Every once in a while, you come across a visual novel that does something that makes it stand out. Maybe the art is incredible. Perhaps it tells a new sort of story. In the case of Worldend Syndrome, we have a great game that does its best to defy expectations. It has all of these little touches and mechanics that build in certain ways, getting you to expect specific things from the adventure, before completely twisting things around and altering your perspective. It’s the sort of title where going through every route isn’t optional. There are all of these perspectives and details to take in and appreciate, leading to a richer experience.
Worldend Syndrome begins as a lazy, slice of life sort of game. Our avatar is a young man who is moving to a small town called Mihate. He’s trying to get away from his old life and start anew. Fortunately, his family has always had a home there. On the way there, he meets a journalist talking about how the place is known for a legend about Yomibito, dead that return every 100 years and eventually go nuts, killing and eating people, in an attempt to return to actual life and regain their memories. How valid is it? Who can say? But this young man is invited by his homeroom teacher to join her Mystery Club that explores such supernatural legends and finds himself interacting with five young women who are interested in him and might help him find a fresh start.
Someone might approach Worldend Syndrome not knowing what to expect. Some of the early screenshots used to promote it were CGs showing the fanservice typical of a visual novel with dating sim elements, as it has the heroines in swimsuits, bent over, or in somewhat prone positions. It hinted at the twists to come, by suggesting it was a mystery set in a small town called Mihate, where the protagonist is a young man who transfers to the school. It suggests there is an urban legend about Yomibito, the dead, rising, returning, and rampaging. But all of these don’t come close to suggesting what Worldend Syndrome is capable of and does.
It all kicks in on a person’s first playthrough. Someone could come in to Worldend Syndrome, invest a few hours, and find themselves going through what seems to be a typical visual novel. If they press pause, they might see a curious Mission section that is mostly empty. A passerby will recommend gathering all of the Mihate brochures, but it seems you can get only one. Only a handful of decisions are available to you, and it seems like the responses don’t have any major effect on your course. That is, until the last choice of the first run. Spoilers aside, it comes across as an odd moment, one that leads into a shock that sets up something more.
Once someone gets past that and starts again, the real Worldend Syndrome begins. People get a chance to really explore Mihate town, complete with a map that offers places to visit and actual additional missions to fulfill for the different people you meet. You get more time to appreciate the little details around you, like how pinwheels are placed around town in an attempt to ward off the Yomibito that could be revived after 100 years. Said pinwheels actually move, by the way. This isn’t just a game that is stuffed with lore that can be explored in a glossary or heroines that grow to show multiple sides of themselves. The art is incredible. Yuki Kato, the artist behind BlazBlue, did all of the character designs, and each character has different outfits, facial expressions, and poses that show them head on, from the side, and from behind. It is all incredibly dynamic.
But the best part comes from the details that appear as you play. Each heroine feels like she might belong to a certain trope. Maimi, for example, can seem like a girl next door sort of young woman who also has some tsundere elements, but has more going on with her life than you might expect. Saya seems like a cultured young lady or princess with a bit of haughtiness, but there is a kindness there you might not expect. Miu comes across as enigmatic and emotionless, but she too is far from some take on, say, Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Rei Ayanami. Each one’s route blossoms into something more, challenging you when it comes to what sort of genre Worldend Syndrome might fall into. Also, each route pushes you forward to that true ending, the one that provides answers about the events happening in Mihate and this Yomibito superstition.
Worldend Syndrome always makes you wonder if there is something more. Unlike some games, which might have a plothole or two, this one delivers. It backs up its storylines. It gives you all sorts of answers and insights into the town and its citizens. By the time you hit the true ending, the only questions you might have left is if a sequel is coming and how long you will have to wait before it arrives.
Worldend Syndrome is available for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.