Cyber City 2157, a visual novel from Harotobira and published by Sometimes You, attempts to do a lot of things. It does very few of them well and, along the way, tells a story that is disjointed, full of loose ends and uninteresting. It commits the sin that even some of the worst games never manage to do. It is boring.
Cyber City 2157 attempts to combine elements from high-brow literature and the existential angst of French cinema. Key word here is “attempts” as it does so unsuccessfully. It is a story that appears, on the surface, to be quite dense yet it never fully connects all the segments together. It makes the effort to tell a story full of questions about life, the philosophical ramifications of free will and so many other things that it never fully gets a grasp on. Shooting for the moon is one thing but aiming for the stratosphere and going as far as your backyard is another. Cyber City 2157 is a jumbled mess but not in the fun sort of way that begs to be discovered like some lost schlock from the 50’s or 60’s in the movies. This isn’t some trashy romance novel with quivering appendages and buxom dames but, rather, a futuristic neo-cyber punk bit of noir that somehow fundamentally fails on nearly every level to engage the player in its narrative.
Visual novels are a very static genre as they’re inundated with words and, often, lacking in real gameplay. They are a niche offering that has their appeal to a growing number of gamers out there. Danganronpa has much to do with the exploding popularity and the deluge of new visual novels hitting Steam on a weekly basis. The sexcapades of something like Nekopara or even Sakura Swim Club are par for the course in most visual novels hitting the market though some manage to tell interesting stories with compelling characters. Cyber City 2157 is not one of those. It’s not much fun to slog through either though it thankfully only lasts about three to four hours.
The player takes on the role of an introverted contractor for a company that makes holographic copies of human beings known as Molds. He lives within a city that never sleeps and is always evolving. The interaction with the world takes place through his spoken dialogue and an internal monologue within his head. The unnamed narrator seems to have a tenuous grip on reality at best and while an unreliable narrator story can be fun to take a jaunt through, this particular one suffers from two humongous problems from the start.
The English translation was atrocious, originally translated from Russian though a patch was later issued to address that. The patch did little to remedy the situation. A bad translation can be endearing in some ways, and I couldn’t help but think of the broken English that can sometimes make its way into subtitled anime (especially those done by fans), yet it did not serve to lessen the tedium. The bad localization work coupled with a story that promises much yet delivers on little makes for a horrendous experience.
The second major issue with Cyber City 2157 comes from the large loose ends present everywhere. Questions are often asked, but no real answer was given. It could be argued that the existential crisis at the core of the story fits the bill for playing it fast and loose. There are clearly multiple endings to the game as various reveals throughout the latter half offer potentially tantalizing options for those who chose to see it through. Perhaps there will be those players who go all-in and discover every nuance and, maybe, it will all make sense then. If only it were more interesting. The hooks of the story fail to sink in much further than a surface level fascination for what this fellow might be yammering on about. It deserves a side-eye at best and not the player’s full attention.
The lo-fi visuals clearly styled after glitch art in some instances and the early Commodore 64 style complete with loading frames and all are one of the few bright points here. Often the imagery is stark and full of broken pieces or purposely vague silhouettes to evoke the sense that the narrator’s view of the world is askew. Perhaps he’s the only one who sees things as they truly are? Or is he just a lunatic? The progression of imagery and story beats should have made for a psychedelic journey into the horrifying depths of a man’s soul but, instead, delivered a faint glimpse of unfulfilled promise. It’s a shame really as the soundtrack that accompanies the lackluster story might be the strongest argument for the game. There’s a synth heavy mix to the orchestrated work done in Cyber City 2157 that is very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s work on his films. It pairs magnificently with the images on display but never comes close to redeeming the, frankly, lazy writing within the framework of the tale.
Perhaps others will find value in this weird yet somehow thoroughly boring tale of one man’s reality and how he perceived it. However, there are far better avenues of entertainment as far as visual novels go on Steam.
Cyber City 2157 was reviewed on PC via Steam using a code provided by the publisher.
Cyber City 2157 is a jumbled mess of a visual novel that fails to deliver on the core promise of the story. It has numerous avenues to explore but none of them are very interesting. It has a great look to it with retro-tinged graphics and a soundtrack that is surprisingly strong. They don't make up for the awful localization or lazy writing, though.