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Published July 23, 2012

Despite my often well-earned reputation, I do enjoy lighter stories and shows. I love to laugh and things/people that can successfully do so (shout out to Kevin Hart) rank very highly among those that I respect. But there’s something about the darker side of fiction that has always interested me.  Well-crafted stories about the complexities of human nature speak to a more, well, twisted side of me I guess. But you got to admit, there’s just something about a good drama piece that leaves you thinking after you’ve sat it to the side.

With that said, let’s talk about Lucky Special’s EVN that fits the description I just gave you: Locked In.

STORY

Locked In is the story of Jacqueline Brown: a forty-something CEO of a major investment firm who finds herself paralyzed and blind after a horrible car accident. Locked inside her own mind she is forced to overhear as everything she built stands to be destroyed with her out of the picture. Add onto that the sudden death of her long-time friend and attorney and it’s up to Jacqueline to figure out exactly what went wrong as well as whom among the few people left in her life is responsible for her current condition…before it’s too late.

In my own, unbiased opinion this is a great short story. Putting aside the murder mystery aspects of it, Locked In can easily be the deconstruction of someone who’s lived their live scarred by their journey to success. As someone who is currently blinded by ambition (and I have no problem admitting it) it’s interesting to watch our protagonist, who is far from a good person, dig into her psychosis to figure out where everything went wrong. She has a great excuse for it, but by the midway point you really get the feeling that she was or at least wanted to be a decent person, a loving spouse, a good sister, etc. etc. However, what she wanted more than that was to be successful and by the time of her accident it had cost her everything.

And it really shows with the rest of the cast who all bring just enough to the table to bring out different avenues inside of Jacqueline’s head. Her driver Charles, sister Sasha, wife Delilah, and assistant Kimber are all well written. While they’re not complex characters on their own, they make the main character much more psychologically interesting. The Jacqueline Brown we see as Locked In progresses isn’t the usual picture of a successful CEO; but rather that of someone who had literally just hit the bottom of the barrel.  Trust plays a large part in Jacqueline’s character arc because she not only has to figure out who she can’t trust; she has to realize who she can. That doesn’t mean that she redeems herself at all and, believe me, if ever a main character needed redemption it’s this psychotic…er…let’s not go there. I’m controversial enough already.

But it really is fun to watch her toy with redemption, come to terms with her faults as well as her past and then act with really nothing to go on but her raw emotional state. That’s another thing about this VN: not a lot is given to you in terms of evidence towards the murder angle.  What you know about the crime in Act I is pretty much what you’ve got to work with by the Climax. If the VN was tailored a different way, to where solving the murder was the primary goal, I would slam Locked In pretty hard for this. But, I can’t.

The reason I can’t is the same reason I love the writing around Jacqueline. It isn’t about making the logical, rational or good business decision which can be said she’s done her entire life. This is a purely instinctive, emotional one that signals the overarching change in her character from the Uberboss to someone who isn’t beyond salvation. It it is a nice way to tie everything together and give her a complete story that feels finished when you’ve earned all of the endings.

Alright, so most of you must be thinking that if I enjoyed the story so much then why did I have such a tentative beginning? A lot of that has to do with things I started thinking about after the fact that I originally couldn’t put my finger on. After some of my own research, I realized that there are some serious issues with the planning of the story. I am not well versed in medicine, however I have plenty of relatives that are either licensed doctors or are studying to be doctors. So I was not only able to do my own Google search, but I took the liberty of calling them up for their professional opinions. The core of this VN is a condition called Locked-In Syndrome that damages the lower portions of the brain. This is important because all, read this carefully, all patients showing traits of Locked-In Syndrome are quadriplegic: they have no control over their legs or arms. However, because the brain isn’t completely fried, not only is the patient still conscious and aware of their situation, but they can also still communicate with the outside world using eye movement.

Now, why is this important? Because Jacqueline, as the story insists, is paralyzed and blind as well as suffering Locked-In Syndrome during the VN. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for this because I’d rather you play the game yourselves, but when you get to the climax of Locked In, knowing what I just told you about Locked-In Syndrome, you quickly realize that she should be screwed. There had to be another way to write this, but that would involve removing either the paralysis or the blindness from the equation.

Of course, the blindness wasn’t fully explained either. It isn’t normal for a patient to go blind after a car accident is it? It isn’t like a piece of shrapnel gouged out her eyes from the crash, either because she can still make out the figures around her in the hospital. And considering we’re talking about two completely different areas of the brain vis-a-vie eyes and motor function, wouldn’t that much brain damage leave her kind of…dead?

