This ain’t no place for no hero,
This ain’t no place for no better man,
This ain’t no place for no hero,
To call “home.”
- Genre: Financial Thriller
- Release Date: July 21, 2015
- Developer: Spicy Tails
- Publisher: Sekai Project
- Language: English
- Platform: PC
- Website: Steam
- Edited By: Ozzytizer
It’s been four years after the events of Episode 1 and life continues in the lunar capitol. Haru, formerly known as ‘Hal’, is functioning but still physically and psychologically scarred by the events of the previous game. He has taken to studying law and working in a government office while his acquaintances continue on with their lives save for Hagana; whose whereabouts are unknown. His life becomes interesting again when a young woman named Eleanor Schweitzer approaches him with a job that returns him to the high-stakes financial world he thought he was gone from forever.
There is a lot to unpack here and it’s very easy to overlook a few of the different themes and story lines Spicy Tails managed to fit into Episode 2. So, everyone has been fairly warned: get something good to snack on and a comfortable pillow because the first stop is the heaviest subject of the story and it deals with a subject rarely examined in modern fiction: experiencing and learning from total failure. Many of the reviews for Episode 2 seemed relieved that Haru has suddenly become likable; or at least more likable than he was in Episode 1. However, after I got through with Episode 2, I ended up chalking a lot of those reactions up to schadenfreude and because of this a lot of the story has been unfortunately obscured. But, then again, that’s what I’m here for isn’t it?
Look, Haru was an arrogant punk during the events of Episode 1 and watching a punk get his teeth kicked in after running around with his chest puffed out tends to be satisfying: I’m not going to deny that. However, there are two major issues that get lost in the ‘Well, at least that Haru kid is bearable now’. The first is quite obvious: he wouldn’t be likable now if he didn’t grow some from Episode 1. The character we started off with was necessary and makes Episode 1 that much better because of the events of this game. Secondly, Haru wasn’t the only person who failed in Episode 1. Cerrow, the slacker Internet café guy with the big afro in Episode 1, had a chain of failures that kept him from helping his sort-of crush Lisa when she needed it most. Lisa (or Risa depending on how you feel), who spent most of Episode 1 caring for Hagana and Haru, not only failed to save her struggling church, but she arguably failed to keep Haru and Hagana from being corrupted and stomped by an entity she acknowledges as evil. Hagana, who is absent during the events of Episode 2, failed to stop Haru from destroying both of their work. And, finally, Haru failed to learn anything from Episode 1.
For everything Haru has gone through, the only thing really different about him during the majority of Episode 2 is his fear of failing again. However, in his internal monologues, the same attitude that so many people hated in Episode 1 is still there. Not only that, but throughout the game he nearly falls into the same pitfalls he did in Episode 1. It’s only through a lot of internal reflection and slowly coming to terms with the events of four years ago that he really begins to change and is able to (literally and figuratively) stand on his own two feet by game’s end.
This is important to highlight because in a lot of modern fiction failure is presented as an annoyance for the protagonist to overcome quickly thanks either to the Power of Friendship, Love, or Shonen. However, that type of thought ignores the fact that failure, at any level, is universal. If you have not failed in your life yet, don’t worry, you will. And while we all have our own unique individual lessons to learn from said failure, it doesn’t change the road we will all have to walk on: just the exit we each get off at. Believe it or not, I don’t advocate putting a cast through pain and suffering out of casual sadism. I do it because it the best proven process of character development, which leads to plot development, which leads to (drumroll please) GOOD STORIES.
Of course, this pathological need to destroy pretty much ensures I have no chance of being on the Sugarscript team any time soon. And I had so many plans for Orias…shame.
Anyway, the point is that Haru’s failure is the catalyst for a string of failures throughout the entire cast. That all of them are trying to piece their lives back together leads to the events of the game. Everyone benefits from his mistake and it creates stronger relationships between Haru, Lisa and Cerrow which serve different functions throughout Episode 2. And this doesn’t even touch on the working class of the Lunar City, including Haru’s supervisor at the government welfare office, and the higher class executives that run the show that add so much context and depth to the main storyline that you want to learn about them just as much as you want to see Haru get back on his feet. This is easily one of the strongest supporting casts I’ve seen in a visual novel and it is the new standard all other casts of characters should rightfully be judged by.
I actually have to correct myself now because in the beginning I said that Eleanor Schweitzer approaches Haru with a job offer and, while that is true, that isn’t why Haru returns to the financial world. That honor actually goes to Chris, one of the minor characters of the first episode who gets elevated into the limelight. Chris, having been tutored by Hagana back in the day, has managed to snag a scholarship at a premier lunar university and is hired by a small investing firm. Her rapid rise causes Lisa, who has recently taken her in, to nudge events in the background to get Haru and Eleanor in the same room together. Her goal is to try and protect Chris because she feels she is on the same path Haru once was. Lisa’s concerns are valid. Despite being the ‘cute dork’ of Episode 2, beneath the surface, Chris is a less foul version of Episode 1 Haru.
