Oh me, oh my. Punch Line made it to a North American release and it’s great.
Genre: Visual Novel, Casual Puzzles
Developer: 5pb ( MAGES )
Release date, NA: 08 Oct, 2018
Release date, EU: 31 Aug, 2018
Warning: There are some minor spoilers contained in this review
Ah, Punch Line, you sly little visual novel. While it’s rather lewd with panties flippantly displayed as if all the girls in Japan wear super short skirts and get caught in compromising positions every few minutes, it pulls it off ( not literally, but close) and has to be the most entertaining anime-based game I’ve played this year. I say that because it throws pretty much everything but the kitchen sink at the plot-line and manages to make it fun to watch and intriguing to continue.
Now for those who are unfamiliar, Punch Line is a visual novel video game with some light puzzling and based on the anime series of the same name which was written by Kotaro Uchikoshi, who was also the same person who wrote this game. It very closely follows the storyline of the anime, and although I read that it includes new content, I found it mostly just expands on what is already in the anime with more in depth detail. That said, I found this game/visual novel to be better than the anime itself and I could follow the storyline substantially more than when I watched the anime, which I watched concurrently for a time until I decided the video game was more interesting and just stopped watching until I was done with the game.
It’s not exactly easy to write a review about a visual novel without it being chock full of spoilers. I’ll start with very basic information and then try to convey a sense of the direction the story goes through. However, I will reveal a few tidbits here and there.
You begin the game exactly like the anime, with hijackers on a bus and a heroine beating them up until she is pinned down. A young hero comes to her rescue as he tackles the bad guy and falls out of the bus, landing in a river. You play as this hero, Yūta Iridatsu, who apparently had his body stolen the moment he accidentally saw her panties. You wake up as an astral body who is greeted by a ghost cat named Chiranosuke. The spooky kittie goes on to explain you’ve had your body snatched by someone and you have to get it back by becoming a top-tier level ghost and locating a holy book somewhere within the house. Now that, my friends, is a fraction of the story. What will ensue will involve a smorgasbord of nearly every possible modern video game subject imaginable short of pure fantasy. We’ve got ghosts, weird looking bad guys, cooking, robots, computer hackers, conspiracies, time travel, superheroes, little kids, bears ( yeah, bears ), revenge motifs, do-the-right-thing motifs, doomsday scenarios, man-made viruses, and let’s not forget a real life buttload of panties. I kept waiting for Gandalf the Grey to step through a door, but it didn’t go there ( whew! ).
So, with all *that* going on, how the hell do they keep this story from toppling over? This is achieved with character-driven dialogue and soliloquies that are carefully chosen with regard to the sequence of events and piecemealing the amount of content revealed for each section of the game to impact the story just enough to pique your interest to continue. Remember now, Yūta is an astral body. He can’t talk to anyone except a dead cat! The cat is quite instructional, I must admit, but it is his glimpse into the lives of his fellow neighbors that becomes the main method by which both he and the other characters in the story begin to truly know one another. Oh, did I forget to mention this almost entirely takes place where he lives? Well, there you have it. As an astral body, he is tied to his real body by a spiritual tether if you will, much like a balloon tied to someone’s waist ( I took that allegory straight from the story ).
Now, all the action along with the sort of puzzly gameplay occurs within this place called Korai House where there are other female tenants. You’ll learn about Mikatan Narugino as she pursues her pop idol career, Meika Daihatsu the mysterious landlady, Lovera Chichibu the medium, and Ito Hikiotani who plays games 24/7.
One thing that stood out to me was that in a very real way Yūta becomes a voyeur to all these girls living near him, even if he is trying to become a better ghost and get his body back. Because of his astral body, he is able to sneak into the very private lives of the girls where most people cannot. It’s not really stated per se in the game, but it’s very apparent and goes along with the sexually fired up theme of looking at panties all the time, which he finds unavoidable. Yet, here the game really revolves around his ability to move around, moreso than the anime. It’s crucial to the story and the gameplay to play this sort of voyeur, even if it’s not blatantly reinforced by the storyline.
