In the distant future, technology might have greatly prospered but humanity has been forced underground due to the severe decline of natural resources and the Earth's surface being rendered uninhabitable. In order to fix this, a certain organization invents a time machine and begins a project in order to hopefully restore the world by sending Time Negotiators back in time to recover lost resources by dealing with the people of the past. The heroine, Elcia, is a newly recruited Time Negotiator and through a strange twist of fate, somehow ends up in a mysterious dimension known as 'Area-X' on her first day of the job. Little does Elcia know, her little slip into this dimension might have more of an impact on her upcoming fate than she thinks . . .
Company: Zeiva Inc Production
Age Rating: Teen 13+
Date of Release: 16 June 2013
Voice Cast: This is a commercial OELVN without a voice cast.
I want to start this off by saying that I have different set of standards for OELVNs than I do for Japanese VNs, and I'll be explaining why I'm giving that certain score as I grade through each category, as well as try to give slightly more in-depth impression for the individual characters + some constructive criticism along side the things I enjoyed, so as a note please understand that these are different considerations and not the same general standards I would use for reviewing and giving scores to Japanese otome games. I originally intended to have Doppelganger as the first OELVN I review when I played it at the beginning of the year, but then I kept procrastinating on replaying it to review, so since Area-X was just recently released, I just freshly completed it, I decided to review this first instead (and hopefully go back to finish my Doppelganger review in the future.)
Area-X is an Original English Language Visual Novel, and is a companion game/prequel to X-Note, Zeiva Inc's mystery otome game. I had difficulties enjoying and completing X-Note in the past even though I found the story original and refreshing (if a little hitchy in terms of the flow of the pacing and some routes felt less 'strong' than others) due to my frustration with timing-styled mini games and the usage of a password system for 'saving' and only managed to finish it last year when Zeiva Inc upgraded X-Note and finally gave it the ability to manually save (along with a nice Extra section.) Area-X, on the other hand can be said to to have enhanced upon the strong points of X-Note and fixed a good number of reservations I had about it.
Arguably this is one of my favorite parts of this game. The dateable cast, are charming and though I didn't expect to feel much for some of them at all due to them seeming like the type I'm not usually interested in, I warmed up to them through the course of their route anyway. Unfortunately there are some characters that don't seem as three dimensional as others, particularly a good number of the minor characters, and there are some developments/progressions/leaps in logic that raises questions and a character that makes me wonder how he fits into the overall plot compared to the other dateable characters, but it didn't otherwise detract from how I enjoyed the game. With how the routes were written and how the story progressed for some of the characters, it's also pretty difficult to tell who is supposed to be the 'default' or 'canon' pairing of the route, if there's any at all. Due to there being a lot of characters this game, I'm only going to introduce the main cast and write my individual impression of them before I write my impression of the supporting cast as a whole.
Elcia is the heroine of the game. As mentioned in the summary, she is a newly minted Time Negotiator in the Future and is co-workers with her two childhood friends from school - Belph and Irina. One might assume that she became a Time Negotiator because she has ideals and whatnot about restoring the planet but no, Elcia claims that she became a Time Negotiator because due to her surprisingly high aptitude with time traveling, she got a really great salary. So with her being an orphan without any known family and was forced to live on the streets for awhile, this was an attractive offer.
As the protagonist, Elcia is pretty unique. She is a laidback S with a strong, colorfully charismatic personality and thus she is a joy to read. Due to her time on the streets, she's pretty quick in thinking on her feet, has a few tricks up her sleeves and can be pretty pragmatic in terms of how she views things. She might not always be straight-forward in letting on what's really going through her mind to people but nevertheless she has a good heart. Personally, I think she's great as a otome protagonist in general and not just for an OELVN. She was consistently written from start to finish there weren't lapses where I find myself thinking "wow where did that turn of logic come from?" and I'm not sure if it was conscious on the writer's part but it didn't seem like the writer was obviously trying to make A Point or a conscious effort to prove that she's~*different from the other otome games protagonist*~ by overly making the 'strong' parts of her personality (such as the fact that she can be sarcastic/jaded or the fact that she's clever/can fight) too overwhelming or putting too much emphasis on it. Elcia was unique yet natural and easy to sympathize with and that's what makes her great. The writer also seems to have played with the 'Unreliable Narrator' trope nicely and made it so that she's not even straight forward to us as the readers but can be picked upon in a replay or by reading her always updating profile and I thought that was pretty cool (Kind of like how the protagonist of Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief trolls the reader, if anyone has ever read that.) Elcia also has such a good chemistry with the majority of her persuadable love interests that I found myself wishing there was a harem ending by the end of the game.