This still doesn’t stop her from being a cute dork. However, her ultimate stated goal is to reach the same level of power and wealth as Barton Kladwiesen, who is arguably the antagonist of the entire series. She had a front row seat to the events of Episode 1 and, knowing that’s what it takes to succeed on the Moon, that is who she wants to be. The only thing stronger than her budding greed is her crush on Haru whom she was primarily responsible for caring for when he was recovering from the stroke he had in Episode 1. This sets up a great relationship for the bulk of the game; Haru cares for Chris, just not in the way Chris necessarily wants.
We’ll have to stick a pin right here and come back to it and the end of this section. For now let’s turn our attention to our second female lead: Eleanor Schweitzer. On the surface, Eleanor is similar to other Hasekura anachronisms. Like Holo’s Paganism and Lisa’s Christianity, Eleanor represents aristocratic honor and tradition which make her duty bound to confront the conglomerate that bought out her family’s company through underhanded means. But as you get to know her and as the story fully opens up, you realize that her sense of justice extends far beyond her own family and also applies to Haru. For that reason, Eleanor was always going to be a tricky character to get right because the game never removes the specter of Hagana from Episode 1. Hagana has clearly had an impact on our young hero and is a major factor in his inability to let go of the past. However, If Hagana is the ice princess of this game, and Episode 1 certainly justifies that characterization, Eleanor is pure fire. That works not only because she is the key to Haru getting his life back in order, but also for the story since you can make a strong case that Eleanor becomes the moral center of World End Economica.
I will say that I enjoyed Eleanor and Haru’s relationship more than I did Haru’s relationship with Hagana. Episode 1 ties Haru and Hagana together from the offset and it is clear they’re supposed to be attracted to one another. Episode 2, carrying in a bit more experience, doesn’t try to force Haru and Eleanor to be attracted to one another and keeps them both focused on what they’re trying to accomplish with one another. This helps the more intimate moments that come as the story goes on feel much deeper in comparison. Most of the third act of the game hinges on the audience’s investment in them and it pays off in huge dividends when it goes for the emotional haymakers.
Now that we have the major characters out of the way we can talk about the plot. At its core, the World End Economica trilogy is a financial thriller. While Episode 1 had a narrow focus on Haru’s ambitions and gave us a small peak into the world the series exists in, Episode 2 throws the doors wide open. Building on what the first episode started, Lunar City has never been as powerful, or as powerless. A new company, Avalon Enterprises, has monopolized Lunar City’s electricity production. After consolidating power (no pun intended), the company created a market for others to invest on the usage of energy on the Moon. For those of you going a wee bit cross-eyed, here’s how it works.
Let’s say that a new subdivision is being built. In order to make it a comfortable living space, you need to ensure that there is a reliable power source, right? That’s where Avalon makes money on the front end. However, just because you have a regular power supply doesn’t mean the use of that supply will be consistent. A month may go by where the average use may increase or decreases depending on the individuals of that subdivision. Because of that, the average price of electricity in that subdivision will shift from month to month depending on the demand by that subdivision.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Let’s say I wanted to invest directly into the use of electricity for that subdivision and say that the average price of electricity was going to go from $70 per household to $110? Welcome to the world of Avalon electric investments. If I’m right, I can bank a share of the profits depending on how much I invested into my guess. If I’m wrong, the house (Avalon) keeps my investment and I have to start from scratch. The genius (if you want to call it that) of this particular financial market is that because they’re on the Moon, they need a certain amount of electricity stored in order to live, so on paper Avalon can say they don’t control the supply: just how the supply gets from the generators to the people. Avalon can also say that they don’t control the demand for electricity, which is crucial to anyone who would want to invest in their market scheme. And that rings true because the demand for electricity is fully determined by the people living in those areas.
Eleanor’s goal is to prove that Avalon is corrupt by controlling either the Supply side or the Demand side and. tying it together in this knot proves to be a challenge The game is in no rush to provide you with a solution or answer as the majority of the game’s second act is Haru and Eleanor’s investigation into Avalon. During their investigation, the game muses on not only how investing is presented to the public, but also the effects of the Lunar City’s runaway avarice on those who don’t fit into a particular tax bracket. For me, someone who watches and reads financial news on a daily basis, it’s interesting to see their critique of it. Financial news is portrayed like a cartoon for adults that focuses more on creating an entertaining spectacle rather than provide viewers with valuable information. Even an Avalon investors meeting, a stop for Haru and Eleanor in this investigation, turns into a theme park with colorful displays and a constant stream of positivity for the parent company. In any other game, it would be considered a joke. But here, against the backdrop of corruption and massive disparity, it plays much more as a rebuke of everyone involved, especially the average investor.
