Bunka no Kenkyū -Revival of Queen Leyak- Review

Title: Bunka no Kenkyū -Revival of Queen Leyak-
Alias: 文化の研究
Release date: 2017-12-01
Developer: BnK Team
Publisher: Devgru-P

Kickstarter is a time tried funding method for various struggling visual novel creators to collect money for their development or translation endeavours. Frequently Kickstarter campaigns end up without any fanfare, with the release of the project to better or worse acclaim. Sometimes, though, they devolve into, let's use a scientific term here, a shitshow. Missed deadlines, broken promises, wasted money... This can be entertaining to the casual observer. However, I consider those campaigns that end with a whimper to be even worse - they simply disappear without nary a farewell. And the developers of a game we'll shortly be talking about, pulled exactly that kind of Houdini-like disappearing act, but not before releasing at least a part of the promise game.

"Bunka no Kenkyū" had a pretty intriguing premise for an English language visual novel project. Set in the island of Bali, it would be a supernatural mystery and romance story. It centers around a Japanese student Tetsuo Kobayashi who, along with his sister Ai and father Ryuji moved to Indonesia due to Ryuji's work. Upon attending the international school near his new home, Tetsuo quickly finds common ground with a few students: gentle Indonesian girl Ida, fiery Australian Sophie, and two other Japanese students, Osamu and Kyoko.
Tetsuo is big about telling the truth... at the worst possible time.
The developers had promised the game will consist of three acts, but completely vanished of the face of the Earth after only releasing two of them. So, that's what I'll be reviewing - the two available acts, even though it makes it hard to be objective, when you are annoyed the story will never be finished.

The visual novel actually does quite a few things right from the very beginning. The game is set in a pretty exotic location, which not many westerners are familiar with. Even my own knowledge about Indonesia mostly comes from the movie "Lady Terminator" :-D It deals with Indonesian mythology, and pays dues to the leyak, a mysterious creature in the local folklore; and I do have to say I have a love of various cryptid stories from around the world. Though frankly, leyak is not that unknown to the Westerners - even if you don't know it by that specific name, a tale of a woman who can detach her head at night and fly around trailing internal organs, while looking for a pray to suck blood from is ubiquitous to the whole South East Asian region. The creature is known by various names in different countries, though the best known one is probably Penanggalan, which comes from Malaysia. Leyak, under its many names, has featured in a multitude of movies, the most famous of which is probably "Mystics in Bali", incidentally directed by the same director as "Lady Terminator"....
At least Indonesians are actually speaking Indonesian.
While I usually frown at the OELVNs giving the protagonist's role to a Japanese person in order to get points from the weeaboo market, this time it works, as Tetsuo, being unfamiliar with Indonesia in general and Bali in particular, is someone we can learn things together with. Making the protagonist local, would have resulted in the dreaded "as you know" during the infodump sessions, while Tetsuo has an excuse to be ignorant. This doesn't always work, as the story relies heavily on the Indonesian folklore, which is thrown at us at an advanced speed. I frequently felt lost what the characters were talking about, and feel that creating some sort of codex within the game where we could have checked various terms and names would have greatly helped for the readers.

The very beginning is pretty tense and atmospheric. We start in medias res with our protagonist and his friends hiking through a dark and oppressive forest. After some conversing, it becomes clear they are hunting for a Queen Leyak Necronomicon, though we are still unsure about whys, hows and other essentials. But we have to postpone various speculations, as the group is suddenly attacked and... Tetsuo awakens in a car just after arriving in Bali. Was that a dream? A vision? A time loop? Hard to tell, as Tetsuo clearly remembers his "dream", and a wound on his arm corresponds to the one he remembers incurring in the forest. Let's say at that point I was intrigued.
Battle couple.
Tetsuo's father is busy with his work, though at the moment we are not sure what the work is. But that's okay, as he and his sister are capable of taking care of themselves, and Ryuji even hired a chauffeur to drive the kids around.

Ai is Tetsuo's younger sister, and they seem to have great relationship. Even though she's younger, Ai is really mature, and even protective of her brother. I found their interactions pretty realistic and down to Earth. And no, she is not a romanceable character. Pull your heads out of the gutter, perverts! This is not that kind of game. In fact, BnK has no adult content at all, and was labeled by the developers as a 16+ game, mostly for violence.
Cast iron logic.
Though sooth be told, there are romance options in the VN.... Or were supposed to be. Let me explain. Anything romantic is pretty nonexistent or at most extremely muted in the two completed chapters. There were supposed to be romance options for Ida and Kyoko (and Sophie, after the stretch goal on KS was reached), but the current game has nothing of the sort. There are choices that obviously try to pull you toward one of the aforementioned girls, but only end up in a few different scenes. Nowhere does Tetsuo show any sort of burgeoning romantic feelings for any of the girls, and only shows a little bit of a crush for Ida, regardless of which "route" you are trying to currently follow.

Maybe I should provide some details regarding the girls. Ida Ayu is an Indonesian girl and a member of the Culture Research Club (CRC). The club is in danger of being shut down if it doesn't get any more new members, and Ida asks Tetsuo to join, and possibly find someone else that would join together. It's a pretty cliche premise that has been seen in a million visual novels before, but it kinda works here, as it's not the main focus, or rather it's only the focus of the first act... Oh, wait, that's half of the existing game... My bad!
A badge of honour.
Kyoko Nakamura is a fiery redhead, who claims to be Tetsuo's childhood friend, though he doesn't remember her at all. Yes, we have found cliche No. 2. She used to be a member of the CRC, but quit some time ago. Otherwise, Kyoko is a pretty bland character with little personality. In fact, out of the three supposed romantic interests she is the least explored one.

