Visual novels are one genre that I neglected for a long time. While they often lack gameplay, the connection between protagonist and player is stronger here than in a regular novel. With this in mind, I jumped at the chance to try Bad Apple Wars, a new Visual Novel/Dating Sim by Idea Factory on the PlayStation Vita.
Bad Apple Wars is set entirely in a High School for recently deceased teenagers called NEVAEH. While there are no prizes for guessing what this is a metaphor for, two opportunities emerge for you. If you are a Good Apple and follow all the school rules, you will graduate, forget all the despair of your previous life and have the chance to reincarnate anew. Conversely, you can join the Bad Apples and break the rules, hoping for expulsion, a chance at revival and continuing in your past life.
The choice is not as simple as it seems. As everyone here is a teenager, it is often sadness and despair that have brought them to their early demise. Whether illness, suicide or exhaustion, most student have horrible memories of their lives before death. Do you fight against the system and join the Bad Apples, or become a prefect and help others on the path to graduation? Each storyline is around 8 hours and with some overlapping scenes, players should get around 30 hours of content.
The art is a real strong point of Bad Apple Wars. The backgrounds are particularly well drawn. While the anime character sprites aren't for everyone, they certainly have an individualistic charm. The music perfectly fits the emotional beats of the story. There is a mix of J-pop with atmospheric music that sets the tone of the story unfolding. This is so well-played that the music evokes emotion even when you are not playing. Most lines have accompanying voice acting of a high quality, though this is only in Japanese.
In Bad Apple Wars you play as Rinka, a girl so devoid of personality that she had no meaning in her life previous to coming to NEVAEH. After choosing a side, the story branches off on two different paths, yet it hits all the same beats. Which of the five boys you choose to accompany you has little to do with how the story plays out. This is more choosing one of five viewpoints for the main story, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The strength of the story is in your bond with each of the five boys you meet. Each storyline adds a lot of extra content so you do not often feel like you are backtracking or repeating things.
Asides from choosing between being a good or bad apple and which boy to go with, there is very little gameplay here. You do not choose different dialogue, you instead engage with the soul system. At certain points in the story, you will touch your male companion and look at his previous memories. Later touching him in places he likes will lead to his "good" ending. Conversely touching him somewhere he does not like will lead to his "bad" ending. In this way, there are ten different ways this story can end.
The setting and situations here are intriguing enough to pull you in. However, the true strength of Bad Apple Wars writing is the characters. Your five male counterparts are all very varied in personality giving something for everyone to enjoy. Through my time with Bad Apple Wars I found it very easy to bond with these characters, as their backstories are all very well fleshed out through the soul system. You even have moments with less important characters where they talk about their backstories and slowly you feel like you are really a part of this group of friends.
The only character that is not well written is the protagonist. You hear nothing of her backstory, she has no totem, a symbol of her desires, and she often refers to herself as empty. I know this is intentional so that the player can transfer their identity onto her, but this is Bad Apple Wars' only main weakness. Giving Rinka some quirk or sense of humor would have seen a stronger connection between player and protagonist, but the game simply allows her lack of personality be filled by her love for these boys. I always questioned why these boys would want to be with someone who had nothing to offer herself.
There are some other issues with the story, particularly in terms of good endings. The writers often went with something convenient rather than something that made sense. For example, while she had never met them before, everyone seems to live in Rinka's neighborhood. This is for no particular reason other than it's easy. The plot never shocks or surprises, but that's what you expect. Bad Apple Wars is like watching a terrible Matthew McConaughey movie while eating a big cake. It is charming, comforting and addicting if you don't try to think about it too much.
With all this said, I can't pretend I did not love Bad Apple Wars. While it never made me cry like Danganronpa, or Steins;Gate, I kept coming back for more. After the first playthrough, I set down to write the review, before convincing myself that a Good and Bad play through would make for a more thorough review. By the time I had finished my fifth play through, all ten endings, and even unlocked the platinum, I had no excuses left to keep playing. Even then, I still wanted to look back over my favorite scenes. Despite plot holes and some lazy writing, Bad Apple Wars has utterly charmed me.
For our Bad Apple Wars review, the author played on PlayStation Vita with a copy provided by the publisher.
The story is by no means without fault, but Bad Apple Wars has something truly charming about it. The characters are so well written that I kept coming back until I'd seen everything the game had to offer and was touched every time.(Review Policy)
- Interesting and Varied Characters
- Soundtrack that Perfectly Matches the Emotional Beats
- Protagonist is Completely Empty
- Convenient Storytelling Leaves Plot Holes