This is a game of spirits, monsters and demons that are infecting people, making them feel depressed, angry and generally disagreeable, leading to mass violent crimes and suicides. Luckily, as Atsuki Saijo, with your ability to read and influence peoples minds, you’re on the case to stop these monsters; the Silent.
When you first start a new file, the game has thrown you into the lion’s den. There isn’t any tutorial or exposition to give you any idea what’s going on, you’re just Atsuki, and you’re looking for the “original” silent, who begot a massive infection that infected ten thousand people. This may be good, if you’re a quick learner, not afraid to make mistakes, but for a newcomer this is going to be a major turn off. In fact, the kind of game Lux Pain is may be a major factor for regular folks giving the game a try.
It’s a take on the Japanese style of game known as a visual novel, which is pretty much what it sounds like. If you hate those scenes in JRPGs where characters are speaking to each other via disembodied heads, or just fixed bodies in place with scrolling text, LuxPain is going to be the worst thing imaginable. If you’re not so against those things, this game may be a positive choice for you. Even more so if you’ve got a background of enjoying anime, manga, and all of the things of that sort from Japan.
At first, the cast of characters that you’re introduced to will seem like anime standards: the mysterious kid, loud athletic kid and quiet kid that reads with glasses. But like the rest of the game, as it goes on, really grows into it’s own and you learn more about each character; their backgrounds, their history, their motivations and dreams. Again, if that’s your thing, this game is heaven. On the flip side, much of the translation leaves more to be desired. Like say, spellcheck. Multiple times I picked out simple errors; the word “what” spelled as “waht”, errors you’d commonly make in a hastily typed e-mail or an instant message, but not one that you’d expect from a game. Not just grammatical errors, but a certain feeling about the arrangement of the dialogue that feels forced, like B movie actors who know their lines are ludicrous, but carry on to avoid living in a refrigerator box.
Speaking of hobos, some of the voice acting in this game sounds like they just picked people up off the street with no regard to casting for proper roles or fitting the character design. Almost the entire female cast comes off as valley girls, while the male cast members sound like they’re eleven years old. This isn’t such a bad thing. Since the game is for the DS, it’s limited storage space has kept the vocal parts to a minimum, and the game allows you to mute it entirely in the options.
The gameplay, what small bit of the game you actually play and don’t read, is moderate at best. The investigation aspect of the game boils down to searching each area, completing the same mini-game over and over, reading some scrolling words on the top screen, and repeating till the game ends. Through the entire game I encountered maybe three of these mini-games, where you can choose your specific emotional reaction. A happy response, a sad response, one involving laughter, etc, all have a different outcomes to the conversation; a sort of more in-depth version of what Mass Effect did a couple years ago. The mini-games I mentioned aren’t exactly enjoyable, but they do the job well enough of breaking up the extended text sequences, and reward you with experience to increase your ability to erase more, lengthen the timer, and increase your ability to find the “shinen” or memory worms inside of people. It’s really not necessary since the game doesn’t really have a difficulty curve, it’s more of a very gradual uphill slope at just about the same angle as wheelchair access ramps.
The in-game “cinematics” usually consist of a still image with some graphical effects overlaid to give the illusion of movement or activity, with 100% chance of voice for each of character, text that moves way too slow, and most of the time, just plain inane in content. It makes me wish they’d have put in fully animated sequences that could have breathed life into the characters, to really make them believable and not just drawings.
LuxPain is a tough call. On one hand, it has an interesting tale that feels like it would have fit beter as an anime instead of a game, well enough defined characters, and a story that managed to hold my interest. On the other hand, it’s translation feels rushed and rough, it’s the same game mechanic over and over, and much of the game isn’t so much explained to you, moreso you’ve got to infer as you go along. It makes me wonder how great it could have been if the developer had taken their time.