Belph is one of Elcia's childhood friends and now works as her operator in the same organization from the Future. Back in their school days, he and Elcia together were known as the 'Sadistic Duo' due to how they'd terrorize and cause trouble for both the teachers and student populations with their mischievous pranks. Belph himself also seems to be privy to more information than most people in the organization are aware of and prefers to behave like he knows less than he does. Although he and Elcia are very similar to each other in personality, and Elcia herself even admits that the two of them probably understand each other better than anyone, because of that same understanding it also makes them try to keep a certain distance between each other.
I liked Belph a lot. When I saw his description on the promotional stuff during the game's development stage, I was concerned that like most characters of his 'type' in OELVNs he would come across as cliche'd and over the top when it comes to his schadenfreude tendencies under the gentlemanly exterior but I was pleasantly surprised that wasn't the case. The writers took care to make him nuanced and balance him out with other traits, so like Elcia, his character also felt natural and consistently written - his trolly side was more than just a mere gimmick or the whole point of his character. Saying any more about why I like him so much would probably spoil his route from the game, but I'll say this: even though in the grand scheme of the whole game, Belph's route might not seem as 'heart-wrenching' as the ones in the Sea paths (and there are also questions I have concerning how his route's ending after I found out certain spoilers from the Sea path), his still felt quite emotional and his dynamic with Elcia was one of my top favorites in this game, even when they might not necessarily 'end up together' like in another guy's route.
Rexus is the mysterious wooden sword carrying dude players of X-Note might recognize as the guy who seems to
creeps stalks suspiciously appear around Essi, the heroine of X-Note and aid her in solving the mystery from there. Here, in the 'Present' era of Area-X where it seems like it's set a year or two before X-note, Rexus appears to be investigating the ORZ corporation and with some er, persuasion, he seems to be willing to help Elcia with her information gathering in the Present.
Admittedly Rexus didn't grow on me much when I was playing X-Note, and him not being a character type I'm usually interested in, I didn't expect that I'd warm up to him in this game at all. So he was another pleasant surprise because wow he's adorkably fail in Area-X and Elcia tops him so beautifully it's priceless. I ended up feeling bad for initially dismissing him due to my preconceptions, so I urge you to not to do the same. On the surface, he is every bit the same dork he was in X-Note but here in Area-X we get to see more depth added to him along with his past, his motivations, as well as the reason why he was looking out for Essi in X-Note. He might be a bit of a 'Gorilla' as Elcia calls him, but he's also so much more than that and his devotion to those he cares for is touching as well as tragic . . . as for how, you'll have to find out for yourself in the game because saying any more would be spoiling.
Livan is a private artist for the younger brother of the King of Orzea in the Middle Ages. Unlike Belph, Livan seems to be a true gentleman - soft-spoken, cordial and always willing to lend a hand to Elcia, the writer describes that he'd be perfect if not for his tendency to compare everything to paintings. But I disagree! I think it simply adds to his charm of being a gentleman from the Middle Ages. It is with this same charm that he seems to be well-liked by the people of his era if the way the shopkeeper in the market talks about him is any indication.
Personally, Livan was the character I was most interested in while following Area-X's development, simply for the shallow reason that I like Elcia's costume for this era the most and also there was something about Livan that pinged me. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed with what I experienced of his route in the game. He was another well-rounded and sympathetic character and arguably just as tragic as Rexus for reasons you'll find out in the game. Like Belph, he is another character I find difficult to talk about the specifics of why I'm fond of him without spoiling his route, but as much as I enjoyed his route and felt like there was sufficient hints to his personal motivations and build up, I felt like the actual execution of the ending was . . . unfortunately a bit anticlimactic as I was expecting more due to those same developments. That isn't to say that I don't feel that it was appropriately bittersweet or emotional and fitting in the grand scheme of things, though.
Yuras is a caveman from what Elcia observes as the Ice Age. He might be a seemingly unemotional boy of few words you might find difficult to carry a conversation with, but he's a kind, and honest person who is willing to help those in need despite it being against the harsh rules of his village. He also cares deeply for those he considers his family and is willing to do what he can to protect his sister. Oh, and did I mention he has the ability to kill a grown jaguar with just one hit of his club?
While I did find Yuras' route to be good piece in revealing certain background information about the world, his character unfortunately didn't feel as relevant as the others in the grand scheme of the game out side of the presence of a certain character in his route as well as the aforementioned background information. Even when you factor in Belph who shares the Land path with him, Yuras didn't seem to fit as well into the overarching plot and that's why I felt like he was the weak link in what could've been a perfect cast. However, that isn't to say that I didn't find Yuras as a character endearing because I do! In fact, I found his personal story to be sympathetic, if a little cliche'd and slightly rushed. His ending itself was a fitting conclusion to his own story and brought a nice resolution for him. I just wish the writer had done more to try to incorporate him.
