Personally, I’m not a big fan of crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and the like. Sure, you might get lucky and back something that turns out to be amazing, but more often than not it leads to developers releasing a half-baked project (if they even bother to release one at all). Such are the risks of backing an independent project, you say? Fair enough. The main problem here is obviously that there is barely any kind of quality control (same with other services such as Steam Greenlight) which allows the developer to just do whatever with the money they get. That’s exactly what happened with the Kickstarter-funded OELVN No One But You.
Like many people, I came across this project last year and thought it showed a lot of promise. How could it not? Of course, there was the generic Japanese high school setting (which is not a positive thing, guys) , but more importantly there were mysterious lines talking about dark secrets, a promise of voice acting (which sounded very competent), and very good art (well, the sprites at least). So naturally, a lot of these people ended up donating, netting the developers a massive budget of a little over 18,000 dollars. With this kind of budget, the game was bound to be a huge success, right? Right…?
Yeah, no. Truth be told, I could never have imagined quality control to be so lacking and such a massive amount of missing features present in a project with such a big budget (as far as indie developers are concerned, anyways). The first and most important missing feature would be the voice acting, but the promised additional girl route and the H-scenes (which are supposed to be coming at a later date…) are suspect as well. This would lead any critical consumer to question the developer’s credibility, which would be a fair way to approach this. Now, while the developer has made statements about this (with the voice acting being too expensive after all and the promised H-scenes coming out later), it has still put a negative spotlight on this game. Leaving these, ultimately minor issues (at least when it comes to the quality of the game itself) aside, there are still a multitude of major issues that keep this game from being anywhere near something that could be produced with this kind of budget.
To start at the beginning, NOBY has a relatively promising story (with the stuff about secrets being the main driving force behind all this), with the protagonist returning to his hometown after having been away for a very long time. He does not remember anything about what happened back then however, since he got involved in an accident (what sort of accident it was is not specified, because spoilers). Now, Hideaki, as he is called, does try to pick up his daily life where he left it off, since his mother tends to act on a whim when she decides where they will move and things like that, so he has grown accustomed to having to readjust to different kinds of new environments. Also, his father passed away while he was young.
As Hideaki is trying to live a normal life, he meets several girls and one boy who seem to get attached to him for one reason or another (not always with his consent, might I add), one of them having apparently been particularly close to him in the past. This girl is called Chinatsu, and for all intents and purposes her route should be considered this game’s ‘true route’, since it ties in directly with the protagonists past.
As far as the aforementioned characters go, this is where Unwonted Studios made their first big misstep, as most of them are nothing more than bare-boned story vehicles with little to no actual buildup when it comes to their individual routes. Among these are: Chinatsu as the quiet, bookish girl, Yui as the token tsundere character that has one of the most abrupt and ridiculous (read: bad) tsun to dere transitions I have ever seen, and Shiro, who does not even have any kind of defining character trade except for the fact that she plays the guitar and likes to sit on the school roof. Seriously, Shiro is such a terrible character that I couldn’t even remember anything about her except for these two facts. The two other main characters are a little more fleshed out, simply because they appear a lot more often than the other three. These are Ryo, your self-proclaimed ‘best friend’ who is the token comic relief best friend character who does and says ridiculous things in a desperate attempt at comedy, along with Megumi, a deredere character with a very bad stalking habit. She is also a puppy, for some reason. Don’t ask.
As I mentioned, none of these characters can be described as ‘good characters’, due to them either being annoying as hell (Megumi) or poorly developed due to a lack of screentime (the three other girls). The only somewhat tolerable character is Ryo, which is also the main reason why his route sticks out as a small positive point for this VN, since all the other routes suffer heavily from being written around a character you couldn’t possibly care one bit about at that point. This means that, due to the rushed nature of this work, all the life gets sucked out of any kind of romantic development in said routes.
It gets even worse when the writers decide to put a nakige-esque flashback scene (that may or may not tie into Hideaki’s past) at the end of every girl’s route in order to quickly cash in some (forced) drama points or to have some kind of vague explanation for the character’s behavioral quirks. While said scenes are seemingly relatively effective, you can see most of them coming from a mile away (once the shock wears off, since a bunch of these moments are pretty intense), as this VN isn’t particularly subtle about it. On the other hand, you might start analyzing them, and when you do… Your suspension of disbelief will probably kick in when you see the hoops the writers have jumped through to make the dramatic endings work. In hindsight, these moments just feel shoehorned in.
