Kotaro Uchikoshi rose to fame with Zero Escape series so when I heard that Punch Line was his work, it started to piqué my interest in the visual novel. I didn’t really have many expectations going into the visual novel since I never saw the anime which is the basis for the game, and honestly, it turned out completely different to what I expected from a typical visual novel. It is too devoted to its anime roots, which is a good or bad thing depending on if you liked the anime in the first place.
Punch Line’s story is the height of cliché writing and anime tropes. The main character has a certain affection for panties that starts to give him a nosebleed if he ever sees one. The story focuses on a looming extinction event in the form of a meteor that could hit earth and wipe out the humanity. This implementation of this event is in the form of an excitement meter for the main hero which can result in a game over immediately if you focus a little too much on watching panties and get knocked out until the world ends.
The story begins with a hijacking of a bus by a terrorist organization whose motivation has something to do with the meteor presenting a threat to Earth. Despite scientists suggesting that the chances of the meteor hitting Earth are very slim, even less than 1 percent, United States government tries to secretly destroy it with nuclear missiles thus threatening world peace and giving rise to this terrorist organization.
Despite such serious threats, the real game mostly takes place in an old apartment building. You control the main hero, Yūta Iridatsu, who starts the game as a ghost since his body gets taken over by someone else after he gets knocked out in the prologue due to the power of panties. He has to find out the culprit who is possessing his body and get it back. Unfortunately, he can’t really enter the room where the culprit is residing and has to use his ghost powers to find a way inside of it. This is an interesting premise in the start that draws your interest right from the beginning, except there are plenty of anime cutscenes and references that might not make sense and lead to a rather confusing narrative for newcomers.
As a ghost, Yūta is able to explore the apartment building with its many rooms. You can press a button to open the map and go to any room at any given point in the story. Most of the rooms that you can explore have someone, mostly girls, which act as the center point of the story. These girls will offer their own unique personality e.g. one of them is a magical idol girl who also saves the main hero in the opening. You will have to use your ghost powers to manipulate your surrounding and ‘trick’ these girls into doing certain tasks as needed while also avoiding to stare at their panties since it can result in a game over. It sounds cool in theory but the execution here is unfortunately rather uninspiring, to say the least. The game feels limited by a fixed camera view so you don’t have much choice during the gameplay moments. It would feel better with a full 3D exploration offered for solving the puzzles.
My issue with the gameplay is that it is merely an illusion once you get underneath the choices. As a ghost, you have to manipulate objects to create a chain of reactions that will ultimately lead you to your goal. It is fun to watch it all unfold but considering the limitations in place, there is not much room to experiment here. Ghost Trick comes to my mind since it also had a similar premise, but the game had actual depth unlike Punch Line, which has more visual novel elements than gameplay like Danganronpa or Zero Escape.
The basis of the story in Punch Line borders on being an absolute creep and it is a little hard to take the game seriously with such absurd mechanics in place. That said, there are some genuinely entertaining moments in between all the pervert stuff that are fun to experience. The game follows the story of the anime but also offers new scenarios and twists including alternative endings. Most of it is a visual novel but there are some gameplay segments e.g. manipulating objects to scare the girls and level up your spirit power.
The strong reliance on anime means it is hard to recommend Punch Line for newcomers. There are also a lot of fan service moments that might not sit well with others. The localization has tried to save as much of the humor as it can, but the writing still feels a little dry and the jokes mostly fail to land. It is still an entertaining visual novel with comedic moments, but there is also a lot of wasted potentials here. Perhaps those who can better appreciate the anime will like the game more, but even then, the story retreads a lot of the plot from the anime making it look more like retelling and thus not offering a fresh new perspective.
There are moments where you can tell that this was the work of Kotaro Uchikoshi since some of the story scenarios look like they are straight from a Zero Escape game. Punch Line is also available on the PS Vita so it has rather dated visuals. Textures and the 3D models for the characters seem low quality overall. As for the amount of content, you can complete a total of 22 episodes in the game with the ability to replay them at any point. As far as the length of the game goes, it is good enough for a visual novel but with little incentive to replay it again.
Punch Line Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Punch Line is a visual novel adventure video game developed by 5pb., based on the anime television series of the same name. It was published for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita by 5pb. in Japan in 2016, and is planned to be published by PQube in North America and Europe in 2018, who will also publish a Microsoft Windows version.
Final Score - 7/10
Fans of the anime might enjoy some of the more outrageous story moments in Punch Line, but for those looking for an interesting visual novel in the same vein as Zero Escape, this one, unfortunately, fails to hit the mark.