eden* Review

Title: eden*
Release date: 2009-09-18
English release date: 2015-01-30
Developer: minori
English publisher: MangaGamer

I kinda neglected my blog for the last few months, so now I feel it's time to return with a review of eden* - one of the better known kinetic novels to the English visual novel fans. The now nigh forgotten controversy regarding its publisher 'minori' might have something to do with it, or maybe it's just because they had a taste of the fanlated trial and then were left hanging dry for five long years, before MangaGamer finally brought the fully translated game to the West.

The trial was originally translated back in 2010 by the now defunct controversial group 'No Name Losers' (or NNL) (as far as I know some of the members of the group later went on to work for MangaGamer) at about the time the whole total war between the group and the Japanese developer broke out on the Internet (don't ask >_>). I sampled the translation then and found the introduction moderately interesting, so, while the English translation of eden* was not a first priority game for me, I did eventually find the time to play it in full. My final impressions - less than stellar.
The Doom That Came to Sarnath.
First of all, I probably should introduce the plot. In a sense eden* is a pre-apocalyptic dystopia on a small scale. The world is going to end - there is no question about that, as a celestial body (not really explained in detail, but it might be a comet or a planetoid) is hurtling straight on a collision course towards Earth. The humanity is evacuating in generation ships. Only a small group of people are still left on the surface, among them is Haruna Ryou - a Warrant Officer tasked with protecting Sion, the scientist responsible for the Earth Evacuation Project.

Ryou is a soldier, who, at the start of the game, is barely functioning as a human being. The war that broke out once the end of the world got confirmed, left him jaded and deadened to anything but performing his duty like a machine. eden* is basically his journey of self-discovery, of breaking free from the constraints he himself imposed on his mind and learning to love the life as it is. By interacting with his comrade in arms Lavie, the manager/maid of the research facility No.703 Elica, and Sion herself, Ryou finally finds a reason for living and for dying, and even manages to reclaim something of his broken and lost childhood.
You ain't the only one, Ryou.
Sion is an unhappy bird in a gilded cage. She is a felix - an exceedingly smart human created through genetic manipulation, but at he same time she is a property of the military and a virtual prisoner within research facility No. 703. The term 'felix' comes from R. A. Heinlein's novel "Beyond This Horizon" and eden* actually gives a shout out to that. Felixes are created with a finite lifetime and Sion's is coming to a close, which gives her strength to finally try and break free of her captivity, hence the bird motif observed during various times in the game. There is a bit of a missed opportunity here to discuss the ethics of creating artificial humans and keeping them as slaves. Ryou does mention that genetic manipulation was eventually outlawed, but why was that done, considering how useful felixes are, is never explained.

eden* is a kinetic novel, meaning it is completely linear and is basically more of a book than a videogame. Rather than being a weakness, it's the strength here. It allows for a precise narrative without jumping through impossible hoops to introduce branching routes, which would require an advanced ability to suspend the disbelief. eden* is a story about Sion and all the other characters are complementary figures. Maid Elica, Major Inaba and journalist Maya are all quite prominent, but serve as a prism, through which we observe the growth of our two main characters. There is a reason why the game has a subtitle "They Were Only Two, On The Planet".
Devious plan a success.
eden* is a very pretty game, though I do have some reservations about certain aspects of the graphical presentation. NNL's reason for translating 'minori' titles boiled down to "it's pretty and shiny", which is one of the reasons why I never trusted the group. Still, I do have to admit that eden* has probably the most impressive backgrounds I have ever seen in a visual novel. Some of them look like photographs - there is such an attention to details, that I have to wonder how much time did it take to create all that. This visual novel also manages to blur the border between backgrounds and CGs, it can actually be said that in eden* the backgrounds ARE drawn like CGs and frequently incorporate such details like characters sitting or walking in the distance, which livens the experience a lot. When the characters are said to be sitting at the table in the kitchen, they are actually portrayed as sitting, and we aren't just shown empty chairs like many other VNs would do.

In any other visual novel the line between the three graphical elements: backgrounds, sprites and CGs is as clear as day, but eden* makes it frequently impossible to tell the difference between the three. For example, the characters blink and lip-sync while speaking, which is nothing out of the ordinary. However, I cannot remember the characters continue lip-syncing and blinking during, what can be called CG scenes, in any other visual novel!
Awfully cynical of you, Sion.
There is just one peeve I have regarding all that - I don't think that character models actually fit the story. They are drawn in the extreme anime style, with huge eyes, big heads and almost nonexistent noses and mouths. It's such a jarring thing, as to me this art style looked completely unsuitable not only regarding the subject matter, but also in composition with the other graphical elements. I so frequently felt that there was a huge mismatch between how the character was drawn and how the scene was portrayed, that it constantly brought me out of the story.

Nevertheless, that was only a relatively minor thing and in any other case the game presentation is superb. It is fully voiced (yes, even the protagonist and even within the (optional) sex scenes) with VAs doing their best. Moreover, the protagonist also has his own face and personality. No blank slate nobodies for us, no sir... However, once you get past the presentation, things get ugly.

