No One But You, or NOBY for short, is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign from Unwonted Studios, an international team headed up by American Kyle Tyner. They asked for a measly $1,300 and received $18,000 in turn. They smashed every stretch goal they put forth, and seemed well-poised to deliver the epic and dark romance story they were eager to create. Expectations were high, both from their 998 Kickstarter backers and everyone else waiting to see if they could recapture the magic of the last great natively-English, high school romance-themed visual novel, Katawa Shoujo.
Unfortunately, they didn’t even come close. I’m going to start with the conclusion: No One But You is an abysmal visual novel. I will in time get to all of the reasons why it’s bad, but know that there isn’t even entertainment value to be had in its awfulness. It fails not spectacularly, but frustratingly, in nearly every aspect of its being. From art, to the music, to the writing and story, NOBY will test your patience. At its best, it’s boring and mediocre, and at its worst, it makes you wonder if it should have even been released at all.
NOBY feels like a half-baked release, pushed out ahead of time. The background art feels inconsistent and unfinished. The backgrounds are littered with crudely-drawn shapes colored solely with simple gradients, which I can only assume are placeholder objects that were never replaced. And in those same backgrounds, you can often spot nicely detailed objects, such as an immaculately drawn hardwood floor. The presence of occasional good pieces of art in the backgrounds prevent you from passing off the cruder objects as a stylistic choice, and creates a disharmonious atmosphere that’s difficult to get used to. Moreover, there will often be problems with scale and perspective, alongside other overlooked aspects of the art. Windows will be slanted, light will shine in from the outside through indoor windows (what?), and so on.
Perhaps contributing to this atmosphere are the admittedly well-drawn sprites and CGs. They stand in stark contrast to the rough backgrounds, sometimes emphasizing their crudeness, but are still a welcome sight nonetheless. The character designs are cute and charming, and the pretty CGs can provide brief moments of respite while slogging through the rest of the VN. I think it’s fair to say that those moments are the best part of the entire game. Unfortunately, its unfinished nature rears its ugly head even here. There is very little variety in the sprites, with each character only having one pose and very few facial expressions, and some only having one outfit, their school uniform. The latter issue can pull you out of the experience a little when you realize that two characters are walking around a mall together on a date during summer vacation in their school uniforms.
The music suffers too. Some of the tracks are alright but not particularly notable, and some sound especially amateurish. I don’t actually have a lot to say about this as I’ll admit that music isn’t my primary concern when reading visual novels, but it’s still an important aspect to note. The untitled “main theme” especially comes in mind, possibly because it’s your very first experience with the VN itself, and it serves as proof that you shouldn’t leave music in the hands of the inexperienced. If there’s one more thing I have to say about the production, it’s that there seems to be a fair amount of bugs and scripting errors. Sometimes they forget to change the date for the date display, sometimes they change it to two months in the past. Yes, this happens for a substantial length of time in multiple routes. Other issues persist that should have been fixed in testing, like incorrect backgrounds (showing night scenes when it’s daytime), or incorrect sprite placement (a couple of scenes in Shiro’s route comes to mind). These kinds of errors happen with very high frequency.
All of the aforementioned aspects could have been improved had NOBY spent more time in the oven. A bit more effort could have provided us with better backgrounds, more sprite variety, better music, and fewer technical faults. But no amount of time could have saved us from both the most important and worst aspects of the game, its story and writing. It’s time to stop beating around the bush, the writing in No One But You is incredibly bad. The comedy falls flat with almost every joke, the drama feels forced, the characters are either zero- or one-dimensional, and the dialogue, oh man the dialogue. Prepare to cringe, a lot. All of the characters think the protagonist is hilarious, he’s not. The writers think he’s suave as hell, he’s not. And none of the dialogue felt natural or convincing.
The game stars Hideaki, a first-year high school student in Japan returning to his hometown after being away for ten years. Suffering from amnesia as a result of a damaging accident, he remembers nothing of his time there as a child. On his first day back, he runs into the mysterious girl Chinatsu, who seemingly knows him from his past. After having a rather insipid conversation, we finally move on to meet the rest of the cast, the overly clingy and deredere class rep Megumi, the class idiot and male friend (and romance option, if you choose) Ryo, the distant and cold Yui, and the… guitar playing Shiro? I’m really struggling to find a personality trait for her.
Shiro is one of the “zero-dimensional” characters I mentioned. She has no personality. Not to say that she’s a robot, or emotionless, or a kuudere or anything, she’s just a big fat nothing of a character. She sometimes plays the guitar, but it’s never an integral part of who she is. Her personality is that she’s just kind of there and falls in love with the protagonist. She’s not the only one with this issue. The cover girl and ostensibly “main” heroine Chinatsu is equally devoid of personality. By the end of their routes, you’ll be left wondering just what kind of people were they even meant to be, or what Hideaki would see in them.