No one is interested in any actual facts about their investments. They just want to be told they’re geniuses that are going to become rich. While Avalon is careful to keep anything that could be considered corrupt to the side, as their investigation continues it is clear that if any of them did any real research into the company, Eleanor wouldn’t be the only one asking questions about Avalon. The nature of investment is knowledge, not just trusting some wizard to tell you what you want to hear and Hasekura doesn’t hold back on the people who accept being ignorant.
Between the ignorance of the masses and the darkness at the top, the biggest victims in the game are anyone left on the bottom. In my review of the Episode 1, I noted that a lot of the criticism of the game had less to do with its quality and more to do with the fact that the rich take advantage of the poor. That reality plays a huge role in Episode 2 where the plight of the Lunar City’s underclass is constantly simmering in the background of the game, starting at the beginning when Haru is working in the welfare office and really turning into a powder keg during the second act when there’s a power outage. By the end of the game, it proves to be a defining issue in the game and one that ramps up the events of Episode 3.
What makes all of this work so well is that everything works in tandem. The issues from Episode 1 are used to fuel the characters and overall storyline of Episode 2, which then build off each other to allow every character to grow to far more than the sum of their parts. Episode 2 works because just about every event in the story is integral and given the space and intimacy needed to connect either the cast’s joy or pain with the audience. The only area where this isn’t true is with a certain cute dork. As I said earlier, Chris has two noteworthy traits in Episode 2: her crush on Haru and the fact that she has never failed. Minor spoiler here: Haru doesn’t reciprocate her feelings. They eventually deal with that, but the resolution for it is rushed and tacked to the end of the game to ensure that Haru and Hagana don’t have to deal with it in Episode 3. Ultimately, it doesn’t hurt either character but this was her first real failure. The inability to capitalize on it was the only moment where I think the writing in the game faltered.
Everything else, however, is constructed masterfully. Isuna Hasekura’s ability to take very complex economic ideas and turn them into such emotional fiction is flat-out amazing and deserves more recognition in a field that relies on cheap emotional highs and lows to tie its stories together. Well done all around.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation gets a solid upgrade from Episode 1 thanks to a focus more on Event Graphics than Character Sprites. The sprites are still there and they still look great on their own, but it is the forty-plus CGs where the game hits its emotional highs and lows. Enough variety was added to the CGs so that it can carry entire scenes and it does the job very well..
I’m sure it is a far more time consuming process than just doing sprites or relying on an empty screen, but it was worth the effort. There are several scenes that simply wouldn’t have carried any weight if they had used sprites. So, two thumbs up on both the choice and the execution of that choice. The soundtrack is also well executed. It employs several music box pieces that hit the exact right note when they are used in the game and you can’t help but be swept away in it. So overall, excellent work on the presentation.
On the technical side, it’s okay now but it was harsh in the beginning. The game has been continually updated since it’s initial release last year and it smoothed over a lot of the rougher translation. There are a few bonus menus that still haven’t been translated, and there are still a few rough spots when it comes to dialogue. Hopefully the fact that much of it has been corrected means that Sekai Project is taking their role as publishers much more seriously and trying to ensure some standard of quality.
I’ve still got my eye on them though. Other than that there weren’t any serious bugs or glitches to report.
Like Episode 1, World End Economica Episode 2 easily goes into the ten to fifteen hour mark. You literally have to be speed reading to get it done any faster. And if you are speed-reading it, you miss all of the smaller moments and details that truly knock this one out of the park. I’m sure that it being a kinetic novel will give some readers a moment of pause, but I can easily recommend it for its quality.
Also like with Episode 1, I don’t recommend you do this one in a single shot. Taking it in pieces and devoting a few hours with it at a time will make it much more memorable. You can pick it up for for $12.99 and if you’re still on the fence, wait for a Steam sale and pounce on it. All fans of visual novels should be required to have this in their personal library.
If you haven’t been able to tell, World End Economica was my favorite game of 2015. While many came close, few managed to have the emotional and intellectual resonance Episode 2 brought to the table. In a medium geared to the immortal juvenile, Hasekura and Spicy Tails cut a sharp contrast by creating a series that not only demands your undivided attention, but also seeks to find a connection with the darkest parts of your personal life: the times when you’ve failed. There isn’t anyone here that the audience cannot see a bit of themselves in because of that and through that, the larger narrative of corruption, wealth and ambition seems simultaneously more personal and more epic.
Recently, there have been some issues with finishing Episode 3 and it seems like Sekai Project are going to take a little more time than they originally thought finishing this trilogy. Considering recent news, I’m sure the discussion of whether or not to just drop it here and not burn through any more money has come up, but I wanted to take the time to call on Sekai to do everything possible to ensure this series is completed. Even if it isn’t as financially successful as some other titles in their catalog, it is one of the few titles they have that is unquestionably excellent. In a much different world, this would be their flagship series, but reality being reality Sekai should ensure that one of the few good things with their name on it is completed with their best efforts; in my own, humble opinion.
So here’s hoping that this won’t be our last time on Schrodinger Street. And if you haven’t played it yet, please invest some time into this beautiful story.