Here we reach the worst element of this visual novel - the writing. The problem is twofold: first of all, the scenario author introduces the world and sets the tone by employing the most stale, cliché techniques that were old by the time Mr. Wood made "Plan 9". Secondly, the author is so in love with his own writing, that he drudges on and on, constantly repeating himself and cottoning the plot in dreadfully boring purple prose.
A veritable mystery yarn this game is not.
Let's analyze the immediate problem first. eden* has a terminal case of "As You Know". "As You Know" (or AYN, as I'll call it from now on) is a literary technique used to hastily impart the readers with certain information. In general, AYN can be quite useful and the relatively short length of the visual novel almost demands its use. Natheless, AYN in eden* is particularly in your face. Not only every single character is a living exposition doll constantly spewing facts that the protagonist should quite well know, but the game also dares to introduce the most horrible anime cliché of all time into the mix - the protagonist with bad memory. As the consequence, the author hits us with "As You Remember", the evil cousin of "As You Know". It allows one of the characters to say: "Do you remember that we have met before"?, to which our protagonist obviously answers negatively, which encourages the first character to narrate in great detail the particulars of that encounter. *face-meet-desk*
We know you're a genius, Sion - no need to rub it in...
Moreover, I wouldn't be an angry reviewer is I didn't mention some other instances of particularly bad writing. The author generates mystery by employing some very underhanded techniques that would make you throw the book across the room... sadly, you cannot do the same with a VN. In the beginning of the game our protagonist Ryou constantly refers to Sion as 'she' or 'her', in order to keep suspense whom he is talking about. But why the fuck?!! Sion is not a secret character, she is mentioned in the description. There is no reason for Ryou to refer to her in such a way, as there is no mystery. But that can be forgivable, even if it makes zero sense. However, we soon encounter another mystery generation device. Are you fucking ready?!! The dreaded "screen cuts to black just as another character tells the protagonist some important information" rears its ugly head. Now that's just a low blow. In other words, the first few hours are so badly written due to the overuse of bad tropes, that it was just painful to read.

The second part of the game, once Sion escapes the facility, is no better. No, that's not a spoiler - eden* starts in medias res, thus we begin the game shortly after the escape and then go back to see how it all started. From this moment on, it becomes clear that eden* is basically a slice-of-life story, wearing more attractive clothes. I'm not a big fan of SOL at the best of times, but I can usually tolerate such games if there is something more substantial going on. As I mentioned previously, this is a personal growth story of two people, the story of self discovery and the discovery of the world, but it's all ruined by insipid writing, that manages to be both supremely melodramatic and very bland at the same time. The author just talks and talks ad infinitum, but barely says anything meaningful. I would love to blame it on the translator, but I don't think that's the case here. Simply put, eden* needed an editor on the Japanese side... badly.
As a commander you have those who do the shooting for you.
Back in the day, when NNL published the English translation of "Wind", they proudly claimed that they cut out about 20% of the text for better flow. I was outraged, but now I think I understand them. If the writing of "Wind" was anything like the eden*, the cuts were entirely justified. Frankly, eden* could be trimmed by 20% and, I bet, no one would complain - on the contrary, the story could only improve. The worst thing - the boredom that sets while reading eden* prevented me from experiencing any emotional response, which is quite tragic, as the author obviously intended for us to be deeply affected by this story.

Sigh. Now that I finished that rant and got my displeasure out of my system, let's talk about two versions of eden* available to the public. First, there is the original all-ages release (rated M by ESRB for... I honestly don't know what. It's a PG-13 game if I ever saw one.), and then there is the so called PLUS+MOSAIC, which was released in Japan as an append disc, introducing adult scenes into the game, and got a standalone release in the West. Now take a wild guess at which version did I play. Come on, I'll give you three chances to get it right. :-)
Knife fight is a foreplay for Lavie.
PLUS+MOSAIC version of the game is quite innovative in its approach and does almost everything right while preserving the integrity of the main game. First of all, the changes to the core game are minimal and, I would even say, needed. It adds a bit more blood to the violent scenes (though few of those are there) and removes the bikini from Maya, when she's swimming in the lake, though all the important bits are still strategically covered. The actual sex scenes are added as a non-canon bonus, and are unlocked after finishing the main game. That is a very good strategy, as I feel that the game really didn't need sex to break the immersion even more. There are four H-scenes in total, one for each of the lady characters present in the game. They are completely vanilla and not really erotic at all, but they might be appreciated by those who have a fetish for virginal cute girls. Admittedly, there was one scene, which made me laugh out loud, and that was Lavie removing the entire arsenal from her panties, before having sex with Ryou, but that was mostly the complete absurd of the scene that entertained me.
She's a natural voyeur.
Before I forget, there is one more thing to mention. 'minori' has always been very adamant about preserving the mosaic censorship on their Western releases. While EF got its mosaics somewhat reduced, the censorship in eden* is exactly the same as in the original Japanese version. That is apparently a deal-breaker for some people, but is actually one of the things I don't care about, thus it's not really a drawback to me. Though the oldschool invisible penises during blowjob scenes did surprise me in an unpleasant way. I though that this kind of censorship got abandoned circa '95...

To sum up, eden* feels like a concept game to me. The producers had a decent idea, but had no strategy what to do with it and we got this final result. There is a potential for a good game buried somewhere deep, but someone would have to go through the script with a red pen, before that potential can be manifested. The scenario author Kagami Yuu writes like Anne Rice of Japan, and just like her he needs an editor... yesterday. I'm sure this will be an unpopular opinion among those who read this piece, but I cannot consider eden* a good game in any sense of the word.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site (not accessible in the West)
Official English site
English minori site (in partnership with MG)
English demo (MangaGamer version)
NNL site (now only displays a farewell message)

Final Verdict: 51 %


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