One of my biggest goals of 2014 was to get an iPad. I’ve always wanted an iPad and last year I finally began making the type of money where buying one was economically feasible. And while there were millions of apps and other things I wanted at my fingertips, one of the growing reasons was that there mobile and tablet-only visual novels that I couldn’t play on my laptop that I wanted to get my hands on. Unfortunately, if you’ve listened to my playthrough of the Sunrider Academy demo, you know I was sick as a dog through most of December, which limited my ability to do anything other than work, work and shopping for everyone else’s Christmas gifts. However, I did rectify that earlier this year and was able to play one of the EVNs on iPad that had caught my attention for a while: Invisible Apartment.
Europe is proving to be a very viable market for visual novels between Moacube, We Are Muesli and today’s development group: Vysoko Anime Production. Vysoko is focused on a more traditional experience in the old anime stomping grounds of Cyberpunk. The plans for Invisible Apartment are clearly massive with a prequel (Invisible Apartment Zero) leading off Visoko’s 2015 offerings and the sequel planned for release sometime this year. So, what kind of foot does this new EVN series start off on? Let’s take a look!
In the towering metropolis of New Jessica, Bunny (no not THAT Bunny…I don’t care if it’s 2015. When I get a chance to make a Tiger and Bunny reference I take it goddammit!) survives by stealing what she can from the automated servers that run the city and staying one step ahead of all-seeing authorities ready to crack down on anyone who steps out of the well-regulated lines of society. With the help of her AI companion Mask, Bunny manages to find an apartment in the city that is seemingly disconnected from the surveillance state. Unfortunately for her, this seemingly safe place comes with its own problems.
If you are familiar with Cyberpunk, the setup and plotline are very familiar. The worries of a surveillance state and the lone person who finds themselves against an autocratic ruling class is well worn territory by now. What I like about Invisible Apartment is that while you know that’s the track it’ll eventually go on, Bunny starts off in a very relatable position. She isn’t rebelling against the powers that be and, really, she isn’t acting out of a sense of courage or righteousness. She is fully to blame for every situation she finds herself in by making decisions out of ignorance or fear. It’s only when she leans on her instinct to survive does she manage to make it through the day; even with her larger goal of getting into the Central Authority database.
When given the option, I’ll always take these types of characters over your cut and dry heroes because there is so much more you can get out of them. While we do not go too deep with her character, what we get shows a great potential for growth in the series as a whole. My favorite scene in the game is when she discuss why she’s trying to hack into the Central Authority and it is essentially to erase whatever files the ruling body has on her. When its suggested that the simplest way to solve her problem is to just leave New Jessica, there is a pause there and the reader begins to understand her motives are pretty short-sighted. It’s also hinted strongly that whatever files exist on her are due to her own actions and she only has herself to blame for them. However, she is blinded by her own desire to live in New Jessica at any cost. It’s a brilliant setup that will hopefully be explored in later chapter.
By finding the invisible apartment, Bunny unfortunately stumbles onto the larger conspiracy surrounding New Jessica and how the autocrats deal with dissent. I have to admit that as it is revealed, it’s actually pretty ingenious. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if certain authoritarian regimes didn’t use similar methods to control dissenting opinion. However, there isn’t enough time to allow for the full weight of what Bunny is up against to set in. We never really get a taste of New Jessican society and the laws of the land. Instead, the game leans hard on the idea that if you’re playing this game, you’re well aware of how bad cyberpunk societies can get.
A lot of this game is unfortunately rushed and it affects what could have been a solid tempo, slowly building the tension as Bunny finds herself deeper and deeper into the wider conspiracy. Instead, time is devoted to her stumbling into Alex: our secondary character and potential love interest. Alex’s primary objective is to serve as a foil for Bunny’s character and inevitably pull her fat from the fire when she dances too close to the line. While a few of their conversations hit a good mark, especially the one I mentioned above, it never really captures the full weight of the situation they’ve found themselves end and doesn’t give us any more details about the world at large than what we already have to work with.
This becomes very clear in the third act where several scenes are used to explain what is going on in front of us and have exposition dumps rather than just letting the storyline play out naturally and paying off what would have been a satisfying buildup. Instead, it all just kind of stumbles along and tries to keep your interest with what boils down to a scene straight out of Ghost in the Shell. A little more time would have fleshed this out, but we have to work with what we have.
That final third is also the most predictable of the game as Bunny goes from a nobody trying to survive to essentially a key to potentially bringing down the regime. Whatever tension could have been built during this time was deflated after everyone put their cards on the table and you’re just waiting at that point for the conclusion you know is right around the corner. This is a shame as well since one thing the final act does manage to get right is the relationship between Alex and Bunny. While the majority of their early relationship is ham-fisted, by that point their dialog had taken on a natural flow that could be the groundwork for one of the better pairings in EVN in used correctly.
For now, that and a lot more information is left on the table. Again, this was announced to be a series so I had no expectation that every single question I would have about the game. The story, however, has brief flashes of interesting material and little else. Stories like these need time and tension to hook in its audience and that just isn’t here. We get the basic setup and a major event that will define the rest of the series, but everything between that feels like filler and on your opening chapter, the last thing you need is filler.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation here is very good. While it uses the familiar anime style, the way it handles it can only be described as ‘cinematic’. Entire sections of the game, such as when Bunny finds the apartment and makes herself at home, are used to build the atmosphere using event graphics, motion cuts and the ambient score. It is used here to great effect and hopefully it will carry throughout the series.
Unfortunately, there is a bit of a language barrier here. While it isn’t nearly as bad as something like Snow Light or Timun Mas, there are moments where you can there are grammar issues and spelling errors. It is mostly edited well, however, and these moments are few and far between.
Something that is more interesting, for me at least, is how the game handles its choices. They operate more like a Quick Time Event where the wrong choice leads immediately to a Bad Ending while the right choice continues the story. This gives the game a striking sense of linearity that, honestly, helped it from being boring. Especially considering how fast this one moved, the choices kept me involved.
Overall there isn’t much of a user interface here. If you feel the need to save the game, Quick Save and Load are your best options. I didn’t run into any bugs or glitches, so what we got works well enough.
Invisible Apartment was free by the time I downloaded it and you can knock it out easily in an hour. I can and have played it again from time to time when I wanted to relax and enjoy a quick story. So if you just want excursion material and you have something that operates on iOS, this could fit the bill. However, those of you looking for something deeper should keep their options open.
With a little time and patience, Invisible Apartment could have been one Hell of a first step for a promising series. Due to the rush, however, it delivers just enough right in the package of a very familiar setting. I maintain great hope for this series and from what I’ve seen so far, Vysoko has learned the lessons they needed to from this first chapter. However, we’re starting off on an underwhelming foot that can only get better from here.