Ferim is the mysterious cloaked figure Elcia meets when she first stumbles into Area-X. Stoic, lacking in understanding of human emotions and generally behaving like a robot, his official profile describes him as the Time Manager, a being that transcends time, so naturally, his entire existence is shrouded in mystery. Aside from a few minor things, he doesn't even bother to provide any answers for Elcia and expects her to find things out on her own, regardless of whether it's something that's related to her or him.
Ironically, my issue with Ferim is the opposite of Yuras. His existence was well-incorporated into plot . . . but I felt like there could've been more to his personal character development and arc. Sure you could probably make some educated guess as to how he came to his conclusion at the end of his route if you paid attention to the fact that he was always observing, always watching everything that goes on in the story like, in his own words, a perverted stalker, but as a route, I think we should've been shown more because compared to the other characters, his on-screen development felt lacking and the time we actually spent with him felt shorter than the rest even if on one hand I do feel that it is understandable why when you factor in the . . . urgency behind the truth of the whole plot. While I do understand that he is supposed to be a mysterious figure and the end all of the plot, I feel like the writer could've given us more time to appreciate him or show more of his character, if not in his own route, then in the other characters' routes aside from what cameo he already had in those other routes. Nevertheless, I did enjoy him from what I did get to experience of him, and that's probably why I felt that it's a shame we didn't get to have more, especially when it came to the time he actually gets to spend in Elcia's presence and interacting with her in the end.
Now in regards to the supporting characters . . . fans of X-Note might be happy to hear that there are more than a few familiar faces, and sometimes even in unexpected places. These cameos serve as both a good little easter egg for X-Note fans as well as a nice addition for us to see them from a fresh point of view. However, when we're talking about the supporting cast as a whole . . . unfortunately I feel like they're a bag of hit or miss. Some characters felt more fleshed out than others, while some felt pretty one note and appears as if they were just there to drive what ever character arc they were involved in to move forward. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh since technically that is suppose to be one of the roles of a supporting character, but I guess after how in X-Note every character seems to have relevance, and how impressively the writer managed to do with most of the main characters of Area-X, I expected a little more out of the supporting casts as well. At the very least, I suppose I could say that most of the named supporting cast, at least, were sufficiently written. Of note would be Irina, who's one of Elcia's childhood friends, and then Ciera and Trole, who respectively appeared in the Ice Age and the Future.
So with these considerations in mind, while I truly wanted to give this section a full score because I think this is probably the first time I've enjoyed the entire cast of main characters in an OELVN, I unfortunately have to deduct a point for the reasons I mentioned above.
As stated above, this game is primarily a visual novel told through Elcia's point of view with a few puzzles/Ace Attorney-style investivation sections mixed in. The game goes through a good range of emotions from humor to suspense and tragedy, however, unlike what the summary of the game might imply, the game isn't entirely about time traveling. The creator of the game might have explicitly mentioned being inspired by the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross series, and it shows to an extent in the game (there's even some hilarious cracks at the Final Fantasy series), however, if you were looking forward to perhaps making Elcia do something in a certain era or dimension to see if it'll influence another or was hoping she could travel back and forth multiple times at your choosing to influence or prevent certain events from happening in the game, you'll probably be disappointed. As you might have already figured out from my blurbs in the character section, you also couldn't go for certain characters from the start. This game has six chapters in total and follows a common route up to around chapter 2 or 3, then it is separated into three paths: Land, Sea and Sky. In the beginning you'll be starting with the Land path and you'll only be able to go for Belph and Yuras, but as you finish their endings, both good and bad, you'll unlock letters to form a password to unlock the Sea path which will allow you to go for Rexus and Livan, and then eventually Ferim in the Sky path.
As you can see from the nifty chart above, compared to X-Note this game has a lot of branches and adds to the replay value. Some people might find this tedious or frustrating, but I actually believe this is a good call on the writer's part. Why? Because the creator actually took care to make even the bad endings unique and give certain information that might not appear in the good end along with a CG to make it all the more worth doing. You'll also be given a hint on how to get the good ending if you've stumbled upon the bad ending by accident and in the game, that same chart above will help you keep track of whether you're progressing the right way or not. This game is probably one of the lengthier OELVN games I've played that is mostly a visual novel and the writer tried their best to answer every question raised through the routes and pickup every plot thread (the only one I can think of with a similarly long length and effort to fill in plot holes is Doppelganger.) The pacing and reveals, the questions and the answers all felt well-placed in all of the character routes and outside of the complaint I had about Yuras' character not fitting into the grand scheme of the plot, story-wise, every route felt like it had some significance and served like good pieces to a well-made puzzle that nicely wrapped itself up. In this respect, I believe that the writer has improved from when they wrote X-Note and I'll admit, I'm very impressed because I felt like Zeiva Inc has managed to accomplish something that I believe few writers of OELVNs have managed to grasp, especially when writing stories with philosophical struggles or moral ambiguity, that a writer should show, don't tell a story. However, despite how well the plot holes were filled, my one nitpick about the story is that I feel there is still one question I have concerning the endings for the Land Path's routes if . . . we take what we know about the possible solutions for the world by the time we get to the Sky path in mind. Unless I somehow managed to miss something still, I think people who finished the game might understand what I mean. Also, I guess, for an otome game, it's a bit like Hakuouki in that the romance is more subtle than obviously prominent, and while arguably I did find the game romantic, I assume that some people will be disappointed that there isn't even a kiss scene or CG.
