Adventure Corner ~ Anonymous;Code
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 Anonymous;Code, the latest title in MAGES Inc.’s Science Adventure visual novel series.
Created by Chiyomaru Shikura, the Science Adventure series has brought about a good number of well received visual novels. While Steins;Gate remains the ever standout entry, latest entry Anonymous;Code offers an exciting revival for the series after a few years’ gap — though it afforded the chance for the west to play catch up. Combing scientific theory and conspiracies with varying levels of credibility, usually with some hacking and distinct choice mechanics involved, the series has endeavoured to create highly intriguing and layered mysteries. Anonymous;Code may not quite reach the same heights of Steins;Gate, but its exciting pacing and more intuitive path towards its ending makes for a highly engaging story.
Anonymous;Code is set in the year 2037, where technology has pervaded far enough that people use devices that connect directly to their neural systems and augmented reality is used almost everywhere. The game’s lead is Pollon Takaoka, a young hacker in Japan who is part of a two-man team taking on jobs from clients that calls itself Nakano Symphonies, and whose father passed away over a year ago during the cataclysmic event called “Sad Morning”. The game starts in the thick of it, showing Pollon’s escape from a military chase, before leaping back to show how he got there. These events go from a run-of-the-mill hacking job to Pollon’s ill-conceived attempt to show his friends that he has a (non-existent) girlfriend, when a girl wearing a curious outfit that is never really explained shows up requiring assistance to evade her pursuers. As a result, Pollon gets caught up in a conspiracy revolving around the Vatican and no less than the end of the world.
The game takes place across ten or so chapters. The first few work to set up the cast as well as the primary threat around the conspiracies, before a series of “quests” take over. These deadly hacking-centred events are purportedly conducted by the legendary hacker Cicada 3301, who posts clues to resolve them, but prior to the game’s event none has been successfully foiled. However, Pollon uncovers a fourth-wall breaking ability to Save and Load during his initial escape with the girl, who takes on the name Momo Aizaki that Pollon made up for his fictional girlfriend. This ability lets him leap back to one of the save states he created with his memories of the future intact. It’s here where players come into the picture, as it’s their prompting at the appropriate moments that causes Pollon to load and try and change the future.
Unlike previous Science Adventure titles, there aren’t multiple routes to be concerned with unlocking to be able to get to the correct path. It’s a linear journey through the story, albeit with some leaps back in time, with any mistakes seeing Pollon or the quests meeting a bad end. Failure states are met with a message about what went wrong, with the game offering a ready collection of autosaves to leap back into in addition to any manual saves players want to make. The more linear nature does mean that the supporting cast doesn’t get quite so much time in the spotlight as in other series titles, and its members don’t get a whole lot of development or examinations of their personal histories, but the writing still lets their personalities shine. The pacing is notably quicker than other titles in the series, and many visual novels in general, which can readily spend their first half or more setting up their characters and mysteries before things start coming to a head. Anonymous;Code is more than happy to dive into the thick of things with its opening chase and race-against-time quests. The story and cast may not be as intricately linked as in Steins;Gate, but it certainly doesn’t have any issues in capturing player’s attentions and keeping them involved in the story. Pollon and Momo at least make for well rounded protagonists that are clearly impacted by and grow from the events happening with and around them.
There are certainly times where Anonymous;Code stretches its world’s credibility, especially with how the true end comes to pass, but the true ending feels like more of a bonus side note to its initial proper conclusion. However, it’s easy to forgive some of its more preposterous elements and its knocking upon the fourth wall thanks to the quick pacing and good character work in the build-up to it. The game and its theme are much more connected to Steins;Gate than other entries, with certain concepts and references coming directly from it, so series newcomers may get more from starting there. Concepts including quantum mechanics and world lines work well with the game’s interesting and fairly believable take on near-future technology with an internet culture that readily takes its inspiration from current times, even if it seems disconcertingly easily for things in it to get hacked.
Series mainstay Takeshi Abo is in charge of the game’s music, and once again he does a superb job. The soundtrack is filled with a mixture of catchy beat-pumping tracks for the exciting moments and quieter, melancholy tracks for more emotive moments. In a rarity for visual novels, Spike Chunsoft has provided a full English voice-over for Anonymous;Code. The performances are strong throughout, very capably led by Max Mittelman as Pollon and Anairis Quiñones as Momo, though the small gap in between lines can make it sound a touch stilted at times, and some may prefer the greater speed at which they can read through themselves.
Anonymous;Code eschews the 3D model look that came with Robotics;Notes, taking a live-2D style of animated 2D characters complete with appropriate lip-syncing. The artwork looks nice, helping with creating memorable cast and putting them into the world. It works well with the game’s UI, which largely emulates Pollon’s view of things and makes the text appearance fit in line with his BMI vision as he receives calls, and views the various bits of AR around the world. There’s a neat touch where by hiding the game UI, players also hide the AR displayed in the world. The game also has the regular visual novel full artwork pieces to mark certain scenes, but also adds in comic panel sections for its more dynamic events. While this helps better convey a sense of action, there’s a definite and slightly distracting disconnect in styles between it and the rest of the game, however.
Ultimately, Anonymous;Code is an exciting mystery visual novel well worth checking out. Despite some preposterousness, it readily captures players’ attention with its take on the near future, successfully blending wider ideas about the nature of the world and science with some traditional and modern conspiracy theories. Its strong main cast and interesting choice mechanic provides an ample sense of reward to players for finding their way through Cicada’s quests and answering the deeper questions at play.
Disclosure: This article is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.