World End Economica episode.01 (PC)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Visual novels are a medium that are very popular in Japan but have been a very niche proposition in North America for quite some time. Despite the fact that quite a few of the games have gone on to inspire anime adaptations and manga spin-offs that were officially licensed and translated in English, many of them were left as fan translations and those who were interested had no direct way to support the authors and teams responsible for their creation. The exception to this has been eroge, which has seen support from publishers like Jast and many other companies that are no longer around.

With Steam Greenlight and the rise in indie publishing, that is beginning to change. A number of all-ages visual novels are planned for Steam release, including big names like Clannad. One of the publishers leading the charge is Sekai Project, who has already brought a visual novel to Steam in the form of World End Economica Episode.01. The series is split into three parts, and is written by Spice and Wolf author Isuna Hasekura. It is set in a sci-fi future where humans have been living on the Moon for a decade and a half and stars Hal, a sixteen year-old runaway that has a knack for stocks and has been trading illegally at a net café. Like Hasekura’s other works, it’s a mixture of real-life inspired business concepts and inter-personal relationships, but is it worth it for those who may not have as much knowledge or interest in the stock market and its inter-workings?

The answer to this question is sort of, provided you can make it through the first hour or two of what is a five to six hour episode. That’s a fairly hefty time investment for any type of game, and to be honest early on I found myself wondering if I was going to want to stick with World End Economica or not. But before we get too far into the reasons why, let’s step back a bit. Visual novels have broadened out significantly since they were initially created and have come to incorporate a wide range of elements. Some of them have branching paths and player choices that can lead to multiple endings, and others have incorporated some RPG elements. World End Economica is closer to the literal meaning for visual novel, as there is no player choice and you simply make your way through the dialogue with the option to save or load any time. If you were hoping to actually do some mock trading or something like that you’re not going to find it here, although even as someone who is interested in the stock market and business I have to question how fun that would actually be put into a game like this.

Players are introduced to Hal as he makes some quick trades in a net café. He’s a sixteen year old living on the Moon, and as the Moon was officially colonized sixteen years ago he was one of the first humans to be born there. The rest of the inhabitants came through an Orbital Elevator, but the price to do so is extremely high and as a result once many of them came over they had no means to go back if they had money issues. Like many areas on Earth, this version of the Moon has a bustling and technologically advanced city where the rich live and surrounding outlands where the poor and middle-class live. Hal’s hardly your average teenager, as not only is he quite talented when it comes to stock trading and making a profit but he ran away from home and doesn’t attend school. His dream is to make it big with the rest of the traders in Newton City and reach new frontiers that have yet to be explored, despite the fact that he is too young to be trading and therefore is doing so illegally.

The owner of the net café warns Hal that the police are searching for someone his age in connection with a potential robbery, and even though he has nothing to do with that he could still be taken in if caught because youth are supposed to be in school during the day. He makes his escape to a Chinese restaurant but is cornered, and ends up being rescued by a woman named Lisa. Lisa is Christian who takes in runaways, and she lives in a fairly old church building on the outskirts of town. Hal finds this rather strange as religion is rare on the Moon, where everything was built by science, and Lisa also collects antique books in order to study historical elements of Christianity. At the church he also meets Hagana, a very withdrawn girl who is socially awkward but harbors a significant amount of talent for math.

Although this might sound like it has the potential to be interesting, the problem for the first two hours or so is that the main characters are fairly unlikeable. Hal’s cast as the naïve teenager who doesn’t know much about the outside world aside from stocks, and his inner monologues have a good degree of sexism to then. It seems like early on, every time he thinks about Lisa or Hagana he wonders about their “weaknesses because they’re women,” and while I do understand that a sixteen year old boy is not necessarily going to have the perfect moral compass it did start to grate on my nerves over time. Hagana’s not much better, as she spends the first half of the game as an enemy of Hal who seems to bicker with him over every little thing and doesn’t show much personality otherwise. Again, this is a portrayal of a socially awkward character, but it seems like it’s taken to its extreme. Because of this, the dialogue at this point in the game is more annoying to go through than it is interesting and it’s hard to root for either Hagana or Hal when they’re not doing much to win over the player.

I suspect this may be the point where some players decide to drop the game entirely, but I kept at it because I was interested in seeing exactly how Hasekura would incorporate the stock market. Early on you get a little bit of detail as Hal does some trades, and the explanations are a bit simplified so that they are easier to understand. As someone who was a Business major in college and took a few finance courses, this is something I’m interested in even in fictional form, and I did find that World End Economica did a good job of representing the basic concepts of what is involved with trading on the stock market.

After those initial few hours, the game really picks up. Not only do Hagana and Hal start to go through some personality changes and clear some misunderstandings which makes both of them easier for the player to relate to, but Hal finds himself in the middle of a virtual stock competition that has a number of real life ramifications. The last hour or so is an absolute thrill ride as the competition gets heated up and lots of stock trades happen very quickly, and the narrative drew me in. I also found that by the end I actually did care for the main characters by the end, and there is some actual growth and development showcased by Hal and Hagana that makes a difference.

Character art was created by doujin artist Isshiki Uwatsuki, while background art was handled by Taira Katou. What is immediately noticeable is that the backgrounds are incredibly eye catching, but there aren’t quite enough of them. The same is true of the character art, as there are only limited poses for each of the main cast. Background art overshadows the character models quite frequently, as there are some breathtaking backdrops but the characters don’t quite reflect that same level of quality in every scene. But I can’t imagine that developer Spicy Tales had the largest of budgets to work with and I didn’t find any of the artwork to really pull me out of the experience, so it isn’t something I can complain about too much. What was disappointing was the lack of visuals when it came to the stock trading. Although there are a few graphs and charts that pop up, the majority of the trading sequences are handled by the narrative on black backgrounds. I was able to follow all of the technical jargon, but think some more visual representations would’ve gone a long way into drawing in players who may not be as familiar with financial markets. Sekai Project has said that there will be some graphical upgrades at a later time, including an HD version of the game’s opening animation, so it’s possible the characters might pop out a bit more in future versions.

There is no voice acting in World End Economica, but there is plenty of background music and the occasional sound effect. What surprised me was that compared to the character portraits and background art, there is a lot more variation to the music. Instead of re-using the same couple of tracks for the entire game Spicy Tails was able to utilize a wide range of music that fits each sequence, and while not every song is the type you’d want to listen to independent of the game there were some catchy arrangements. One issue I did notice was that some of the music tracks don’t loop properly and it is choppy when they begin to repeat. Some posts on the Steam Forums suggest this only started happening when the game was recently ported to a new engine, so hopefully it is something that will be fixed with a later patch as it does distract from the narrative when it occurs. It’s also worth mentioning that the opening animation has a song by Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets, a band that has done themes for High School of the Dead and Strike the Blood, so it almost feels like you’re watching a television anime intro.

World End Economica falls somewhere in the middle of the pack out of the visual novels I’ve played, as it’s not terrible but the unlikeable traits of the two main characters for the first couple of hours may be too much for some people to handle. It certainly helped that I enjoy following the stock market and have some familiarity with the trading process, as this kept me interested in the game even when the characters weren’t able to. But I’m not sure that everyone else will necessarily have the patience to get to the good parts towards the end, and the constant bickering and dialogues that seemed to go in circles did start to wear me down too. Hopefully the remaining two episodes can build on the potential seen in the later half, but this initial entry is best left for a very specific type of audience even with the established visual novel crowd.

World End Economica

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