Just to be clear, this review will be mostly spoiler free. I say mostly because whilst I have no intention of ruining the narrative, it's hard to not discuss these details when dealing with visual novels. The story makes up most of the experience and so I kind of have to ruin a few things for you to know if this is worth your time. At the very least though, I can promise there won't be any major spoilers to see here,
Bad Apple Wars is available now for $39.99, £39.99 or you regional equivalent from the PlayStation Store
Have you ever watched Angel Beats? I ask because within twenty minutes of playing Bad Apple Wars I got a serious Angel Beats like vibe off of it. You are introduced as Rinka, a high school girl who is tragically killed and sent to a strange afterlife. Not heaven or hell but rather a world of conformity and lack of freedom. Students are given two choices. Obey the world's rules to fit in at the cost of their very individuality or rise up against the set system in hope of reaching a greater goal. The former are called Good Apples and the latter Bad Apples. The side you pick affects little in story components but rather just who you are able to romance or befriend.
This choice can feel a little arbitrary or even regretful though as I found out on my second run through where I chose the Good Apples instead. Long story short, that side is worse. The problem with this is that the game doesn't really do a good enough job of making it clear what you've got to gain from picking either side. You only get brief glances of the Bad Apples and the Good Apples are just unlikable as a whole. Without doubt this is a result of the simplification of how story arcs and flag triggers work. Most visual novels are actually pretty complicated in this regard but Bad Apple Wars feels very watered down and straight to the point. One one hand, this probably makes it a very good visual novel for newbies to play who aren't familiar with the genre yet. However, the primary market, experienced otome and visual novel players may feel they are getting a second rate experience compared to other options.
There were occasions where I actually felt I was being punished for going down a certain character's story arc. This is because there is a clear bias from the developer's point of view that hints that 'Route A' is the way to go and 'Route B' is a waste of your time. Seriously, whilst some routes are well fleshed out, interesting stories that explore motives and backstories, others just feel unnecessary and thrown in to make numbers. These inconsistencies make it very hard to recommend from a solely narrative point of view. Honestly, how much you enjoy the stories may tie closely to how much you like the characters. I could very well say that about any game but it feels especially relevant here as the good arcs are carried by their respective focus character.
I'll start with the lead, Rinka. Our heroine can best be described as permanently confused and lost as she tries to understand who she is or, most of the time, what she can do. There's a lot of lines of monologue where she reminds you, as the player, that she's kind of useless and has no great power. Obviously, this isn't true because if it was you wouldn't be playing as her. This can be frustrating because for every line stating she's useless, you know full well she really isn't. In a way it feels the devs went for both the damsel in distress who needs a handsome prince to sweep you off your feet and the powerful heroine who can help everyone all in one. I would much rather have just had a realistic lead who has her problems but can also accept her strengths where appropriate. To be fair though she's not the main reason you'd be playing this game. That honour would go to our romance options.
You're lucky enough to get to pick from a whole array of handsome boys. My favourite of the main routes by far is Alma who is both a very likable guy and falls on the right side of that developer bias I spoke about earlier. His arc is really good. I was disappointed to see how little of the cast actually get dedicated stories with the Bad Apple side having three primary plot lines and the Good Apple side just two. Many of the most interesting characters are forced into support roles. Whilst not necessarily badly done, the handling of ' narrative leaves a lot of missed potential.
When I jump into a visual novel I do not expect a developed gameplay experience. That's not why I'm here. I want a good story, interesting characters and an array of choices to explore. Bad Apple Wars kind of delivers on two of those and completely butchers the other one. Choices are none existent outside of the main side pick I've already mentioned. You don't get to interact with characters as you might expect via answering questions or even picking speech options. You just sit there, read the screen and press x a lot. I suppose it really is a visual novel in the most literal sense since its interactivity is borderline none existent. No more so than any other regular book anyway.
Fortunately, I can talk about one mechanic that is very unique and something I've not seen elsewhere. There exists a touch system where during CG art you can use the Vita's touch screen to look into a character's past. You are given feedback on where to press in order to get the best outcome. What is this outcome you are trying to get? To be naked on screen touching one another. That's the simplest way I can put it. This mechanic replaces traditional dialogue choices in determining what path you go down as well as if you get a good or bad ending. It's an interesting idea but I'm not sure it should be the sole factor deciding such fundamental story progression. Perhaps it could have been a nice feature on top of a standard dialogue focused system in order to give you points towards the true ending but on its own it feels convoluted at best. I found myself struggling to understand exactly why I got a good ending or a bad ending, especially when it felt I was doing the exact same thing on both runs. A fun idea but not something I'd advise to keep in the future.
Idea Factory never cease to amaze me with just how beautiful their character designs are. From other otome games including Norn9 and Collar × Malice to the more action focused Neptunia and Mugen Souls, they are all gorgeous. Hyperdimension Neptunia has even gone on to become one of my favourite game franchises of all time and I only got into that originally because I really liked the art. Here's a small secret between you and me. The main reason I requested to review this game was because I saw how breathtaking the art was and that it was an Idea Factory production. I was sold.
Unsurprisingly, it didn't disappoint. Characters feature diverse and fun designs which can appeal to a wide audience of players. We're not just talking main characters either. Side characters like Sanzu and Naraka look fantastic in their own right. This same level of high quality production is present for background art too. If good artwork is a selling point to you, and I know full well it is for a lot of people who play visual novels, then this alone might be the reason to pick up Bad Apple Wars.
This is certainly not a rotten apple but by no means is it golden either. Bad Apple Wars is filled with mediocrity, overly simplistic ideas and so-so character arcs. Many of the more interesting characters are pushed to the side and in terms of gameplay it feels way too limited, even for a visual novel. There's certainly better options on Vita which will cost you far less than the optimistic $39.99 valuation set right now. Even worse is that it manages to approach AAA pricing in the UK at £39.99. Even cheaper than other Vita titles, you could check out some PSP titles, some of which I've mentioned in this very review that blow Bad Apple Wars away. There are some emotional stories and fantastic art but that isn't enough to justify a sale at its current price point. I'd recommend waiting on a sale before checking this out.
|+ Fantastic art, character designs in particular are impressive.||– A little expensive considering the amount of content.|
|+ Some very compelling story lines, can get you emotional at its peak.||– Many of the more interesting characters are forced into support roles.|
|– The touch system is okay but inferior to the usual dialogue driven choice system.|