I enjoy the occasional visual novel. Even though I’m not the target audience for otome games (romance games aimed more at a traditionally straight female audience), I can still appreciate a good story well told, despite not being personally into the romance side of things. And really, when it comes to a visual novel, the storytelling can make or break the game.
Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ tells the tale of Kazuha, a high school girl whose older brother has gone missing. Along with your childhood friend, a boy named Hiroya, you find yourself exploring an online game your brother enjoyed called Arcadia. Only, as per the trend in anime and manga lately, you’re not just playing the game, you are somehow sucked into it. Following in the footsteps of stories like Sword Art Online and many others that came before and after it, death in the game means death in real life. The stakes couldn’t be higher — plus, a darkness is beginning to encroach upon the land, swallowing up huge portions of the landscape and killing anyone it touches. The only hope is to clear the Ark, the game’s final dungeon. And the only way to do that is to have the Almighty on your side. The Almighty, as it turns out, is a player, and you guessed it: that player is you.
Right away, the story doesn’t work too hard to present itself as anything new and noteworthy. It’s disappointing, because though the trapped-in-an-online-game story has become a genre unto itself, I still think there’s space within it to tell interesting stories. By relying on such worn tropes without bringing anything new to the table, Period: Cube makes it difficult to get excited. Its localization is passable — that is to say, understandable — but it doesn’t strive to be eminently readable. Character personality fails to shine through in the way different characters speak. My gauge for this is something I call the “It Can’t Be Helped” test. “It can’t be helped,” while a valid English phrase, is awkward and not often said in conversation. If multiple characters with different personalities use the phrase “It can’t be helped” in a game, it’s clear to me that thoughtful editing wasn’t a priority in the localization. But, again, it’s adequate, with no real typos to speak of. Many fans of the genre actually prefer the localization to be more on the literal side like this. Your mileage may vary.
Its characters, likewise, aren’t anything special. There’s Hiroya, your childhood friend, who disguises his crush on you by calling you an idiot. And there’s Astrum, the player who takes the whole concept of “role-playing” way too seriously and so talks like he’s an actor in some mythical melodrama. The characters you meet along the way, both major and minor, are colorful and well-drawn, but there’s not much to their personalities beyond the few tropes they’re built around.
Speaking of colorful and well-drawn, this is a pretty-looking game. While there isn’t a ton of variety to the locations, the character art in particular stands out. I also appreciated that characters aren’t just static pictures — they blink, their mouths move. It’s a small thing, but it’s greatly appreciated when 99% of the game is reading text. Aesthetically, it’s pleasing to look at, and the music is catchy, as well.
The gameplay itself, as you might imagine from its genre, consists largely of pressing X to advance the text. If you speak Japanese, you’ll be able to enjoy the performances of the voice actors (no English dub here). Occasionally along the way you’ll receive a prompt to make a choice. This is another area where the game could have made itself stand out from the visual novel crowd, but it drops the ball here, as well. Often your only two choices are the tiniest variation on the same thing. It won’t be clear what the difference is until you make the choice, as the option you choose impacts your relationship with the other characters.
More specifically, it impacts your levels of Almighty and Affection, which in turn leads you down different paths in the story. In this case, the paths are related to the character you’re choosing to fall in love with. My first time through the game, I wound up on the Astrum path, though I didn’t intend to (I’d actually figured I’d go down the Hiroya path first — sorry Hiroya, I tried). It’s not clear to me which choices I made that put me on that path. Ideally, the game should make these sorts of decisions clearer.
You’ll sometimes engage in battles, though again, these are far from action-packed. You may be prompted to choose an action, such as stabbing with your knife or playing your harp (your character class is Minstrel). You might also choose to run away. Again, your choices here impact the story, though it’s hard to say in what way in the moment.
This is the part where I give my qualified recommendation. Fans of the otome genre will feel right at home, and visual novel fans who appreciate attractive art. But even for big fans of the genre, Period: Cube doesn’t have enough new or notable for it to get a strong thumbs up.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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