Developer: Mages Inc.
Platforms: PC, PS4
Review by Jay Borenstein
In Punch Line you play as a spirit ejected from his body who lives in a house with four women, and if you “get excited” from seeing their panties twice in a row… an asteroid crashes into Earth. After typing that, I wonder if maybe the game was actually a terrible fever dream?
Punch Line is a visual novel game originally released in Japan for PS Vita in 2016 and based on 2015 anime of the same name. I was intrigued after learning the anime and game were both written by Kotaro Uchikoshi, the writer of the Zero Escape games. I loved that trilogy for its philosophical themes and intelligent puzzles, so I went into Punch Line excited, knowing nothing about the story. Honestly, I now wish had maintained my innocence. If the premise of Punch Line wasn’t enough to throw me off, the “novel” in this game bored me to tears by the end of the first hour, and even by visual novel standards, there is so little actual game here they should have just written a manga adaptation and called it a day.
I’ll give it some credit – the art and animation are gorgeous. The settings are colorful and lively and the character models were given a breadth of expressions and animations to match the scenarios they’re in. Given that the game is an adaptation of an anime, you can also look forward to plenty of clips from the show interspersed as cut scenes, adding energy to what is, unfortunately, a slog of a graphic novel. The original voice actors from the show also reprise their roles, and you can tell they put a lot of thought and energy into their reading (no English dubs, sorry dub fans). The scenarios and characters are wacky, so on the art and voice side, at least you can tell there was a full buy-in to making this game as entertaining as possible.
Unfortunately, it feels like rather than try to make a properly entertaining game, they just took the anime and dragged out the pacing with boring gameplay and unnecessary additional scenes that justify the effort they put into making an adaptation in the first place. Each chapter of the game is basically an episode of the anime, complete with the show’s title sequence and ending credits sequence that broke up the game’s flow.
I love visual novels games like the Telltale Games (who just announced they are shuttering, RIP), the Phoenix Wright series and the aforementioned Zero Escape series, so I’m not a visual novel n00b. The wonderful thing about those visual novels is that the interspersed gameplay either gives you agency in the direction the story is going or makes you feel like your ingenuity is helping to drive the story forward. The gameplay in Punch Line feels tacked on at best.
As a spirit, you can’t directly communicate with the women who live in your boarding house, so you need to use your spirit powers to find ways to get them to do what you need to advance the story. The gameplay is divided into two parts, sequences where you raise your spirit level, and sequences where you play “trick chains” to have the women do your bidding.
In both types of sequences, you can view a room from multiple angles by pushing the L1 and R1 buttons, and look for objects you can manipulate. For each gameplay sequence you have a limit to how many times you can use your spirit powers, so if you use them up and haven’t achieved your objective, you need to start again. To raise your spirit level you have to scare the women. In the trick chain sequences, you can move between rooms and manipulate objects so that when you kick off the chain with a specific action, it will cause the women to go through a sequence that advances the plot.
These sequences are easy and boring. You have so few options as to what you can manipulate in each room that the game makes it fairly obvious for you, and even if you mess up you can just start again right away with no consequences. In all of the gameplay sequences, your other objective is to avoid staring at the women’s crotches. Yep, that’s right. I get that this is a trope in anime, but if the game is trying to say “staring at women’s panties will literally cause the world to end,” well, you still get a lot of unnecessary gratuitous peeks regardless.
When you move to a camera angle with one of the women’s crotches in view, the cursor will gravitate towards it, and you have to push L1 or R1 or aggressively pull the joystick in the other direction. That’s it. “Challenge” occurs when an action you need to point to is on the screen while their panties are in view, so you need to choose the option quickly before your “excitement” meter on the right hits critical mass… Given that this visual novel is basically an extended version of the anime, and the gameplay is boring and inconsequential, I am honestly confused as to why it exists.
Verdict: Stay Away!
I know that this type of game is appealing to some people out there – but if this story intrigues you, just watch the anime. I want my 10 hours back.
Punch Line is available on PS4 and Steam on September 25, 2018.
Rogues Portal was provided a code for the PS4 version of the game for the purpose of this review.