These weaker characters are often pushed to the sidelines in favor of the noisiest bunch, Megumi and Ryo. Thankfully, they actually have a personality to speak of. Regretfully, they are shallow and often obnoxious, especially Megumi. Megumi takes the deredere archetype to the extreme. In Grisaia no Kajitsu, a game practically all about taking personality archetypes to the extreme, their overly-friendly heroine was somehow more reserved than Megumi. This excessive aspect of her personality overrides any other aspect she possesses. When they go that far, they need to do a lot to justify it, but without spoiling much this justification is flimsy at best. Instead she’s just weird and creepy, and the interplay between her, Hideaki, and Ryo more often than not fails to deliver an adequate punchline in compensation. Which I guess leaves Yui, who I felt was perhaps the least objectionable heroine, although still frustratingly one-dimensional.
The stories that surround these characters aren’t any better than the characters themselves. In fact, they’re downright baffling. This is a spoiler-free review, but man, the things I could tell you. These stories discard any notion of logic and reason. Plot holes are plentiful, and you are expected to stretch your suspension of disbelief to the greatest bounds imaginable. New characters are introduced that are just as one-dimensional as the old ones, including a couple of snarling villains that are so cheesily evil they feel like they belong in a Saturday morning cartoon and not a serious story. The characters often take abrupt turns and they’ll make you pull your hair out wondering what on earth they are even thinking. There are two routes in particular I’ll take objection to. Shiro’s route had an ending that left me flabbergasted at just how downright stupid it was, and Megumi’s route had a revelatory moment that, while shocking, was so full of holes that I was left stunned by the absurdity of it.
None of this is helped by the game’s uneven pacing. Characters are never given enough time to grow and develop. We aren’t given enough time to take in and get a feel for the relationships that are established. Multiple times entire major events are completely glossed over with brief narration. And on more than one occasion, a route will end abruptly, leaving you agape as you try to take in what just happened. As the story rushes to its conclusion in each route, you are simply never afforded the chance to take in and appreciate what is being given to you, such as it is. To illustrate just how suddenly some of these moments can appear, I’ll use an example from the Megumi route, so the next sentences will contain spoilers from the very beginning of her route:
At the end of the common route, you take a class trip to a hot springs resort. Megumi is a clingy character. She even stalks Hideaki. Throughout the class trip, she acted the same way as always. There hasn’t been any development in their relationship from the moment they met. It’s time to return, they sit down on the school bus, surrounded by other students, next to each other. On this school bus, Megumi, with absolutely no lead-up whatsoever, basically says “let’s date?” and Hideaki is all like “sure, why not.” Boom. With no additional fanfare, we’re thrust into the next part of the story (no better than the last). ~How romantic~
And to list one more gripe of mine, the game is just too Japanese. Or rather, it’s set in a setting the writers only barely understand. It’s abundantly clear that they only know Japan from anime and visual novels, and the story suffers due to this lack of understanding. It felt superficial, like they only did it that way because it’s how all of the Japanese VNs are. Indeed, the game tries too hard to be a Japanese visual novel and fails to forge its own identity. The worst part is that it’s inconsistent about it. Sometimes they’ll use honorifics, sometimes they’ll use awkwardly translated honorifics (such as a teacher saying Mr. So-and-so to refer to his students). Don’t we get enough of that in badly translated Japanese VNs? Do we really need to carry that aspect over to natively English VNs as well? Furthermore, these facets strongly invite the comparison to its much better Japanese brethren. When you try so incredibly hard to be a Japanese VN, it’s only fair to directly compare it to those VNs, where it falls supremely short.
NOBY also failed to live up to its grand promises during the Kickstarter campaign. In fact, many of the stretch goals still remain unimplemented, further cementing its unfinished nature. There is no voice acting, there are no additional routes yet, there are no real after stories (one or two of the routes had very brief epilogues, I hope they didn’t mean that), and there is no OP with vocals. And their early claims of it being a seriously lengthy title? It’s just shy of ten hours, which is all too short for a five route game.
But not only does it fail to meet the promises it established during the Kickstarter campaign, it simply fails to be a good VN in any capacity. It under-delivers in every category. To be completely honest, it’s the worst visual novel I have ever played. I’m sure there are worse VNs out there, I try to avoid the worst of the bunch. I never in my wildest nightmares expected No One But You to be quite this bad, and yet it managed to surpass all of my expectations. Looking to spend $10 on a Steam VN? Buy a Sakura game instead, you’ll have a better time. I cannot recommend this one to anyone, no matter what your tastes or priorities may be.
This was reviewed with a review copy provided by the developer.
+ The sprite work and CGs are pretty alright, I guess.
+ The Ryo route is actually kind of okay, if cliched.
- Dialogue that is either dull or cringe-worthy combines with plotlines full of plot holes and impenetrable character motivations to create a very frustrating experience.
- Crudely drawn background art gives off an unfinished feel to the game.
- A slew of technical faults makes the process of reading and interpreting what's going on more difficult than it should be.
- It compares itself to other, much better visual novels, making you wish you were playing them instead.