What really drew me in after a few episodes, though, were not the characters themselves or the comedy and silly situations that crop up regularly. No, what got me into the game was the intricacy of the way each character was carefully woven around other characters. It is not apparent at the beginning, and I have to say even watching the anime you probably need three or four episodes to get to certain areas of the story that twist you like a pretzel. It was this fine tuned story weaving that got me hooked and it will leave you hooked until the end. I won’t divulge any other storyline details, but there is a very well layered aspect to the story with some parts not being revealed until the game is nearly over. I have to say, DON’T WATCH THE ANIME if you are going to play this game. I am certain many have already watched it and are itching to experience the game as a fan of the series, but if you have not watched it or have only watched a few episodes, DON’T WATCH ANY MORE if you plan to play this game. This visual novel adaptation is much more in depth, has parts that go on for entire episodes whereas in the anime only occur for a few moments, and seriously draws you in for the next episode. That said, some of the anime is directly inserted into the game. I think, from my perspective, the director made a choice to maintain some story integrity rather than stretch out areas that don’t need to be stretched. It works, and I found the parts of the game that are merely cut scenes created from the anime play off very well and would have been a loss more than a gain to recreate it in visual novel form.
I had read that there is an adventure type of gameplay, but I didn’t find that it was the classic adventure style of puzzling from my experience. It’s an interesting gameplay approach that prevents the game from being boring, but it isn’t entirely like an adventure game where you try to determine what to combine and where to put that combination along with further possible interlinked activities or various other combinations to solve a puzzle at hand. While the structure does have many interlinked sections, it’s a bit more open-ended than classic adventure game puzzles.
There are two main goals that are repeated in every episode up until the major denouement of the story. Firstly, you need to level up by scaring your neighbors and collecting their soul fragments, which are essentially small parts of their souls that you literally scare them to pieces to obtain. You get these by looking around the scene somewhat slowly until something is marked as an object you can manipulate with a pop-up on the screen. Now, not all these objects will give you the desired results. For instance, you might suddenly turn on a TV to startle someone, but while it may frighten one girl, another girl may just shrug it off as a faulty TV. You have a certain number of attempts to scare up enough points based on your spiritual level, so if you don’t get enough to complete the mission, the world ends. Yes, the world ends, not joking there. Boom, kaplooey, and all that jazz. However, since you are a ghost you are able to time travel because ghostly entities are not constrained by the limitations of time and space. This is done pretty much every episode until the denouement story arc, and as you progress the type of scare tactics will increase in variety and have time limits. It’s not terribly hard and even if you fail it’s really easy to go back and do it all over again. Expect these to last anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on how often you screw it up.
The second aspect of the gameplay revolves around performing spirit tricks. These are vital to the story and you will be unable to progress to the next scene until you perform this task just right. It’s very similar to scaring the girls, but with a major difference in that you must affect the environment to provoke a response from one of the girls and it must be done in a chain sequence like some sort of funny Crazy Machines puzzle. For example, let’s say you need to get someone to leave a room to get the contents of a bottle. When the trick begins, you visit one of the rooms in Korai House and find a banana peel you can move. You move that banana peel and look on to the next room where you have to sneak the bottle into someone’s pocket. There is usually a main chain reaction action that works as a catalyst such as dialing a phone. So, next we dial a phone number on a phone, which makes someone hear it and walk outside, then another person hears them and walks out too, then one of them slips and falls on the banana peel making the bottle fall out of their pocket, exploding and spilling its contents all over the floor. Ta-da! Your trick is complete! After a while the time limits make it substantially more difficult and with several steps involved to get a trick to work, you may die a bunch of times before you get it right. Once it is done, you move on to the next scene in the episode, usually concluding things at the end where credits roll and then on to the next episode.