Honestly, the writing is nothing short of being asinine. The conversations these people have might seem like pretty normal conversations high-school teenagers might have, but they’re not. Most of them feel incredibly awkward and forced. Honestly, it’s very hard to describe it, but none of the conversations flow naturally like a real conversation would, it’s like the characters have all these lines they are just reading off of a script without any second thought about what they might mean. Even worse are the texting sequences, which feature slang an American teenager might possibly use (things like ‘ayo gurl’ make my skin crawl, but that’s just me), but this VN is supposed to be set in Japan. Supposedly. Because, let’s be honest here, I don’t think these writers have ever been to Japan or know anything about Japanese culture at all. It might as well be set in America for all intents and purposes.
Anyways, the writing is awkward and stiff, and so are the romances. Everything just suddenly happens all at once with barely any kind of romantic development or what have you. This is obviously the result of the VN being rushed, causing the writers to have no regard for consistency whatsoever. All in all, these factors create a broken, messy, patchwork-like story structure, conceived by a writer that seemingly had no idea how to properly build a believable route for one character, let alone five (!) different ones.
The CG’s are rather breathtaking.
Speaking of patchwork, the same can be said about the backgrounds, which seem to have no consistency in their art style, switching from detailed objects to crudely drawn ones for no real reason except for the fact that the developers probably had to rush this project and left some of it unfinished. While I am not an expert when it comes to shading, a lot of the colors still look unnatural, with light shining on areas shouldn’t be able to reach from outside the building. These mistakes are even more baffling since the CG’s are all excellently drawn, along with the actual character sprites which, admittedly, all look very good. Even though none of the girls have appealing personalities, at least they do look cute. It does need to be said that the sprites have very few actual facial expressions, which often leads to the character’s dialogue not really matching how they look at that moment.
Not that this is a massive problem, but it does look very silly and unprofessional. Then there is also the game’s sound, with the biggest offender being the promised, but ultimately missing voice acting. Now, I wouldn’t normally be one to complain about a game not having voice acting, even if it was originally advertised, but this game could really have used it, due to the soundtrack being so bare-bones. And by that I don’t mean that there is a lack of songs, because the soundtrack is actually quite extensive (especially when you compare it to the holy grail of OELVN’s, Katawa Shoujo which is widely praised for its fantastic soundtrack), but rather the fact that the entire thing sounds very amateurish. Not that it will get on your nerves or anything, but it barely makes the cut as simple background music, and with the game not having any other sound except for some simple sound effects, you’ll be forced to focus on it all the way through. Once again, considering the game’s budget I would have expected the developers to reach out to professional musicians and produce a quality soundtrack. But hey, that’s just me.
So, this VN has a multitude of problems in all the aforementioned areas, but I previously mentioned that it also severely lacks serious quality control. By this I mean that the game is riddled with issues ranging from missing CG’s, spelling errors, crash bugs, date display errors, incorrect story pathing (as in: a scene happening that wasn’t supposed to happen considering the choices you made. An example of this would be Ryo getting caught in the hot springs and being sent home early, but still being on the bus ride home in the next scene according to the story) and general sloppy writing and story structure (which I detailed before in the story section) which could have all been avoided with some extensive alpha/beta testing and proofreading. Unfortunately, the testing seems to either not have taken place at all, or the developers seem to have ignored most of their feedback.
Apart from the game feeling very amateurish in the art and music departments, it is also riddled with bugs, suffers from bad writing, asinine characters, boring romances, and so forth. Still, I feel like it has more of a soul than a lot of other OELVN and I think that with more time and effort, NOBY could truly have been something special. The baseline of the story was interesting, the character models are very well done and there were definitely a bunch of interesting ideas spread throughout the whole thing. Sadly, the game was seemingly rushed out in time for the deadline, so we are left with an incoherent mess that I really can’t recommend to anyone. Just another Kickstarter failure, I guess…
Thanks to Unwonted Studios for providing us with a Steam Key!