In terms of theme, Clock Zero Portable is really a unusual otome game. In fact, it’s even kind of weird for a general visual novel. Let me just be blunt, Clock Zero is a sci-fi, post apocolyptic, romantic adventure that also gets into both time travel and the idea of parallel universes. Needless to say, things can get a little complicated, though everything starts out relatively simple. Oh, and there’s a talking bunny keychain and consulting it also has an affect on which endings you can get with which characters. It’s also fairly language-intensive, so you have to know exactly what you’re reading to play.
Nadeshiko is 12 years old and she has issues. It seems like she would have the perfect life. Her family is ridiculously rich. She goes to the fantastic Shuurin Gakuen. She’s also pretty darn smart and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. But, she’s got a bad personality and really only gets along with her childhood friend Riichirou. Oh, and recently she’s started dreaming about a post apocolyptic version of her home town.
Shortly after a new student named Takato Kaidou joins Shuurin, Nadeshiko starts opening up to him and becoming friends. Which is good, but not quite good enough. Her teacher, Akira Kaga, sees that a bunch of his sixth graders all have personality problems and decides to dumb them all in a special after-school class in the hopes that the kids will bond and become better people by doing a little extra work together. So Nadeshiko is thrust into a class with the blunt loner, Riichirou, Madoka, who has a serious brother complex, the delinquent yandere,Tora, the overly-mature and forgetful Shuuya and the super hyper Nakaba, who seems to pretty much mainly be there because his brother Madoka is and Madoka won’t do anything without him. They don’t get along, until the normal Kaidou decides to join the group. The after-school class then dubs themselves Clock Zero and Kaidou becomes their leader.
Nadeshiko is still having those strange dreams though. While she’s there, she’s able to visit ruined or altered versions of places she’s familiar with and she keeps running into eerily familiar 20-something men known as King, Wanderer, Bishop, Philosopher and Traitor. She wonders who they are and why she’s able to interact with them. Most striking is, why does she look like she’s over 20 years old when she looks in a mirror?
While the idea of strange serial dreaming does seem odd, Nadeshiko gets on with her life pretty well. She starts doing coursework in the class and making friends with the other students. It seems like the Clock Zero group is working, when Nadeshiko suddenly starts seeing the Wanderer and the other men from the future in her school.
I’m sure you can gather from that synopsis that Clock Zero Portable is quite complicated. You’re dealing with lots of characters and issues, not to mention coursework. Fortunately, Idea Factory did include a few features to make things easier for the player. Since unknown terms can come up quite frequently in conversations, the player can press down on the D-pad when one of these words or phrases comes up to find out what it means. The menu also contains a rather comprehensive profile collection where you can see immediate information for each character encountered, as well as see how well Nadeshiko is getting along with the five obtainable guys.
This is good, because Clock Zero Portable‘s charm comes from its unusual nature and storyline. It is very well written and geniunely interesting. A few of the twists aren’t incredibly surprising, but there are a few unexpected surprises scattered throughout various characters’ routes. It’s also quite interesting to see how the two time periods tie together and I liked the assortment of endings available for each character. The only qualm I have is that some of the dialogue for the "present" time comes across a bit sappy and unrealistic. I mean, these are 12 year old kids. I honestly doubt they’ll be declaring their love and devotion. Still, if you suspend disbelief and just get into it, it’s easy to forget and just enjoy the ride. In fact, you’ll probably feel compelled to play at least twice, as each of the five routes reveals a bit more about both the present and future worlds and you need more than one perspective to truly understand everything. Not to mention, the characters are all just that interesting.
Of course, with all this focus on the story I’ve completely neglected the talking bunny keychain. His name is Rain, and he was a gift to Nadeshiko from her Clock Zero club teacher. Rain is helpful in that he can just be a friendly little dude to talk to or he can help Nadeshiko with her coursework. The thing is, talking to Rain changes his colors and the possible endings you can get for each character. If you talk to him a lot, he’ll turn black. If you don’t talk to him a lot, he’ll stay white. Two characters’ good endings require Rain to be black and three characters’ good endings require Rain to be white. I don’t want to mention who, as it’d be spoilers, but once you start playing and see the factions in the future world, it’s pretty easy to see who does or doesn’t want Nadeshiko talking to the rabbit.
As I mentioned earlier, Clock Zero Portable can be a little import-unfriendly because it’s there’s so much text. With all the twists and turns, you really need to know what you’re reading. On top of that, Nadeshiko’s 12 year old self has quizzes to take and you have to have the right answers to keep doing well. I’m not going to lie to you, there’s a good chance you’ll get a bad ending the first time you play. Don’t worry. It happened to me the first time through, as I was being pretty casual while playing and ignoring Rain’s color. One minute Nadeshiko’s in a library with Shuuya and a "mysterious redhead man," then next I’m on the title screen thinking, "What the hell?" If you need help, there’s a great Japanese website with all of the quiz answers so you don’t have to consult Rain and there’s a Clock Zero wiki that can help you earn each ending. Just be glad you’re not playing the PS2 version, as you actually had to input kanja for the quiz answers!
The PSP version also ends up being the premier version of Clock Zero. It includes all the goodness of the original game, only with a data install option, the ability to take screenshots, no kanji input for quizzes, an extra lesson in the main story and Another Epilogue storylines for each guy’s good endings. Yes, endings is supposed to be plural there. Each obtainable guy has two good endings. I haven’t played the original PS2 entry, but from what I’ve read there’s only one new CG. Still, there are plenty returning CGs and they’re all so beautiful that it doesn’t really matter. Plus, the existing CGs now have commentary if you view them from the gallery.
Clock Zero Portable is definitely unique among the various Idea Factory otome games. Though really, it’s unique for any otome game in general. It has a deep story with twists, turns and secrets that can only be completely understood if someone is willing to go through the entire adventure one or two times, preferrably going for Takato’s route the second go around to learn the truth behind Nadeshiko’s life in the present and dreams of the future. The fact that it is so gorgeous and engaging helps make that easier, as it won’t feel like a chore when going through the early shared storyline and classes while getting to the point where stories diverge. In fact, I think it’s the sort of otome visual novel that would do well if it were released overseas, due to its sci-fi tendencies and depth. Those qualities would also make it an idea candidate for people who normally wouldn’t play otome games, as the mysteries in the present and future may help those players overlook the brief sappy moments.
Food for Thought:
1. Nagaoka is responsible for the illustrations. They’re all very nicely done, and the future versions of the characters actually look like they’d fit in well in a JRPG.
2. The six main voice actors are: Daisuke Namikawa (Takato), Tomoaki Maeno (Riichirou), Noriaki Sugiyama (Toranosuke), Akira Ishida (Shuuya), Kousuke Toriumi (Madoka) and Shou Sudou (Nakaba).
3. You can have widescreen or standard views. (Standard adds borders around each scene.) This can be toggled by pressing the X button to take a screenshot, then pressing the L button.
4. You can take screenshots while playing by pressing the X button, then the circle or square button.
5. Takato’s route is locked the first time through, because his contains the most spoilers. So you’ll have to go for and get one of the other guys first.