Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Idea Factory
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
It's probably a bad sign when a game literally puts me to sleep every time I try to play it.
That's what happens whenever I touch Norn9: Var Commons, though. Every single time I've booted it up on my Vita over the last two and a half months, without fail, the same pattern has played itself out: I'll try and get into its convoluted tale of time travel, magic teens, spaceships, and romance…only for my eyes to get heavy, and next thing I know I'm woken up by my Vita dropping out of my hands. It hasn't mattered what time of day or where I've been playing Norn9, that has always, inevitably, been the end result.
It's not that I don't want to give the game a chance; I do. I really liked Aksys/Idea Factory's other visual novel from last fall, Code: Realize, and I'd hoped that this one would be just as enjoyable. Not only that, I like the concept of otome games (with the proviso that my knowledge of the genre goes only as far as what can be found on Wikipedia); considering that the default romance storylines for most games tend to be straight males wooing straight females, it feels mildly subversive to play a game in which you're a woman (or, in Norn9's case, a teenage girl) who gets to choose who they end up with.
It's not nearly as fun as it sounds when you put it into practice, though — or, at least, it's not fun the way Norn9 does it. While there's certainly an element of female empowerment here, it's filtered through the prism of a meandering story that has far too much going on. You're introduced to the game via a hard-to-follow prologue starring a character who turns out to have pretty much nothing to do with the main stories, until the game finally turns you loose in its actual plot…which continues on the same path, with the only difference being that now you get to experience the story from three points of view, rather than just one.
Not only that, the game is incredibly fond of conveying plot via lengthy info dumps and endless exposition. Maybe it's just a language thing, and Norn9 lost all its nuance and subtlety in translation from Japanese, but everything here comes off as clunky and strained. And, of course, that's without even getting into the whiplash you'll experience as you bounce wildly between sci-fi and romance. It would all be a tough balancing act if in the hands of a well-written novel; in the hands of Norn9, it's virtually unreadable.
Okay, "unreadable" may be putting it a little too harshly. Norn9: Var Commons isn't so much unreadable, I guess, as it is a great substitute for a sedative. Somewhere, deep down, it has an intriguing tale of super-powered teens trapped out of time…but all you're going to get out of it, most likely, is a nap.