System: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch | Publisher: PQube
Developer: Arc System Works, Toybox Inc. | Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Worldend Syndrome is a romance & thriller-infused visual novel based in the coastal settlement of Mihate Town; famous of its picturesque beaches, scenic views & a legend known as the Yomibito; a curse that brings misfortune to its residents every century. On the 100th anniversary of its last known occurrence, a 17-year old boy escapes to this remote seaside town following a traumatic event. As he becomes acquainted with his new surroundings, he becomes an enlisted member of the Tribal Research Studies Club; a primarily-female group of students ran by author & social studies teacher, Miss Yamashiro.
As they proceed research & unravel the notable mysteries surrounding the Yomibito, a series of deaths begin to occur across the town; foreshadowing the return of this fatal legend. What starts as an act of flight turns into a “memorable” summer as our protagonist & his newfound friends try to uncover the truth behind the demise of these recent victims.
“I ate the last slice of cake...my bad.”
Rather than opting for a linear storyline, Worldend Syndrome plays out its plot over several distinct character arcs; each providing unique outcomes & exclusive revelations that, when combined, help build the bigger picture of the overall story it narrates whilst providing further insight to these characters. Akin to Persona’s social link system, each of these paths are dictated by specific encounters you have with the female club members you become acquainted with; a majority playing out in a romantic fashion with some sprinkles of fan-service.
Now when I see these two words, I can get a little anxious. I’m personally not the biggest advocate of fan-service, as I generally find this to be a band-aid for a writer’s inability to provide a sufficient plot. To my surprise, I didn't feel this to be the case here. Aside from a few suggestive images & descriptive moments, there was no presence of any strong sexual intentions from its characters & it wasn’t too overpowering to be seen as a detractor.
I kept in mind that this story was told through the perspective of a 17 year-old male adolescent & whilst a few moments were a bit too corny for my liking, I thoroughly enjoyed each of the character arcs & found them to provide a sense of revelation to both themselves & the protagonist. There were some emotionally-charged scenes & moments of peril that made them feel more than template storylines, but there were some identical events that made them feel less distinctive as time passed. I personally would‘ve liked to have seen more male characters for balance but when the only prominent male character of your age is chasing after an idol that’s visiting the town & this is incorporated into the main plot, this choice makes sense.
That’s So Maimi.
The only potential downfall I acknowledged was that if you personally are not remotely interested in these characters or seeking out these romance paths, it can be a detractor as completing them is a requirement in order to progress the overall plot. To provide reassurance, all of them feature a nice mix of comedic moments, surprising twists & heartwarming moments that were entertaining & maintained my intrigue throughout. Sure, there will be characters you like more than others but everyone will always have a preference.
Progressing all five of its character arcs will unlock the game’s “Truth” chapter; a thrilling final conclusion that wraps up its varying subplots effectively & provides some shock revelations that took me by surprise. I personally believe it’s worth seeking out & whilst it may feel a little jarring to run through events you’ve already experienced, the game does include a Skip feature; allowing you to bypass any sections you’ve already read or don‘t wish to read. This feature can be a little jarring at times, as it does stop between scenes so you may be pushing that skip button a few times.
One final note on its concluding chapter; it did feel a bit strange that the romantic conclusions are thrown out the window but saying that, other titles I’ve played have followed suit & I found this more appropriate than having our protagonist being the centerpiece of a harem at the game’s conclusion.
L-R: Saya, Miu, Kensuke, Maimi, Hanako
Its cast offers a variety of personalities; ranging from our introverted protagonist to the class clown that this Kensuke, the strong-willed Miami, the privileged Saya, the ditzy Hanako, the determined Yukino & the reserved Miu amongst others. If you take a step back, it can feel like they fit within quite stereotypical anime character archetypes, but I found them to be a well-rounded group that bounced off each other very well.
From my perspective, the two highlights characters of the game were Miu & Hanako; the former offering a sense of mystique who has a rather eerie entrance into the story & her generally-reserved nature that was fun to decipher. Whilst some elements in Hanako’s path were a little predictable, it was refreshing to see the similarities between herself & the protagonist, plus her backstory was quite moving. The character arcs felt sufficient in developing its female cast more effectively & it was pleasant to see their growth in non-romantic situations.
The game’s supporting characters also felt like a welcome edition. The backlash Kensuke would receive for his perverted comments was always a joy that didn’t insult the integrity of its female characters. Seeing Miss Yamashiro’s role as the students’ guardian made her feel more than just a teacher who was simply positioned to be the adult figure in the club. Even witnessing the ninja-like speeds of Saya’s bodyguard, Hattori, were entertaining despite his noted age & non-visual presence.