At least with the medicine I believe it was looked into and just mishandled. During my play through there were a ton of legal, political and corporate issues thrown into the mix that I don’t think were researched at all. I’m just going to skim over these, but they are vital when discussing the development of the characters and the plot as a whole:

  • If you are a businessman and you are targeted by either the Department of Justice or IRS, you’re done.  I understand dramatic license but they wouldn’t take your home and leave you the company they’re investigating. Just ask the Madoffs, the heads of Bear Sterns, etc. etc.
  • On top of that, no one’s going to do business with anyone associated with a suspected white-collar criminal: especially if that person in question is his wife.
  • While we’re on the subject of family, if anyone in your family runs a business that becomes the subject of a federal investigation and you enter the same field, you better believe the feds are going to have you under the radar your entire career. That’s not to say that Jacqueline’s success is impossible, but her implied corruption is. She would’ve been taken down well before the events of the game, no matter how ‘smart’ she was.
  • Due to the rise in use of Financial Intelligence among spy rings, having an off-shore bank account is extraordinarily difficult in the best of circumstances…and by that I mean the popular tax havens like Zurich or the Cayman Islands. Considering how terrorist networks in the Middle East have used the financial world to flow cash into their operations as well as the previously mentioned circumstances of Jacqueline’s family, any suspicious behavior coming out of the company would’ve launched an investigation. So (again avoiding spoilers) if someone in Jacqueline’s inner circle was breaking federal law, she would’ve been the last to know.
  • A Living Will only affects the health care of a patient. It is literally saying to someone close to you, “If that ever happens to me, I don’t want to live” or something along those lines. In some cases, power of attorney may apply but again it would deal with patient care and doesn’t go into the allocation of corporate stock. That can only happen with an actual will, which means Jacqueline would have to be dead which in and of itself would’ve been an interesting story. However, even IF that was the case, a competent Board of Directors would challenge the claim of whoever is acting as the patient’s proxy…and win.
  • When Jacqueline crashed, the police would’ve had access to her cell phone since the cause of her accident wasn’t ‘on scene’ to dispose of it. That crushes one of the key arcs of the VN. You can avoid all of this to miss the spoilers, but it requires some explanation to those that have played Locked In and are wondering what the Hell I’m talking about. You see,  even if the murderer took Brenda’s cell phone and ditched it after killing her, by using Brenda’s cell phone to contact Jacqueline her death would have at least been ruled as suspicious in any morgue with any common sense. After all, how could this supposed suicide victim call someone after she killed herself?

Look, political science and law are my field so it stands to reasons that I would know about the in-depth side of these issues. But you don’t need a degree in either to know what I just listed. All of it can be found with a basic search that would take up less than five minutes of your time. I’m not saying these will be issues for everyone and I enjoyed Locked In regardless of everything I just listed.

However, enjoying it on a personal level and going through it pros and cons in a review are two different things. And when it comes down to it, if you involve real life issues in your fiction you should make sure that you’re using it right. At the end of the day, Locked In doesn’t do it right. Does that mean it’s a bad VN? No. It’s a very good EVN with a strong story deconstructing a mind driven by ambition. But it doesn’t take much to take apart everything that ties the plot together, which keeps this good story at just good when a little research and another draft of the script could have made it excellent

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NO ONE WILL MISS YOU ANYWAY

PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY

I don’t think you’ll find another game so willing to use so little and yet make it work so well. Locked In is the quintessential answer to why I even bother with scoring Presentation in the first place. Locked In feels more like an art house or expressionist movie rather than a straight forward visual novel as it mostly relies on abstract backgrounds and sound to get across the emotional points of the story. Several scenes are actually animated which adds for a great touch and the faces are all silhouetted which again makes sense in the story. However visually it’s perfect because it enhances the absolutely deconstruction of this character. She doesn’t really ‘know’ these people so ultimately what matters aren’t how they look or how she treated them before, it’s what she can take away in the moment.

It may also matter since again we’re doing more with less, but I’m giving Lucky Special the benefit of the doubt here.

Anyway, this is a very stark piece of work and outside of the sound effects the only time we hear any music are a few French pieces from a French artist I can’t exactly place, but her voice sounds familiar to Edith Piaf. Trust me when I saw I just happen to know who Edith Piaf is the same way all of you do: Inception. Either way, the music fits so well with the overall tone of the VN and only further pulls you into this very dark, yet meaningful story.

Less is more also falls into the Gameplay. Two-Thirds of the story is just reading through and only the story and setting keeps you moving forward. The key comes at the end as you are encouraged to gather up the eight different endings. At that point you are pulled into act, using your choices to unlock the eight endings. Usually I mind this kind of thing that seems to be built just to force you to extend its replay value. However, I have to say the endings are all well thought out. Especially the ones that aren’t pleasant…really they are not pleasant at all.

So what can I say? It worked well for me.

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AND I WAS RIGHT. POINTS FOR SASHA!

REPLAY VALUE

I would love to say that this is an EVN you will be glad to replay, but it really depends. I’m a fan of this type of story, so I know that I will replay it in the future, despite knowing how it ends. In fact, knowing how to get to the good ending will make future play-through pretty fun now that I think about it. But if the subject matter of addiction, corruption and murder get to you on a personal level then be warned that this doesn’t let up for the entire VN. Now, since Locked In is free I will say that you owe it to yourself to at least play it once. I’m not going to pretend I know how much time it took to get all eight endings, but I got them so hopefully that says something positive. A rough estimate would be a well-wasted evening for me. And it will be for you as well: I promise you.

OVERALL

23Locked In is a triumph in and of itself. It does amazing things with its presentation and its story speaks volumes well after you put it aside, but what stops it from achieving everything it set out to do is its lack of research. I love Locked In, but I cannot look the other way when so much of its story relies on it being right where it isn’t. Do not let that distract you however. Lucky Special doesn’t break the glass ceiling, but it leaves a pretty good mark on it with this one.
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