Punch Line’s a visual novel written by Kotaro Uchikoshi (Director of the Zero Escape series and has also worked on the Punch Line anime) and from this alone I expected to find something to love. I was not disappointed. And yes, there’s more than just that type of fanservice.
The opening is an explosive anime scene in which, ‘Hero of Justice’, Strange Juice, real name Mika-tan, (I mean, Mikatan), battles a group of bus hijackers, working with her hacker/inventor teammate, Meika, to save the day. There are immediate signs of some sort of possession or power in the eyes of the terrorists (who are said to be spreading message of something the government are hiding) but once Mikatan stops the bus, she’s suddenly blindsided and held at gunpoint. Now what do you think happens next? Anime, right? Our pervy protag, Yutan, catches a glance up a skirt (innocently, of course). Now let out those collective sighs and… hang on, Yutan just had a Dragon Ball-like aura burst and went crazy. That’s a pretty novel way to kickstart your power.
On being blasted into an out-of-body experience, our man Yutan wakes to Chiranosuke, a ghost cat who fills you in on some of the details. Yutan’s soul is detached from his body, connected only by a ‘Soul Cord’. Chiranosuke then lets Yutan know that some pesky bugger has occupied his body. Common tropes for the most part so far, but it’s got a decent 3D cel-shaded aesthetic, the voice acting is perky and it’s all very function and nicely presented overall. The high-saturation colour scheme usage really makes the package feel lively and upbeat, it all helped to keep me curious.
So, Yutan’s predicament is how to get his body back. A motive is helpful. Now, Chiranosuke drops the bomb; if Yutan gets (ahem) excited twice in a row, humanity will go extinct. There it is, that’s the hook I was waiting for.
The tone of the design very much matches the light, comedy tone of the writing. In an early scene, a delivery arrives for our ero-king, taken in by Meika on his behalf. It’s a set of DVDs and no prizes for guessing what’s on them. On handing it over she notes she’s taken the first volume to go watch with the rest of the girls, leading a panic-stricken Yutan to leg it straight in their room, rip the TV from its cords and launch it straight through the window. The pacing and voice acting immediately made me crack a smile and set the silly atmosphere right from the off. I’m guessing that, as this game is directly based on the anime that these scenes are lifted from the source, though it’s been made clear there’s episodes worth of content that’s exclusive to the game so existing fans will have plenty to do beyond interact with a familiar story.
There’s no denying, this is a silly, mindless setup but there are other themes that creep in as you progress and some nice twists await those willing to see it through to full completion.
The structure of Punch Line is a little different to the expected stream of text, followed by the occasional choice. Initially it was nice to find a but of freedom in that there were multiple rooms to choose from. As your cat buddy explains, spirit power can be used by ghosts to send telepathic messages, see things from a distance and to move objects, the higher your spirit power, the more you can accomplish. In a nice twist, Soul Fragments, required to raise your playful poltergeist abilities, are gathered by scaring people. Alright, so ghosts scaring people isn’t a really twist, but it is an interesting plot point in context and is used to great effect where gameplay is concerned.
Once the explanatory phase had passed, the puzzle-solving elements surfaced. Effectively, you are to cause havoc and play pranks on the game’s cast. Frightening defenceless people in the comfort of their own bedroom sounds pretty twisted but, again, it’s all about the tone and setting.
L1 and R1 are used to switch camera perspectives within the room and the d-pad controls the camera angle. Manipulation of the cameras act like actual mounted cameras in that they have fixed limits. Simply selecting a named item will allow you to interact with it and it turns into a matter of chaining your ‘tricks’ together between multiple characters, rooms and reactions. It’s as it sounds; there’s a weird voyeurism involved in it all, but it’s got nice chirpy music so it’s fine, I think… In all seriousness, these segments are great fun, and, though rarely challenging, per se (tends to be an element of frustration at going round in circles), they generally make for a slow, relaxed comedy take of one of the Zero Escape titles’ equivalent sections. The cause and effect loop and the fact they’re also a comical parody of the whole ‘panty-shot’ thing keeps the puzzles fun. Just remember, if you accidently got a shot of anyone’s underwear you risk destroying the world, so there’s your incentive to reel it in.
I won’t spoil what happens if you do fail, if you’ve not seen it already, but do keep an eye on your brilliantly-named ‘BOOM’ meter. It’s juvenile in nature but it is what it is. Ask ya mam about it.
Over the Line
There are plenty of animations for the characters, and with the graphical style straying away from the static images of the genre norm, there’s a decent range of expression in mannerisms and movement. The dialogue scenes are sometimes split with animated anime video sequences, which adds a nice to connection to the source, while still being able to do its own thing. Visually, detail is extremely low within the environments but it’s worth noting that Punch Line’s release was in 2016 in Japan for both Vita and PS4. Given the genre, the fact it’s mixed in with the adequate-but-plasticky character models, and the low detail elsewhere, this isn’t much of graphical showcase, but it does work overall with the general bounce of the themes. The nifty 2D artwork sparingly used in parts helps, too.
Full voice acting is included, though limited to Japanese. You can change the text speed and synch the text to the audio, as well as set the volume level for each individual voice track. The usual method of being able to skip through already-read text is supplied to aid your quest for the multiple endings. Previous text can be reviewed with a click of the triangle button and the devs have ensured the transitions are lightning quick for those of us who blast through VNs with impatient thumbs. Standard fare then, but it’s nice to know the basics made it unscathed.
Punch Line is one of those ‘oh, Japan’ eliciting titles. You probably need only glance at the source material to know if it’s for you or not. It’s worth noting that, if taken at face value, and without tolerance for anime tropes, some may see some moral ambiguity rear its head. Stark reminder: it’s a parody. It’s also worth knowing that it’s short and spends a little too much time stuttering through repeated trick setups.
The audience for this will be small but there’s plenty to enjoy here if you want some mindless over-the-top comedy mixed with the unusual style of gameplay and a sometimes-surprising plot.
Overall Score: 7/10
Also, I don’t know why mapping a touchscreen press to quick save is so satisfying, but there it is! Now I just need to close with a punch line…
Format: PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita
Price: £44.99 (UK PSN)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 31/08/2018 (PSN)
Review copy provided by publisher