I can safely say I enjoyed every character throughout my playthrough; whether featured visually or with just their dialogue presented. As I always say, a purposeful cast is worthy of praise & this is certainly the case here.
”Started from the bottom, now we’re here...”
As aforementioned, the game plays out in a visual novel format; allowing effective storytelling through the use of image-based cutscenes & dialogue with some multiple-choice options thrown in for good measure. From a presentation standpoint, a vast majority of the background environments are partially animated; each showcasing the breathtaking views of this seaside location & differing based on weather & time of day, which was a nice surprise. There are also some beautifully-detailed illustrations presented during each of the character’s storyline arcs.
Whilst characters remain static in physical movement, they too felt vibrant & well-drawn getting some of the animation treatment themselves in the form of eye blinking & lip syncing, to coincide with the dialogue from its Japanese voice cast. Although there is no English dub present, I didn’t feel this was needed as English subtitles were included as standard & the performances of its voice cast were very good, stepping up in key scenes. There is also a delightful selection of music that compliments that game’s light-hearted & serious moments. It was refreshing to witness this level of distinction within the visual novel format & helped cement my positive opinion on the game’s presentation.
Adding some variety to the game’s format are a number of additional gameplay features. The standard use of tips is present; helping provide sufficient context to certain moments of dialect. You can receive items throughout the story in various places, but their importance felt less meaningful as they don’t really have a use. There are also a selection of mini-missions such as getting an autograph for Kensuke from his sought-after idol or being the subject of Ultra Quiz on the town by Yukino. They are small storyline challenges that were a nice test of knowledge involving the town & its events.
"Oh, the places you'll go!"
There is also an emphasis of exploration & time management. Displayed as a visual map, you can explore the various locations across Mihate Town on most days; within three set periods of each day. This is where your encounters will take place & how the progression of the character arcs will be determined, allowing you to converse further with the game’s cast of characters & it helps this seaside town feel alive & worthy of expedition. Whilst I have remained very positive of the game thus far, there are some slight aspects that are less preferable.
First, the city map that allows you to select the locations you wish to visit, but doesn’t show you where these characters are at that time. Whilst the game does track all encounters across all game saves & registering these encounters in future playthroughs, at the beginning it felt more of a guessing game. At the beginning, there were a few times where I would reach bad endings as a result & found I was only able to progress further once I knew where everyone was located, so I could interact with them effectively.
“If obtaining loo roll for the owner of the local café makes me guilty, lock me up!”
There’s also no definitive direction as to what character paths you should take at first. There were a few moments where I had to sneak a peek at a guide because I got a little impatient with having to reload saves, in order to locate the character(s) I wanted to interact with & stay on track. There are also some undefined hints scattered during the story that can sway you into visiting a certain location but if you end up selecting a wrong location, you may be using the load feature a bit to ensure you stay on the right path. It’s not a game-breaker, but just be aware going in.
All of these critical points made the gameplay experience feel a little jarring at times. I acknowledged that the game’s design was to entice me into seek out all of its potential encounters & in fairness, I was content with this once I completed a few of the character arcs. Some of the optional encounters presented some very entertaining segments & I was glad I went back a few times to see those moments I missed before. I just think a better sense of direction & player empowerment could’ve helped the overall flow of the gameplay experience in my opinion.
"Oh when I look back now, that summer seemed to last forever"
Worldend Syndrome showcases a charming teenage summertime adventure thrown into a thrilling state of uncertainty. Its multi-layered narrative will have you piecing together a engrossing plot filled with mystery & affection, complimented by a radiant presentation style. Whilst it does utilise familiar tropes & has some jarring and predictable moments at times, its lore kept me intrigued & its characters felt wholesome and endearing. The game’s final chapter concluded my 20-hour experience in a memorable way that has me invested in a potential sequel.
It’s a delightful visual novel filled with comedic, heartwarming & suspenseful moments that kept me on board until its grand finale. If you're looking for an thrilling enigma that’s both entertaining & stimulating, I recommend booking out a week or two in your diary to experience this gem firsthand.
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Intriguing storyline & setting
+ Some emotionally-charged moments
+ Vibrant cast of characters
+ Replay value with multiple storyline arcs
– Slight lack of clarity when progressing its multiple paths
– Some repetitive/identical moments in subplots
Worldend Syndrome is currently available for purchase on the Nintendo Switch & PlayStation 4.