Adventure Corner: Punch Line
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column we take a look at Punch Line, an adventure visual novel written by Zero Escape creator Kotaro Uchikoshi that started out as an anime series.
Punch Line takes the opposite direction to many Japanese visual novels in that it began life as an anime series first with a visual novel adaptation coming later. Its recreation into an adventure visual novel results in a slightly strange structure as the game suddenly switches between a puzzle-focused title to a straight out visual novel when the plot shifts focus. However, its oddities manage to come together in an engaging way, helped by a surprisingly deep but fast-paced story that justifies its push over gameplay in the second half, and the result is an entertaining experience that is tough to put down.
The story follows a teenage boy named Yuta Iridatsu. It starts with an opening animated sequence, in which Yuta finds himself part of a bus hijacking conducted by the mysterious Qmay Group. This bus hijacking is foiled by the appearance of a magical-girl-esque superhero named Strange Juice, with Yuta ending things when he activates a mysterious power-up, tackling the ringleader off the bus and into the nearby water before waking up on the shore and being assaulted by a beam of light. Sometime later, Yuta wakes up again in an abandoned room at the house he lives in with four others, where he is informed by a cat spirit named Chiranosuke that his soul has been pushed out of his body, and that he must work to get it back in. Failure to do so will result in an asteroid will hitting the Earth and nothing less than the destruction of humanity.
Punch Line’s original creation as an anime series is retained in a lot of aspects, with the game divided into twenty-two episodes over the course of its fifteen-hour playtime — the last of which is fully animated with no player input — complete with opening and ending credit sequences. It should be noted that for those who have seen the anime, Punch Line’s visual novel follows the overall anime plot very closely, though it offers plenty of additional content, plus a reworked ending and epilogue.
The game, which takes place entirely within the confines of Korai House, is effectively divided into two halves. The first half helps to introduce all of the main characters and slowly hint towards much deeper story elements and secrets than the initial premise and lighthearted tone might indicate. The cast has plenty of oddities that make them both memorable and provide opportunity for both conflict and growth, from Mikatan’s poor job at hiding her secret identity from her housemates to Rabura’s hopeless romantic ambitions. Yuta himself has an issue where he gets overly excited whenever he sees panties, and will pass out if he gets too excited doing so and thus doom the world, though thankfully spirits have the ability to time-travel and potentially undo such catastrophes. The entire panty element is used more for humour and adding a danger element to the puzzles than anything else.
The first half is also host to all of the game’s puzzle elements. Because of Yuta’s restricted influence on the world in his spirit form, trying to solve the problems at hand and get his body back necessitates setting up various tricks to ensure the desired outcome — usually of getting certain people to move into certain rooms. Each of the chapters in the first half of the game features two puzzles, the first simply requires that Yuta scare a target, ostensibly to build up his spirit power from the soul fragments this produces. The second involves creating a string of tricks. There are usually multiple options to choose from, some of which help in the goal, but others are red herrings that waste precious spirit power. If players are struggling to find the correct choices, and really there’s very little logical inference in some of the trick combos, then the game is kind enough to start providing assistance such as removing options that don’t benefit the player. Punch Line’s puzzles end up being more of a side bar than the main attraction, adding a bit of interaction as the game looks to set up the main narrative.
After the halfway point, Punch Line takes a completely different tack and turns into a straight visual novel, where players are simply given one choice in each chapter that determines whether the story continues or goes to a bad end. This may irk those who come to the game primarily for its ghost tricks and puzzle solving,, but the story does a great job in taking over, and the writing and characters ensure that things remain entertaining. The latter half of the game evokes a great desire to keep watching to find out what happens next and how everything will be resolved. Though the game is generally less serious, a lot of Punch Line’s plot elements share similarities to Zero Escape — and part of the enjoyment is seeing and guessing how these aspects, which have become almost trademark for Uchikoshi, come into play in tying things together. There are a few oddities in PQube’s localisation, such as Japanese text in the games images not translated and instead having the whole image darkened so that the white text of the English translation is made more obvious, but these aren’t enough to dispel the enjoyment of the story.
Punch Line is not one for those who want a game filled to brim with puzzle gameplay. The puzzle sections are interesting enough when they appear, but really they are all about setting the game up for the surprisingly deep story as it takes over in the second half. Fortunately, the narrative does a great job in holding attention and never drags on too long. Punch Line is an odd package and at times seems a bit unsure as to exactly what it wants to be, but in the end its elements combine well enough and the story does such a good job coming to the fore that Punch Line becomes one worth checking out. — Alex Fuller