Let’s start by referencing a meme. The meme in question is one I find both hilarious and relatable. Being college-educated, I’ve come to grips with my insatiable desire to look under the surface of everything. What does it mean when this character does this? Why was the thing I’m indulging in created? What is the message beneath it all? My curiosity has made things fairly convoluted for a number of years, and while I am resolute in my theories, there are many who would likely state that I’m looking for nothing. Such is the fate of Our Lovely Escape, as its vaguely dark synopsis led me to believe there was something more to it.
This review will have a bit of a dual-threat quality to it, detailing my experiences before and after my incessant theorizing. A seemingly benign visual novel, accompanied by images of a cute woman licking the dull edge of a knife, had me intrigued from the get-go. Diving into it was as much a self-made mental puzzle as it was a generally simple story of chance encounters. Our Lovely Escape, even from title alone, is still something of a mystery to me. And really, is it the ending or the journey along the way that counts? Perhaps this game wishes it could say either.
Our Lovely Escape is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
What has become par for the course for visual novels is the importance of its writing. If a visual novel does not provide an enthralling story or characters, it’s probably not worth playing, though exceptions do exist. Doki Doki Literature Club! has become a popular foothold in the realm of visual novels that eerily balances wholesome and unsettling tones. With its popularity, others are bound to be compared to it by extension, whether warranted or not. Our Lovely Escape and its casually dark themes makes it prime for Steam to recommend it by that measure alone—outwardly pure, inwardly sinister. But don’t let this paragraph influence much; Our Lovely Escape is not the dark beast DDLC! is.
The setting here is as simplistic as its synopsis makes it out to be. You play as a male/female worker in an otome-based game studio, lingering upon the walls of monotony in your daily life. As your experience grows, so does your relationship with three specific women: Lissa, Mayu, and Alexis. The player’s primary goal, granted it isn’t to simply experience what life hands you, is to find happiness with either of these three candidates. The catch? They’re all a little weird. Not cute and charming weird, but creepy weird. Our Lovely Escape employs some of the most intentionally-dark characters I’ve seen outside a horror visual novel. Just how far it goes depends on the choices you make.
Which brings the focus back to the “Before and after” scenario. An hour into my time with Our Lovely Escape, I was wholly intrigued. Almost immediately, the player is met with hostility between characters, with one borderline scarring the other with how crushing her ruthless authority gets. An immediate gripping point of contention and underlying tension is a great way to provoke early interest, and the behavior of these characters rarely lets up. To some degree, the player can control just how chaotic these isolated situations are with the numerous choices they can make throughout the course of a single run. Their choices also affect the judgment of the characters they’re interacting with. Almost in a choose-your-own-adventure fashion, one can intentionally (or oppositely) traverse how dark Our Lovely Escape can be.
So I wondered, “What is the intention behind these bouts of darkness?” Could the studio be trying to satirize the archetypal personality sets that many characters in visual novels employ to generate niche appeal by having them push those qualities to the extreme? Keeping spoilers to a minimum, I believed this was the case after my very first ending, which was clearly a bad one. From my knowledge, one can achieve five(?) endings with each woman, with one being the “good end” and the rest ranging from gloomy to horrific. It was the realization of said “good ends” that my theory began to fall apart. I believed Our Lovely Escape and its darkness were a ploy to poke fun at the cliché. I was convinced that every end would be a bad end. But the aftermath shows it might just be an added niche. Hard to say.
To that end, it could also be a decision to make these characters despicable to test the boundaries of the audience. What is a general visual novel character’s darkest secret? That they resent someone for something that cannot be undone? That they’re more sexually active than perceived? These examples are child’s play compared to what these women are capable of. Reine Works makes little attempt to hide it after a certain point, too; for some, it’s outright. Let it be known that I cannot stand Alexis as a character. Accidentally stumbling upon her route first, I loathed her play-first-work-later attitude and was merely along for the ride. Perhaps that’s what Our Lovely Escape wanted, for me to have my dark thoughts mold with their own. Is the cute and cuddly exterior and the exclusivity of romantic connection worth a disgusting persona?
With a little over four hours played, it’s come to pass that I’m not sure it means anything. It’s self-aware to some extent; references to the developer’s name and works are plastered occasionally throughout the game. It even speaks upon the struggles of answering e-mails, fixing bugs, reception, and sales, mirroring reality very closely. However, Our Lovely Escape doesn’t seem to do enough with its dark themes to say anything more than what others already have. Almost random in their execution, the player’s job is mostly to quell them at their best. It’s more akin to playing a survival game than a dating sim, which could cause intrigue, but it leaves it with an apathetic, almost cynical atmosphere. Finishing up every “good” end, I was never good. The feeling most prevalent was confusion, spiced with disappointment and just a dash of bewildered amusement.
As visual novels go, Our Lovely Escape does little to distinguish itself from the click-heavy template of others. This is not necessarily an issue, though it may detract from more hardcore players wanting something more. Aside from one instance where the player organizes e-mails for Lissa, the most one is able to gain interaction from is making choices. Said choices, as previously noted, determine how one fares with the game. Considering the circumstances surrounding the mental state of these characters, I feel that the “correct” choices are ones that make sense within the context of their lives. My moral judgment, however, made it difficult to properly work through their desires. Mayu’s route was the easiest to get a “good” end for, while the other two took a few attempts.
Ironically discussed within the game (it’s almost like the development studio knew what would plague their game upon its release), Our Lovely Escape has some bugs to it that, while not game-breaking, make things a tad distracting. Multiple times upon completing a route (especially good ends), the credit sequence wouldn’t properly show. Booting the game up for the first time, Steam rewarded me with an achievement stating that I unlocked every image in the gallery—my gallery had nothing. Occasionally, the title screen wouldn’t respond for about five seconds, either. Our Lovely Escape is not a bug-free game, and who knows what dark crevices may be in need of filling? I was fortunate not to encounter anything substantial, though I can’t say for certain others won’t.
Graphics & Audio
Here’s the part of the review where I heap praise until my fingers bleed. Words can hardly do it justice, but Our Lovely Escape has a gorgeous outer exterior. The level of detail to the characters, backgrounds, and UI all create a level of professionalism that holds true to the novel’s “Lovely” title. Experience in the industry is notable, as well as the diversity in artistry more notable by comparing it to the studio’s other works. Even if the characters are dark and scary, the women of Our Lovely Escape have enough of a sheen to last the journey. Attributed to my many theories on the novel’s existence, it might just be another trap. Even so, I occasionally got carried away admiring such beautiful traps… that statement may not mean what I want it to.
What isn’t as admirable is the novel’s soundtrack choice. In particular (though volume settings are available), some of the tracks that play in various situations are immensely loud. Some of the situations that occur that are definitely not happy-go-lucky are often accompanied by happy-go-lucky music. One could say it’s ironic, but creepier situations are accompanied by eerie scores, so the studio doesn’t seem totally committed to that framing. Tonal clashing aside, there’s just not a lot of particularly catchy tunes within the game. More general than otherwise, it does little to affect the overall experience—simultaneously good and bad. Admittedly, though, Our Lovely Escape‘s dark moments are appropriately scored and tranquil-busters.