I would say the gameplay is rather easy, though it can be confusing about what to do next and you will die a couple of times at least, but not too often until the last few tricks in the game. While it keeps the visual novel from getting stale, it does become a little tiring after several episodes. I was glad when it was all done after getting to a certain point in the game.
From there on, you just have a visual novel with choices to be made. If you pick the wrong choice, you end the game in a sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure quick ending. If you choose correctly, then it’s onwards to the next episode. The end goal, like many games, is to save the day. It may not be apparent which choices get you there at times, but even if you pick the wrong choice you can just start over a save and fast forward to an episode right up to the decision you borked and try again. One thing to keep in mind, SAVE YOUR GAME WHEN PROMPTED. Trust me, you will thank me later.
I have to mention the panties. There are a lot of panties. Panties panties panties panties panties. I’m not talking peeks, I mean full on bending over and in your face or legs wide open. While there is no nudity, there were a few images with let’s say a bit more definition in areas than I expected. However, the game approaches this in a unique way. Much like avoiding a ghost or evil creature in a horror game, you must not look directly at the panties or your eyes will explode and the world ends. YES, PANTIES CAN KILL. To prevent this, you have a few seconds to look away or change camera views to avert ending your trick prematurely…ahem. So, in reality, you can only look at them for a short time and then try to cool down lest you blow up. I personally could have done without the panties, but it’s the kitsch of the game and even though there are crotch shots everywhere you have to make it a point not to look or you can’t progress to the next scene. Still, it’s really lewd and there is no getting past that. Wow, I think I typed the word panties in a paragraph more times just now that I have in my entire life. Panties. Had to get one more in, sorry.
Compared to the anime, the game artwork is actually very well done and reflects the hard work of the animators that worked on the anime. I loved the fact that the visual novel was actually fully animated rather than static 2D images on a screen. It gives the storytelling a lot more depth and frankly, it’s fantastic. We are talking full expressions, moving bodies, scenes played out, and interaction all while selecting the next scene to play by pressing the X button repeatedly ( one note: I was unable to find a way to auto-play the dialogue ). It’s high quality work for what could have been a lesser effort. Kudos to the graphics team. Now, it’s not going to be Horizon Zero Dawn here. These graphics are similar to good PS Vita graphics or even well done PS3 graphics, but this is not a AAA release with a 45 million dollar budget. That said, I thought it was a fantastic job with color effects, lighting, transitions, animated expressions, and color palettes.
The voice actors sound exactly like the anime, and I believe they are the same actors or at least culled from the voice work of the anime along with the new lines for the game. Sora Amamiya, the voice of Mikatan, even sings the songs in the game in a j-pop idol style and that must have been a blast singing about stacking firm buns over and over. There are no English voice actors, and in my opinion, it doesn’t need any. The Japanese cast does a fantastic job of voice acting and there is no need for replacement unless you absolutely can’t stand subtitles. The sound effects work well at informing the gamer of gameplay situations like your panty-viewing meter going over the limit. Since the gameplay was not that involved, most of the sound is addressing how to make the story come alive and it does so in spades. Well done.
Should you go buy Punch Line right now? That depends on how much disposable income you have in your wallet. It’s a good visual novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet delivers with a great story, memorable characters, and some minor puzzling to keep things fresh. The fully animated characters give the game so much more life than static images and I kept wanting to see what happened next until my eyes got bloodshot as I gamed until the wee hours of the night. The game is nearly double the number of episodes in the anime, yet doesn’t stray far from the source material. It’s heavily expanded, even from the first few episodes, and brings each person involved to life better than the anime did. Ultimately, it’s entertaining and that’s what it all boils down to. For fans of the series, keep in mind you will not experience anything terribly new. For those that haven’t seen the anime, I don’t suggest you do. Instead, assuming you enjoy visual novels and anime in general, grab this game when you have a chance and try not to destroy the world with frilly panties. I rate this game a Save, so feel free to buy it and get your visual novel fix.
Editors Note: This review used the word panties 19 times. Wow. Technically 20 if you count this note.