Sophie Aelfwine (does that sound like an Aussie surname to you?) is the current chief of the CRC, though she is losing faith that the club will survive. She certainly has much more of a personality than Kyoko, despite being outwardly quite a cold person. That said, her speak pattern is the most laughably cliche attempt at mimicking how an Australian sounds by someone who probably has never heard a real Aussie speak. It seems the writer has made a bet with himself how many "mates" and "sheilas" he'll be able to stuff into the script before it became ridiculous. I don't know who won, but poor Sophie definitely lost....
There are way too many coincidences in this game.
And so, Act 1 mostly concerns itself with preserving the Culture Research Club and strengthening the bonds between the aforementioned characters, and a few more I haven't mentioned yet. It is kinda a breather episode after the intense prologue. The characters are not particularly deep, and the plot is following a well trodden path walked by other VNs before, but it was... nice. The character interactions are surprisingly realistic and not exaggerated, like many VNs are wont to do. At the some time we do have an undercurrent of dark workings. Tetsuo tries to find out more about his "dream", but the memories of it become more and more dim, and after a good night's sleep he completely forgets about the incident.
This is where we also start to see the writer's shortcomings. The way Tetsuo and the others react to the possibility of supernatural forces is very matter of fact. Neither Tetsuo nor others seem to be particularly surprised about magic possibly existing, which I actually liked. I always find the denial phase to be the most annoying in any type of fiction. However, he flip-flops between believing and disbelieving at the drop of the hat and without any rhyme of reason. One moment he says "Leyaks, they exist? Cool. Where I could find them?" and only a few moments later he would be "Of course these are not leyaks. Magic is not real." Make up your mind, Tetsuo!
Warning out of the blue.
But that's only a minor quibble, because the writing completely falls apart in Act 2. While Act 1 was pretty well paced, Act 2 says "Nah, let's bull-rush this", and the plot starts moving at a breakneck speed without any breathers. Suddenly the CRC is investigating mysterious murders, finding dead bodies, and fighting against a cult of leyak worshipers. Oh, and the author obviously couldn't be bothered to spend any effort on actual quality writing (and he's supposed to be some award winning Indonesian novelist). so he's started to do asspulls galore. The moment the CRC investigation needs some evidence or documentation, it becomes clear that one of the members already have that, and it's all handwaved with "Oh, a friend of a friend gave me this/told me this". Because, by God, everyone knows they couldn't have obtained the evidence any other way, and the whole plot would stop.

So, from this moment it's asspull after asspull, with everyone acting really stupid, like engaging a cult of leyak worshipers and an actual leyak while armed with sticks. Oh, and of course they win, because it couldn't be otherwise. I dare you to guess how the main villain of Act 2 is defeated... Yes, the big bad leyak is knocked out by being bumped on the head with a stick... I have also mentioned that the author is Indonesian, and it's clear from the writing that the VN was not authored by a native English speaker. The first act was quite well edited, so while I've seen some mistakes, they weren't especially prominent. The second acts seems to have completely eschewed the editing, and the mistakes a numerous.
Probably the only genuine moment of affection in the VN.
And the writing is not the only thing that falls apart during Act 2, as programming suffers too. Act 2 crashes... constantly. It's never been fixed, because the devs vanished immediately after publishing the second part. You can actually complete the chapter by pressing "Ignore" every time an error appears, though by the end you'll be pressing this button a lot. And than the game ends. On a cliffhanger. No resolution, no romance, even though the choices lead that way, and more mysteries left hanging in the air than could be possibly wrapped up in a single chapter, even if the devs suddenly published it.

Let's talk about more pleasant things than inconsistent plotting and broken scripts. The games graphics are inoffensive. That's almost a compliment here, because I cannot muster a stronger word than "inoffensive". The backgrounds are quite bland and won't win any awards. The character sprites are quite good looking, though I have to point toward a fact that they look pretty blurry when they are zoomed-in, which happens a lot. After extracting the game assets, I saw that the character sprites are of a much higher resolution than the other game assets, so I'm unsure where the blurriness comes from, and have to assume there is something wrong with coding. On the topic of coding, all of the other internal graphical assets are in the resolution of 1280x720, but the game is programmed to display in 1280x719. Somehow the game managed to lose a pixel! I also conjecture the blurriness has something to do with the resolution of the assets not aligning with the display resolution... As if this game wasn't a shitshow already...
Wait! Back up! You ride a motorcycle!?
Still, "Bunka no Kenkyū" had potential. The first Act shows that it could have been a nice if somewhat cliche VN with some mystery and horror aspects. If only the plot wasn't rushed like the craziest Bollywood movie, if the devs managed the pacing better and took time to develop the characters, and actually tried to make a proper investigative story. If only the programmer didn't completely drop the ball. If only the devs didn't disappear into the Hades domain. That's a lot of "if only"... If only it wouldn't be hard to rate a game that could have been good, but now is just an unfinished mess...

Links of Interest

Final Verdict: 41%


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