Usually, for our Visual Novel Theatre series, we highlight one of the best visual novels available. We take our pick of the crème de la crème. We either go for something professionally created by a team of high caliber auteurs, or a freeware project that has proven itself well by garnering a lot of regard through those interested in such things. Today, though, I thought we’d do something a bit different. Rather than picking up on one of those projects that has actual teams, money, or experience behind it, I thought we’d go for a story that’s a little more grassroots. Something put together by an amateur hobbyist with no goals of ever making it as a visual novel rock star. Today, we’ve got a piece from someone who simply had a story they felt needed telling, and that a visual novel was the way to do it.
The VN on our plate today is Yandere-chan, a freeware story by Zero-Q Dimension, also known as Nyodude, also known some-guy-who-did-a-bunch-of-anime-parody-fandubs-a-few-years-back-I-never-heard-of-him-Aether-why-are-you-doing-this-Aether-why? For those of you who are just that specific level of nerdy where you’re actually able to find this page but not nerdy enough to know your niche moe terminology, a Yandere is a term for a character in a work who is and is driven by an obsessive, sometimes stalker-level love for another into insanity and generally violence. So think Kathy Bates from Misery, Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim, Anakin Skywalker from Battlestar Galactica, you get the picture. Mentally unbalanced individuals who are primarily motivated by love for another and often hurt the ones around them because they’ll lash out at anything to get to the one they love. We’ve all dated at least one of these, right? And obviously, that’s the topic of our story here. You play as some geek moving to a new high school, then soon meet yourself a traditional Yandere. Then you do your best to not let her spontaneous, irrational, psychotic love which appears out of nowhere lead her to brutally murdering you and ditching the body someplace you’ll never be found. So, it’s basically an OKCupid simulator. Sounds like fun, right?
So far, we’ve covered either professional productions or amateur works that nonetheless had a lot of time and expertise put into them. Yandere-chan’s not like that. It only has one creator, on his first Visual Novel, who didn’t have the time nor the resources we’ve been seeing from most of the creaters here at Visual Novel Theatre. There are a lot of ways to handle that, when you don’t have quite the production the big players do. Zero-Q Dimension elected to focus on a story of a really small scale. There’s only two real characters, you’ve got one main story event to get through, and the experience as a whole is really quick. I got through it in about 45 minutes my first run, then, thanks to the magic of the skip function, the rest, save one, took about 5 minutes a piece, catching up on all the myriad endings I missed. In fact, I may actually spend more time on reviewing this work than I actually did experiencing it! Let’s try to avoid that. In any case, yeah, this is a remarkably simple visual novel. The author was aiming low for his first attempt in the genre, but he hit that point solidly. There’s not a lot of depth, but for the most part, the story’s not carrying any extra fat. The only elements included are those that need to be there. The visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of flourish, but it carries its bare bones structure well. With a few exceptions, the author composes his minimalist work competently.
As mentioned above, there’s only two characters we’re playing with here. You’ve got your main, he of the user-generated name. He’s a perfectly bland high schooler come to a brand new school. He’s got pretty much the behavior you’d expect, concerned with making friends, his hormones drive his thoughts a bit into the dark side when girls pay attention to him, but never too far, possibly comes from an abusive home, but for the most part, he’s a pretty good kid. At the end of his first day at school, he encounters himself a mysterious young woman, who seems oddly familiar with him…
Here’s the Yandere-chan of the title. Mia, a strident loner at school, she seems to go out of her way to avoid talking to anyone. Yet, she’s really, really happy to open up to you. Extremely so. She claims that the two of you knew each other some time ago, and event you have absolutely no memory of. She is all over you from the word go, which reminds me of my own high school experience. Also reminding me of my own high school experience, she will straight up try to BLOODILY MURDER YOU as soon as there’s the slightest hitch in events. Yeah, as it turns out, Mia’s a loner because she’s a bit touched in the head. Specifically, she’s touched in the head by some crazed psychotic hate-god, because she will lose track of reality and murder you over the smallest thing. Mia’s personality is never consistent over the course of this visual novel. You could call that bad writing. Or it could be deliberate, she’s that way because of her clearly unstable sanity. It is a little striking, though. Through one path, she clearly has no sense of reality and is manically trying to kill you because she believes you’re an imposter sent to hurt her. Through another, she’s cold, remarkably intelligent, and very, very lucid as she attempts murder upon you following a very strongly prepared plan. It’s hard to get a handle on her because of how much her personality varies. The one thing that is consistent is that she is just plain sick.
One thing that really impressed me about this work is that while it’s not very vertically long, it is pretty sizable, horizontally. By that, I mean that while you’ll never spend a lot of time on any individual playthrough, the story has several branches, and every one of them past the first gives you a completely different story after that point. This isn’t one of your lame ‘make your choice now and it will maybe change some numbers two games from now while having no impact on the story’ Mass Effect style choices, every choice beyond the first gives you something completely new to experience. In all, there’s eight endings you can get.
Most of them end like this. Bloody murder of some sort or another. Usually involving scissors. There’s one good ending you can get. It’s not really that good for the people involved, but hey, everyone ends up alive, and that’s better than any other ending. No matter how much the moe fandom may fetishize them, getting involved with murderous crazy ladies doesn’t generally end well. That’s the moral of our story today.
When thinking about how to review this work, the phrase ‘limited, but competent’ came up a lot. That really would describe this whole work pretty well. The plot really just has one point to hit, but it does so well enough. The visuals are perfectly fine, there’s just not a whole lot of them, nor is there much in the way of variation in Mia’s character portraits. The game as a whole is obviously a small, limited project, but it seems comfortable in being that, and hits its low targets solidly without really excelling.
There’s just three main weaknesses, all in writing style, that I felt were apparent enough to be worth pointing out. First, Nyodude could really have used himself an editor, or at least someone to take a look over his text. Typos abound in this work, and there are some words, such as ‘chili’, that it’s really apparent he doesn’t know how to spell. Second, and this is a weakness Yandere-chan shares with a lot of its contemporaries, the Visual Novel has a habit of getting too wordy. There are a few instances where the work will keep going on and on after we already get the point, using several lines to say what really only needed one. And third, the author doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of how court or mental illness really works. It’s not such a big deal, the court scene is quickly brushed over and if you can accept the premise of Yandere-chan, you probably won’t be too bothered by the fact that being a Yandere still isn’t a recognized condition in the DSM-IV, but still, if your suspension of disbelief is fragile, that may be well more than enough to break it.
In closing, I’m not sure if I can give Yandere-chan a recommendation to those who aren’t already a fan of visual novels or the moe fandom. Other visual novels have more of a story to tell, and, speaking as someone who is about as far from moe as you can get, I feel like there were some anime-style calls or features put in there that I was completely lost on. If you’re already into visual novels? It might be worth your time. It’s free, quick, unique, and competent, and may just scratch a quick itch for you.