After hearing someone singing, a young boy, Sorata, was suddenly brought into a different era. He is eventually led to an airship, Norn, carrying 11 members who each possess a unique ability. He travels with them on their short-lived journey to the World. What is the reason behind their journey? Where is their destination? And what is this “World” which everyone speaks of and obeys? Filled with these mysterious, you are free to pick one of the 3 girls as the heroine and witness the various stories and perspectives.
NORN9 Norn + Nonette
NORN9 ノルン+ノネット (website)
Age Rating: Cero C / 15+
Date of Release: 30th May 2013
Voice Cast: Fujimura Ayumi, Kaji Yuuki, Shimono Hiro, Satou Takuya, Takagaki Ayahi, Ono Daisuke, Saiga Mitsuki, Yusa Kouji, Seto Asami, Sugiyama Noriaki, Sugita Tomokazu, Yoshino Hiroyuki, Hamada Kenji, Ichiki Mitsuhiro, Yanagi Nagi
To be honest, I had a difficult time coming up with the concept NORN9. I suppose I should first dispel the notion that NORN9 is some time-travelling, science fiction otome game – because that really isn’t the case. Instead, I believe a major feature for many would be the presence of 3 heroines and so a lot of the focus really is on each heroine’s relationship with each of the 3 guys she can be paired with, as well as the interactions between the Norn members. As for the whole mysterious plot, it is scattered all over each of the 9 routes, and the epilogue which unlocks after you finish all 9 happy ends. While this plot does intrigue you at the beginning, I don’t think that it is wrapped up tightly enough at the end and you can be left hanging in the middle questioning for more.
At the start, you play the (short) prologue through Sorata’s perspective before choosing which heroine you want to go with. After a brief interaction with the heroine’s team members, you can proceed to specifically choose the guy you want to pair her up with. What happens in the game does justify this straight-out selection, and so none of the routes overlap too much except for a few common events which can be skipped over.
For the innocent newcomer Koharu (CV: Fujimura Ayumi), her team consists of the kind, reliable but sadistic leader-figure Kakeru (CV: Kaji Yuuki), the negative Senri (CV: Shimono Hiro) who shuts himself in the room 24/7, and the responsible, older brother-figure Masamune (CV: Satou Takuya) who ends up cleaning up after everyone. For Mikoto (CV: Takagaki Ayahi) who takes great pride in her ability, her team consists of Natsuhiko (CV: Ono Daisuke) who keeps attacking Norn and is after their lives, her overprotective childhood friend Sakuya (CV: Saiga Mitsuki), and the playful Itsuki (CV: Yusa Kouji) who is actually kind but cowardly. Our last heroine is the rather expressionless Nanami (CV: Seto Asami), and her team is made up of the short-tempered Akito (CV: Sugiyama Noriaki) who is surprisingly good at cooking, the suspicious-looking Ron (CV: Sugita Tomokazu) who is often found lazing around, and the cheerful mood maker Heishi (CV: Yoshino Hiroyuki).
At the start, Masamune, Natsuhiko and Ron’s routes are locked. In order to unlock them need to complete one of the other guy’s routes (eg. play Kakeru or Senri’s to unlock Masamune’s). While I supposed it is recommended to leave all of the locked routes for last, to be honest you are free to play in whichever order to like. I don’t think there is any route which spoils you a lot in a sense, as most of the questions are answered in the epilogue.
The colourful cast of characters are charming and there are plenty of fun moments. In fact, 90% of the routes showcase this and in the last few chapters the plot comes in and somehow everything concludes. While it is impressive to be able to play 9 routes in a single game, I have to say that they weren't perfect. Or rather, each route had its own issues. For example, Natsuhiko’s route tied up most of the plot issues, but I can’t say that the couple’s chemistry was just as strong. In fact for Mikoto’s routes on the whole I couldn’t quite see how she fell in love; it’s more like she just found herself in love. On the other hand, the romance in Akito’s route was really nicely-developed but the plot appeared to have been swept aside as a result of that. In other cases, more could’ve been done on the whole for routes like Kakeru and Ron’s. A positive thing would be that for characters like Heishi and Itsuki, you appreciate them more as you play other routes. That being said, this is all judged according to my expectations and so others can see things differently from me. Still, I think most would agree that not all the routes were satisfactory.
Moving on to the highlights of the game, I must commend on the visuals and music. The sprites, CGs, backgrounds were generally great. There is a variety of sprites (including my favourite ones of the back-view) and CGs, and the backgrounds were lovely and detailed. As for the music, every background track added to the enjoyment value and all the songs were pleasant to the ear. If you were to ask me to nit-pick, I would say that due to the weaker writing I did not feel much emotional attachment. There are times when you are stirred with emotions by a great track, but it’s also due to the fact that you can relate it to a great scenario. In NORN9’s case, I did not really feel this way. Okay, I might not be making much sense here.
As mentioned at the start, it is all basic choice-making. An obvious visual effect is displayed when someone’s favourability is upped, and you can access the parameters from the in-game menu. The timed choices can either count down from 10 or 5, and you are not able to backtrack via the backlog to redo the choice. If you do not make a selection in time, I think the game automatically chooses the choice which doesn’t up any favourability. Not all routes have this and those which do, only have a few. So just be careful of them and you’ll be fine.
There is a happy and tragic love end for each of the characters (and a few have bad ends too). I’m one of those who would welcome a sad end as I enjoy reading about the different possibilities and perspectives. However, I don’t think NORN9 capitalised on this, just like how it didn’t capitalise on its Norse mythology references as well as the potential for an amazing plot, and interesting themes. While the characters are lively and colourful I did not find myself getting too attached to them, since for many their backgrounds are hardly delved into. I think that consistent, engaging writing helps you get attached to an otome game, as do factors like charming characters and atmospheric music. But unfortunately for me, NORN9 was lacking in this aspect. The nice thing about the different heroine perspectives was that you can see how the pieces fit together – for example, things in Sakuya’s route and Ron’s route overlap. However, those were mostly minor details and I still think that the main plot suffered. I don’t know, but I think it’s telling when I say that my favourite writing was Sorata’s amusing commentary and monologues - and he mostly appears in the prologue and epilogue.7.5
I’m repeating myself, but I think the best way for me to describe my final thoughts is that NORN9 had a lost potential to be an amazing game. The parts to make up a thought-provoking otome game were there, but in the end NORN9 ended up as a pretty average game. If you’re looking for the (bitter)sweet romance, you may be pretty pleased. But if you’re looking for an intriguing plot, you may have a hard time solving the full puzzle. As for themes, there wasn’t much room for discussion. This makes one wonder if it’s an issue of quantity vs. quality, or that the creators simply ran out of time to fully develop NORN9’s potential. So if you’re thinking of checking out this game, I would recommend so if the characters appeal to you as they’re the main enjoyment of the game, alongside the wonderful visuals and music.