“Open your mind, relax and float down downstream. This is not a game.” This is how the slogan of Campus Notes: forget me not. should run, given that it’s (a) very light on gameplay, being a visual novel and (b) wonderfully weird in that beautiful way that only games made in Japan can be. Delivered to us by Dogenzaka Lab, a prolific producer of the visual novel (around 20 released in a 12-month period), let’s hope their speed translates to quality products.
Getting all concerns and important stuff out of the way: visual novels are, first and foremost, pieces of software that tell a story visually using drawn illustrations, text, and music; but they, by and large, lack a strong gameplay element that precludes them from being games, unless the VN in question is something like Ace Attorney. A visual novel’s closest next of kin is definitely the novel due to its commitment to storytelling, despite the fact that the genre wouldn’t exist without video games. As such, it would be unfair to critique Campus Notes: forget me not. for poor gameplay and non-existent difficulty when the genre isn’t meant to house any “game” in the first place, and for the fact that you cannot be bad at reading in the same way you can be bad at games. Instead, this review will look at it more like a digital experience, focusing on its narrative, replayability, ease of use, and, of course, if it is worth your money.
Visual novels, aside from the notable exceptions such as Fate/stay night, have an unfortunate association with bad writing and nonsensical set-ups made for sexual gratification, so as I started up Campus Notes, I entered cautiously. However, there’s nothing to worry about, story-wise, as this game boasts a fine narrative that occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. You ‘play’ as Yuta Kiriba, a freshman starting his first day at the University of Tsukuba, where, in a strange case of happenstance, suffers a bizarre case of amnesia with four friends. This amnesia essentially plays out like the movie Groundhog Day, where everyone else’s memory at the university (except for our group of five, known as Bertha’s Knights) gets wiped at the end of every day. What unfolds is a chase to rid ourselves of this curse, with the obligatory romantic elements that are part and parcel of visual novels.
The story is extremely serviceable. The writing team behind it have kept it compelling, as the plot always feels perfectly paced, and the dialogue well-written. It builds up to every plot point perfectly, reaching narrative crescendo to squeeze every last drop of excitement and anticipation out of its audience. Tonally, Campus Notes is zany, employing many surrealist moments and funny non-sequiturs that make the game – in writing, at least – very reminiscent to the television series Scrubs. The story constantly has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, but does profit from serious moments that feel genuinely touching, but because of this, the humour is even sweeter – the writers knew perfectly when to interpose more sobering moments of the story. As such, whatever chosen path you go for turns into a thrill ride of a story, and you’ll be totally engrossed from beginning to end – which, as a visual novel, is all it really needs to do.
You’ll note in the last paragraph that I made reference to a “chosen path” – Campus Notes is not totally bereft of gameplay. The title allows you to select different narrative options, dictating how the story of the game ultimately plays out. As such, the game offers multiple endings, meaning much replayability and more bang for your buck – even if the “buck” in question is a rather steep £8.99 which might put off first-timers. However, if you’re much more used to the genre, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this game.
How does the game work – that is to say, how does one play Campus Notes? forget me not is based on the Ren’Py engine which makes it easy to build and play visual novels. As such, the interface (which is crucial to this kind of game) is clean and easy to understand, using pleasingly chunky graphics for the game’s assorted functions: you can fast forward through text, pause, load, and save; and these are represented in an extremely intuitive way, making the game very easy to pick up and grasp.
Games like these live or die on the strength of their characters, especially as most VNs attempt to manipulate readers into quasi-romantic attachment for attractive characters. Campus Notes is no different, as it offers three attractive female characters that we can get involved with in the course of the story. Without giving too much away (they’re obviously inextricable from the plot), they have three disparate personalities and different attractive assets, which, if you play the game enough, you can look at to your heart’s content in the CG viewer after the game ends. Without spoilers: these characters are great, but the romantic aspect is the weakest part of the story; all you’ll care about is finding out how Bertha’s Knights break free from amnesia. Still, there’s certain value to this…if you’re into this sort of thing.
Aside from being figuratively well-drawn, Campus Notes’ characters are literally well drawn, featuring fantastic illustration. The art direction is sharp and colourful, really bringing the characters to life and enhancing the story beyond its text origins. The only really spotty area of the graphical design comes with the game’s backgrounds, which are odd mosaics of real-life pictures that clash horribly with the beautiful hand-drawn characters. It’s an odd blemish on the face of an otherwise pretty game.
The cherry on top of this cake is, without a doubt, the music. Eclectic in its composition, Campus Notes’ soundtrack is extremely diverse, with exciting tracks for when action gets tense, and more downbeat, affecting tracks for the genuinely touching moments in the game. As such, the soundtrack here is perfect because it works in total harmony with the game, making the whole package exponentially better.
As can be easily seen, Campus Notes does things differently, and if you’re used to the more traditional video game, you might desire a little more from it. That’s fine, as it’s likely not for you. But for those who enjoy a good story, are used to the visual novel format already, or like the Japanese “way” of making games? Look into this one, but maybe wait for a sale.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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