Game Reviewby Myles Gibbs,
Robotics;Notes: ELITE & DaSH (Double Pack)
Robotics;Notes ELITE & DaSH is a double-packed visual novel made in 2012 and set in the present day. While it has the typical trappings of a game in the Science Adventure vein, it's also bolstered by fleshed-out characters, a sense of a stable grounding in reality, and a unique narrative. However, its drawbacks are not insignificant: an absurdly sluggish pace, odd bouts of fanservice, and a complete lack of any real or enjoyable gameplay mean that every high moment the title achieves is plagued with some very low lows.
The Robotics;Notes double pack is the third in a series of visual novels I've been reviewing in recent days. And while I hold no love for the visual novel genre, I must admit that I've come to recognize some of the boons that come with making a game in that style. Visual novels are unique in the way that they can deliver a completely narratively-focused experience. By focusing on style and a compelling plot, these games can do away with gameplay elements that at times bog down the narratives of other titles, achieving a certain purity in purpose that can rarely be found in other game genres. However, Robotics;Notes fails in that regard. Not only does it have a weak central plot, but its narrative is also held back by severe pacing issues and jarring moments of mischaracterization in the name of fanservice.
ELITE and DaSH do get a couple of things right, though. The soundtrack is more than compelling enough, for starters. It was rare for a song to play that I didn't find enjoyable, and most of them are catchy and memorable. I'm confident that I could listen to a track from the OST five years from now and remember where it came from. The only problem with the music in Robotics;Notes is that it's far too repetitive. With each game in the double pack having a 25+ hour playtime (with a lot of leeway regarding which ending you hit first), the small soundtracks of ELITE and DaSH just don't hold up over the entire experience. Tracks get old quickly, especially over sections where the pacing lulls. It can also be overbearing in certain scenes, either by virtue of drowning out the voice acting or mismatching the mood of the scene. Also memorable are some of the game's characterizations. Frau and Subaru stand out as characters who have compelling personalities and story beats. Frau's meme-ish personality and drive to search for her mother make for equally comedic and moving moments, while Subaru's cold personality and goal to break out of his family situation make him someone that I was constantly cheering for. Our primary protagonists are bland and uninteresting, though. At the time of writing, I can hardly even recall their names without looking at my notes, even though I sat with them for over two 50-hour playthroughs.
Kaito and Akiho are both introduced in the same initial scene of ELITE, which I regard as the worst opening I have seen in a game to-date. Introduced through the lens of Kaito, Akiho's entry to the story is largely inoffensive as far as dialogue and characterization are concerned, setting her up as being passionate about robots and delusional about mecha anime. However, the whole scene is marred by the fact that Kaito places something akin to a Snapchat-filter cat suit on her for the first twenty minutes of dialogue. No explanation is given for this other than that Kaito just “felt like putting it on.” Not only does it seem odd for his character to do so, being described as “not caring about anything other than video games,” but also stands as an absolutely tasteless way to launch a story. Kaito himself is introduced as something of a professional gamer, excelling in a fighting game called Kill Ballad, which is where the only actual gameplay in the Robotics;Notes series is found. About once in every three hours of playtime (not very often), Kaito will participate in a round of Kill Ballad, which is presented to the player by an image of an enemy mecha coming towards them as they execute something similar to a quick time event, tapping in the on-screen inputs as fast as possible. The only other instance of any real gameplay is a search-and-find where the player is tasked with heading to different in-game locations to look for the veiled outline of a power sign through an AR filter. These tasks specifically struck me as a huge annoyance, since my objectives were so unclear and unfairly hidden that they felt like nothing but a waste of my time that is meant to pad out the game. These are the only gameplay elements you'll find in Robotics;Notes, since there are no optional dialogue choices or branching narrative routes. You are guided by hand from one end of a slow and uncompelling story beat to the other, and that might be Robotics;Notes biggest failing.
For a visual novel, the Robotics;Notes games are severely lacking in the aesthetics and visual department. ELITE is the bigger offender in this respect, with most of the character designs feeling dull and samey and the character animation looking downright lazy. Dialogue occurs via a 3D model of a character speaking while cycling through a handful of pre-scripted animations, which feel uninspired and off-putting when paired with dialogue descriptors. It's not rare for action in a scene to be described one way while something completely different is happening visually. All-in-all, the Robotics;Notes games feel like an incomplete, dragged-out mess of a story with very little payoff in its ending. It has very few gameplay elements, and none of them are fun. This isn't a game you would pick up to enjoy the gameplay though. It's something you'd want to play to experience its story, which is an exercise in patience in and of itself, since I was more than five hours in before the plot picked up in any way at all for me. I had a hard time forcing myself through this one, and can't suggest that you sacrifice $60 to do the same to yourself.
Overall : C-
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : F
Presentation : C+
+ Certain characters have interesting and compelling personal narratives that develop over the course of the main story
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