn’t even particularly interesting. Perhaps the tone of the game could have been more radical, since those routes deal more with the survival aspect rather than the mystery and there are several ways to make that survival interesting. It could have been a Lord of the Flies -tier oppressing survival, or The Martian -tier sciencey “feels good survival”, and not a clumsy mix of the two. But, well, even disregarding this and taking the tone of the game for what it is, I still think there’s room for improvement. The point is, those four routes, despite being necessary to the setting of the game (in several ways, actually), do not make for a very thrilling survival nor a very good character piece, and they’re too redundant. But Ever17 doesn’t stop there: there’s the true route.
After having played these not-always-interesting four routes, I was excited at reaching what most players describe using extremely painful sounding gastric metaphors and symptoms of brain dysfunction. After checking on wikipedia to make sure that I could not literally secrete concrete in my intestines and that pieces of fiction couldn’t hope to engage in fornication with my mind, I started out and… was not disappointed. Ever17 is, in fact, a pretty well set up sci-fi mystery. I’ve been excessively negative in the first part of this review so let’s not be too sour here: there is something intensely satisfying, a jubilation in seeing the pieces of the puzzle rapidly coming together in a series of revelations that completely change your view of what has been happening from the beginning of the game, and that even go as far as introducing meta elements, a common feature of ADV games of this era. Coco’s route is truly what makes this game worth playing, and certainly the reason why it has marked so many players.
This part is excellent, but am I going to be 100% positive about it? Of course not. I have to mention something that bothered me while I was reading through the finale… the science part. At this point there’s probably already some dude in the comments writing something along the lines of “fiction doesn’t need to be scientifically accurate you dumbass”. I can see you. Stop and read the rest. It’s completely true, the idea of fiction needing to be completely scientifically accurate makes no sense. In fact, please do violate the laws of physics, it’s always more fun… As long as you don’t take the appearance of scientific credibility. I already mentioned that we are introduced a lot of basic concepts throughout the game that are used to explain the setting. I have no issue with introducing extrapolations that go a bit too far, like Tsugumi’s case for example. However it’s extremely bothering to see events that contradict very basic stuff that was introduced in the game before. You don’t have to respect science, but you should always be self-coherent. And the few bits in the finale that breach this contract are extremely bothering because they completely took me out of the story during its most important point – which is why I’m talking about it to begin with: I wouldn’t mind a few mistakes in the physics of chicken sandwiches or giant tuna fish, but this was the worst possible time for a basic blunder like that to be made.
I have been excessively harsh in this review, and you may have been surprised by the mark I ended up giving (take it as a very vague quantification of my “raw” enjoyment of the game). It does have a really good finale, some interesting characters and a number of enjoyable things. But it’s also, in my opinion, a flawed work in many aspects and I find those flaws more interesting to point out than the good points – especially considering how dithyrambic Ever17 reviews tend to be: I do encourage you to read other reviews of the game aside from mine to get different points of views. Ever17 is a classic and it deserves to be played – especially by people who are not very familiar with visual novels, because you’ll enjoy it more that way.
 ^ The Infinity series games are only loosely related by some in-game clues and events. You can play them in the order you want. Or not play any of the others at all.
 ^ Uchikoshi’s main influences for Ever17 range all the way from recent sci-fi movies like Frequency to old esoteric books like Tertium Organum.
 ^ Not available in English. I only played the Hirameki version myself because I wasn’t going to re-read the whole damn game in Japanese just for the sake of this review. But I still love you guys.
 ^ Aside from the Infinity series games, you might know him for his work on the Kagaku Adventure series (Steins;Gate, Chaos;Head…)
 ^ This means I read a few dozen comments on EGS, basically.
 ^ Please, please don’t suddenly open an airlock at 12 atmospheres into a room at 6 atmospheres. Not only do I doubt that you’d be able to open the door, but if you do manage to, your eardrums and sinuses will most likely explode and you’ll probably die of decompression sickness. Not only is this not the only example, it’s not even the worse one.