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Published March 20, 2012

For such a ‘slow month’ with most everyone focused on completing their NaNoRenO projects, there are a lot of visual novels coming out of the pipe. One that caught my attention was LINEAR: Divine Seer – Chapter 1.  Armed with an intriguing premise, LINEAR is not a terrible title but it isn’t necessarily a great start for what is promised to be an episodic series.

STORY

You step into the shoes of Lanis Rosenberg, a young medic for NERV, SECTION 9, LINEAR: the ‘gifted’ wing of the Loenn (Lanis’ home country) military. She finds out her meta-abilities on the night when her parents die in a horrible car accident and she foresees it, but is unable to stop it from happening. We meet up with her as she returns to LINEAR’s base after a sabbatical, just in time to be teamed up with dreamy foreign exchange soldier Ash; who has plenty of secrets of his own.

What kneecaps this story immediately is it’s heavily reliance on exposition. In a paper and ink novel, some exposition is absolutely necessary because the author has to help the reader create the mental images necessary to follow the plot and its characters. However this is a visual novel, which means you already see what the writer wants you to see. With that in mind, I would love for someone to explain to me why I went a half-hour with reading stuff like this;

‘The mild atmosphere of the elevator suddenly felt consumed by an ominous presence as she finally caught a glance into the soldier’s hollow eyes. They were unlike anything she had ever seen before…pale grey, almost white irises with a solid black pupil. His gaze was piercing, as through [sic]he were looking straight through her and into her very soul.’

This is all written as the character in question is staring directly at you and the Lanis sprite is clearly shocked. You’re literally watching all of this as the writer tries to get you to picture the scene in your head. Yes, it is exactly as frustrating as it sounds and it doesn’t stop. The only question I have for it is, why? Why throw in so much unnecessary exposition in a project that should clearly not need it? I can only imagine it was added as a way to extend the playing time for this VN which I really hope was not the case.

Thanks largely to the previously mentioned expository writing the characters in this one don’t have a lot of room to breathe; which is surprisingly a good thing. The visual novel is so short there really isn’t enough time to do anything but establish Lanis as its central character. She’s clearly lost and is basically using her abilities to try and buy her time as she figures out what she wants to do in her life. In short, she has no business being in the middle of the situation that is no doubt heading in her direction. Her friends are close ones and when you push the droning exposition aside, their interactions and camaraderie come across very well. Ash is, well, the less said about Ash the better. Right now, I’m just hoping that his story doesn’t fit into the atypical ‘designer soldier with no soul’ yarn we’ve seen over and over again.

Also for the socio-political issues surrounding LINEAR’s universe, I can give this type of storytelling a pass: a very small pass, but a pass. For the time it’s given you realize that despite Loenn apparently being this universe’s sole superpower, there’s a lot of crap happening behind the scenes which could threaten it stability. This includes a financial meltdown as well as royal family troubles in its neighboring countries. Those sorts of small add-ins give future episodes a lot to work with and helps give this place a larger feel to it than just Lanis and her own personal issues.

Of course, it itself is hamstrung by the Word of God at times. What do I mean by the ‘Word of God’? Okay, this game takes place sometime in the future: a future so advanced that automobiles have AI programming, the military’s computers have holographic interfacing and this has all come about how? Exactly how has not killing every psychic within one hundred meters advanced this society by so many leaps and bounds? And exactly what causes these psychic abilities? Is it biological since apparently existed for centuries?

Because….well….I said so.

Oy vey.

Despite my critique, there is a lot of good stuff to be found in LINEAR’s story. Unfortunately, the bad stuff chokes out the good and makes you fight to find it. I’m hopeful for LINEAR’s future installments, but getting past the first was a frustrating experience.

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See What I Mean About Exposition?

PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY

LINEAR’s presentation is alright. You’ve seen this before and it mostly checks out, save a few odd angles and distended anatomy.  The artwork was very clean though and lends itself to improvement in making the characters more distinct in future installments. I personally really enjoyed the event CGs as they often carried enough emotional weight to keep everything intriguing. Plus, watching a military psychic get pissed off when a candy bar gets stuck in a futuristic vending machine is just flat-out hilarious.

The soundtrack for this VN though can be jarring sometimes, but overall it fit the feel of the world. Of course, that just may be because I’ve been playing too many games like Deus Ex: HR but for me the music works very well.

There is no gameplay in this title. Zero. Being a pure online release, some of that’s understandable. It’s so short, the lack of a Save/Load feature doesn’t impact it and there is a feature allowing you to replay certain key points. But there isn’t even the barest minimum of control here. Once you’re in you can’t go back to the main menu and there are no submenus. In other words, you’re stuck playing through it until the end.

In another review, I mention a VN reminding me of a Saw trap and it’s nearly the same here. I understand there are limitations with releasing a visual novel online instead of creating one for direct download, but when I can’t even go back to the start menu without blazing through the story again, we have a problem.

Overall, it’s hit or miss. And when your story is bogged down, the last thing you want is for hit and miss P&G.

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THREE DOLLARS FOR CANDY? SOME UTOPIA

REPLAY VALUE

Chapter 1 clocks in between 30 and 40 minutes depending on your playing speed. It’s worth a play through, but in my opinion you can hold until Chapter 2 is ready: thereby getting more for your time.

OVERALL

There are a lot of good here that Cera Studios can use to make an excellent series out of LINEAR: Divine Seer. However, there are also a lot of bad choices that need to be rooted out. The exposition needs to go and the gameplay needs an overhaul…or just to be taken more seriously. In the end, I look forward  to seeing how this series fleshes out and hopefully its ending will be much better than its start.