There is something to be said about the Thriller genre of fiction. A thriller, when written correctly, is an edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckle ride that either keeps you turning the pages or tuning in to see what happens next. The masters of the craft, from the late messrs Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn to Brad Thor, Howard Gordon and Brigadier General (yes, you heard me) Anthony Tata, have put together a body of work that have not only influenced mass media, but Western military and international affairs. It stands alongside the Cowboy Western as the definitive American genre and not only am I a fan, I am a contributor to that great genre.
Which is why whenever I see a BAD Thriller, I tend to fly off the rails a bit more than usual. Enter VOID: the latest from Indonesian developer Vifth Floor. The group is coming off Just Deserts: a dating sim/harem game wearing the skin of a science-fiction RPG. You can check out my review of it here, which leads to the question of if this title learned anything from Vifth Floor’s first outing and managed to be at least halfway decent. However, if you’re a regular reader of the site, you already know the answer.
No point in prolonging the inevitable. Let’s dive into VOID.
VOID is a visual novel themed around espionage and revenge. You play as Arthur Woods, a man seeking revenge from the death of his loved one, forging himself into a deadly assassin. Along the way, you will meet people who may (or may not) be your allies, as you try to untangle the web of lies and intrigue surrounding your girlfriend’s death.
So, if you are me and reading the synopsis of the game, you’re all the way in. While it is someone tropey in its initial build, under the right circumstances it can be very rewarding watching Arthur dig into his girlfriend’s murder, untangling the web of deceit and conspiracy that he’s unfortunately found himself in and delivering the justice that the system has denied him. It’s unfortunate then that VOID isn’t interested in its promoted premise. Yeah: go ahead and chuck everything the game and the developers and the publishers told you this was going to be.
VOID wants to be a Slice-of-Life story: not a Thriller. Arthur isn’t portrayed as a man righteously indignant about the unjust death of his girlfriend, but rather as a broken man who cannot move forward in life after her death: hence his supporting cast that we’ll get to in a moment. What’s important to take away from this change of events is that this idea in this setting would work. The key is that the protagonist must sympathetic enough for the audience to want to walk with him through his catharsis. He would also have to admit to his goals: finding a new lover to replace his girlfriend. Even a quiet, internal recognition of that makes him more human and, for us, more relatable and the narrative more affective.
Unfortunately, Arthur Woods is roughly the distance between us and the Planet Formerly Known as Pluto away from sympathetic.
He’s an absurdly gifted solider/assassin who not only learned the dual arts of death and war in about as much time as it took me to type this sentence. And to add some icing onto that character trope, he also cannot die regardless of the circumstances. This can be tiptoed around to a degree, but the game repeatedly throws some of the most absurd circumstances they can at him, just to show how awesome he is. With there being no threat to him whatsoever, whatever character arc he could have had is ended, abruptly, once his harem enters the picture.
This is where, for me at least, the story went from mediocre to bad. Once it resolves Arthur’s dead girlfriend issue, it had nowhere to go. The narrative could have fully committed to the thriller themes, but clearly the developers were either incapable or afraid to, because VOID backpaddles from anything close to it and becomes stagnant as Ciel Blanchette and Julie Ross get their time in the spotlight. Again, Arthur as a character has nowhere to go a third of the way into the game. Ciel and Julie are pivotal in providing a new character arc now that Arthur can’t. Unfortunately, they fall far short of the needed mark by bringing teenage, high-school bullshit to the table.
You can imagine the smile on my face now, I’m sure.
The thing is that this sort of turn can be tolerable in the right scenario. If VOID was set, from the jump, in high school and our cast were teenagers, I would still be ticked off for having to deal with their bullshit, BUT it would come with the territory and I would have to balance it out with how it is executed. These are adults. Moreover, this are adults that are working to investigate and undermine a global criminal organization. Julie’s Daddy issues, Ciel’s inferiority complex, and Arthur’s frankly pedestrian efforts to get one (or both) of them to fix his wounded heart actively takes away any audience interest in what is left in the game, if only because it can’t stay focused on that either.