For those of you who were like me, and was frustrated that X-Note didn't have a way to save until the new version, I can safely reassure you that for Area-X you're given the ability to save at will from the start! You can also reset and retry some of the puzzles as many times as you like if you fail them. However, while we're on the topic of puzzles . . . I feel as if I should mention that if you're also like me and is stupidly puzzle dumb, fear not! Most of the puzzles are pretty easy to figure out and there are only two puzzles that gave me so much grief, even with the in-game hints, that I ended up having to message the creator for help. Fear not, though, because by the time I've published this review, the answers for those puzzles are already up on the creator's tumblr, and if you have any questions apart from that, the creator has been quite nice and patient in answering their asks. When you're restarting for the new paths like Sea and Sky there's also a skip event option so you don't have to go through everything again until the new parts, and if you happened to forget a certain character, there's also an in-game collection of profiles for you to go through and collect all the characters. Aside from that it seems the game was well-coded and I never had the game freeze or crash on me or things not triggering when it should.
Lastly it seems that this game doesn't have an Extra section, however, fret not! I've already asked the creator about this and have received response that there will be a version 2 for Area-X that will not only have that Extra section added in, but also some extra stories, so let us all look forward to that.
I didn't even need to think about giving this section a full ten because the art for this game is gorgeous. Not just the CGs and character portraits/sprites, but the backgrounds and animation as well (both in certain cutscenes as well as for the character portraits.) All of them are so beautifully drawn and colored, you'll probably spend a lot of time staring at it. Since there's no Extra section yet I can't count for you how many CGs there are in total but I can safely tell you that there are significantly more CGs in this game than in X-Note and probably a lot more than for an OELVN in general. What's better is that save for, I think, one of the CGs in Belph's ending, all of them are unique and there are no repeats or ones where the expressions or backgrounds just change. I also liked that Elcia really does get a costume change for every era she goes to and I felt like all of the characters' designs, especially ones that gets more than one costumes, felt like it fit their personality. I don't think there was any CG that stood out to me in particular when it comes to awkward proportions or positioning so another point there.
Also look at that background. It's clearly manually drawn and painted, so while there are some backgrounds in the game that might seem more simple than others, I still give a lot of points to Zeiva Inc because they're definitely not free from stock images which means that they took the time to make everything original, and theirs.
I don't know if the music for this game was from other resources or were they commissioned specifically for this game, but like with X-Note, I enjoyed the BGM choices for this game and felt it was appropriate in enhancing the atmosphere of the games and scenes. None of the SFX sound effects felt jarring or annoying either. However since some of the music is pretty plain while others are catchy, and I also enjoyed more of X-Note's soundtrack than this one, I hesitate to give a full score.9.0 This game was more than worth the $25 I paid for it and if I could give it full marks in good conscience, I would. It has officially joined the ranks of the few OELVNs I'd definitely recommend to people if someone asks me to recommend an English otome game. All of the love interests are endearing in their own way and Elcia is a wonderful heroine, I couldn't help but adore this game.
tl;dr, I'd especially recommend this game if:
- You're looking for a well-written and nuanced heroine with quick wit and a troll streak. If my section for her above isn't already an obvious indication, I really really like Elcia.
- A story that focuses more on the mystery and character development than romance. If you're looking for a magical sweet dating time and whirlwind romances, this is not the game for you.
- A lengthy OELVN with replay values. As stated in the plot/presentation section, this game is longer than the average OELVN and strongly encourages you to play through all of the routes to find out the full mystery.
-In case you haven't already noticed, it's cheap! To put it in terms that will probably be easier to compare for the English-only game fandom, it's already around $20 for five guys in a Voltage or Solmare game and probably a few more for spin offs? And you only get a few CGs and fifteen short chapters? Well, here for $25 you get five guys with music and way more original CGs, puzzles, and a much longer length (it took me ~three days to full comp it with work/class) + the creator already expressed that they'll upgrade to a version 2 at a later date with more extra content. It's only a win-win situation here.
And hey, if you're still not sure or want to try it out a little first before you make a final decision, there's also a demo you can try on the official site.