By Ethan . March 9, 2014 . 11:00am
World End Economica Episode One is a visual novel set to release soon on Steam. It’s pretty unique within the genre—there’s a strong focus on the stock market as a platform for drama, and the sci-fi setting is well described and lingers in the imagination. There’s also a fairly standard anime-style melodrama through line in which the impulsive teenage protagonist gets to know and slowly builds a relationship with a shy but pretty girl around his own age.
To clarify, this is a visual novel and not a dating-sim. Oftentimes, people looking at this genre from the outside in don’t differentiate so I’ll break it down. There are zero choices available to the player through this experience, there is only one romantic relationship in play, and a hefty percentage of the experience concerns itself with plot threads entirely unrelated to the central romance. So this isn’t a relationship simulator or porn game that provides a lineup of women for the player to pursue, it’s the first third of a story that deserves to be judged the same as any other story. There is no nudity or description of nudity whatsoever.
I’ve started with a basic breakdown of what World End Economica is and is not… but I’ve got to drop the hammer now. I hate this game.
The protagonist is a problem. He is selfish, impulsive, childish (all the more so because of his obsession with not appearing so), and shockingly greedy. I recognize that the idea is that the main character starts his character arc in a bad place and learns to become a better person through the course of the story—and that’s okay. But ideally, the protagonist is someone you can root for to become that better person, and I didn’t have that experience. Instead, I rooted for every other character to wash his or her hands of him and leave him homeless by the side of the road.
But no. He’s the protagonist, so instead, other characters reveal their weaknesses to him or praise him as “incredibly mature” or “definitely a good person on the inside”. He isn’t! I am privy to his thoughts and I know he isn’t! Indeed, I was even privy to his thoughts when a girl he attacked was unable to move and he contemplated killing her, stripping her naked, and taking pictures. Don’t worry, it’s not like that raised red flags or anything.
Unfortunately, the protagonist is not the only thing I took issue with. See, the main character is a stock trader. Much of the game revolves around his exploits making and losing money on his computer, and there’s actually some surprisingly accurate description of stock market fundamentals. The only bit where the game horribly breaks from economic reality is in how people interact with the market, but that’s totally permissible. This is the future, it would be silly if we assumed that people interfaced with the stock market the same ways they do now.
Description is the only way the game presents the market, though. Over and over, the game cuts to a black screen to run a few paragraphs of dialogue describing short selling or market averages. This is not a good way to impart this information! It’s a good thing that understanding stock manipulation ends up being totally unnecessary to the story, because nobody without background knowledge in the subject matter is actually going to digest any of what the game is trying to say.
What’s especially dumb is that this is a visual novel, and visuals would have made all the dry discussion of the day’s trading infinitely easier to digest. I happen to be an economics student so I already knew everything the game was teaching and even I got lost sometimes. Text dump over a black screen one dialogue box at a time is possibly the worst way to handle a lot of what this game tries to tackle. Even a simple little graph showing the hero’s ongoing success or failure relative to the market and his goals would have done so much to make the action relatable.
Okay, so I couldn’t get into the relationship side of the story because the main character is a virtueless leech on society and I couldn’t get into the economic action because the way the game presents that reduces it to stock market-themed noise to click through. That accounts for the vast majority of the game content, but on the bright side, at least the setting is cool. The few occasions the game got into the development and politics of the lunar city where everything is set were easily the high points.
Too bad the art didn’t follow up. Most of the background stills just kind of look like normal streets on Earth. Descriptions of a city built into craters and canyons, of low gravity locomotion and of an urban jewel that’s the envy of every city on earth apparently captured my imagination more than anyone on the art team.
I could go on, but I feel like the point has been made. I didn’t enjoy playing World End Economica. There are better stories about the stock market, there are better stories about slowly falling in love with a shy teenage girl, and there are way better stories about life and society beyond Earth.
Food for thought:
1. Don’t worry. The game lacks visuals reflecting key events in the marketplace around which the narrative revolved, and it drops the ball showing the player the diversity and otherworldly construction described so vividly in the text, but there’s a special still for that one time the teenage girl walks into the living room wearing her underwear!
2. It took me about six and a half hours to complete the game, but I read fairly quickly. Online resources reported playtime to average 7-8 hours.