The character themselves are scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Julie is a tsundere the audience has no doubt seen a million times before and the only thing distinctive about Ciel’s semi-responsible, big sister routine is that she’s flatter than the archetype usually promotes. Their storylines not only follow the expected stereotypes that comes with their tropes, but also takes up the remaining two-thirds of the game. That is two-thirds, roughly six hours of game time, where you essentially do nothing while the game fumbles around looking for something interesting.
That is the rub here. There is an interesting story here, or at the very least the threads of a potentially good story. The developers actively avoid those threads and, at my most generous, rambles out mediocrity by choice. It was if the developers got started writing this game, realized it would require some sort of effort on their part, then said amongst themselves, ‘Screw it. It’s got cute girls! People won’t care!’ And that train of thought is increasingly becoming normalized in the EVN sphere to our detriment.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation of this game is good. A bit standard for the anime style, but not nearly as bad as bad art in VNs can get. The one issue I have with it is that the world feels decidedly empty a lot of the time in certain scenes that need it to feel active such as the pier dating scenes and the arms dealer party on Julie’s route. This is a common problem with visual novels that should have changed a long time ago and there are plenty of VNs that make their worlds feel like more than deserted Japanese towns. That’s something that has to be improved moving forward.
The Event CGs are the real winner here. On their own, they are fantastic: detailed, crisp and successfully creating the atmosphere needed for a tense, spy thriller. If the story matched the art, the presentation for this game would have been top tier. As it is, a lot of the art feels disconnected at best and wildly dissociative at worst the further you get into the game. What should be tense or emotional moments are robbed of their agency by the script. It’s a textbook case of what not to do in terms of presentation and it’s unfortunate to see play out.
Technically I spotted no issues with the games. And since that’s the first nice thing I said about VOID without caveats, I’m going to leave it at that.
Alright, lets make this quick.
There are three routes in VOID: Julia, Ciel and the Harem route because of course there is a harem route. Each route can be done in three hours if you’re absolutely dragging your feet: which means this, at the maximum, is a nine to ten hour title. Realistically, if you spend more than six hours on this game, you’re either reviewing it or a completionist. Julia and Ciel’s routes are grinding enough to sit through the first time around and once you’ve gotten the story, there is no real need for repeat playthroughs.
On its sale price of $10.99, that’s still a bit much for me: especially considering my issues with the plot. If you are just morbidly curious, I would wait for a sale and a damn good one before picking this one up. Otherwise, it’s a hard pass.
In my review of Vifth Floor’s first title, I remarked that, ‘Just Deserts is literally the Fidget Spinner of VNs: existing only to keep you from getting bored for a few hours’. VOID manages to avoid that disgrace, but it doesn’t help itself by clearly giving up well before the story could even get on its feet. There are several smaller issues that I don’t cover in the review in terms of character development and world-building, but it all goes back to the reality that the developers doubted themselves and their ability to deliver on the original, intended story. And instead of fighting that fear and working to put out the best VN possible, they ran away and left this title to fall apart.
I’ve covered a lot of visual novels here on VNs Now and, despite what some may argue, more than a few bad ones. Rarely do I cover a visual novel that was bad because the developers gave up on it, but that is VOID in a nutshell. It’s a surrender to mediocrity and, by doing so stumbled into being one of the worst visual novels of the past year. It’s attempts at slice-of-life scenarios can’t save it, trying to protray its cast of supposed badasses as psychologically-stunted teenagers can’t help it, its fumbling at romances between any of these jack-wagons can’t help it, and it’s last minute attempt to romp around in the still-bloody skin of thriller and action movie tropes to try and salvage something from the original concept definitely, DEFINITELY cannot help it.
I should have loved this game. The premise is right in the middle of my wheelhouse. But VOID is an absolute dumpster fire. Avoid at all costs.