Greetings again, buta-ettes! Oink if ya hear me! (::deafening grunts split the earth asunder and blot out the sun::). Today we will be reviewing Norn9 (and unfortunately this is the all ages version, not the R18 version Norn69), and trigger warning here but…it kinda sucked. I’ll also toss in an overall spoiler warning in here because while I won’t be doing summaries of the routes, I will be discussing plot points in a spoiler way in order to complain about them.
I’ll get the good out of the way first: unlike Shota Tulpa Chronicles: A Titty Monster Adventure, Norn9 didn’t have any kind of annoying disconnect between what I THOUGHT I should be doing versus what the game rewarded me for doing. Your goal here is simply to hold the shit out of boys’ hands, so as long as you pick dialogue choices that will lead to handholding you’re in good shape. There were also very few if any (I’m honestly having trouble remembering any egregious examples here) choices where afterwards you would roll your eyes and say “ffs why does this even matter?” when you failed to gain any affection points because you picked a choice like “Oh, thank you” rather than “What a nice surprise”. There’s also a little graphic when you get affection up from your choice so if you want to wing it you can tell more easily whether or not you made the correct choices.
Another point I want to be open about is that it took me like 2 months to play through the game, so stuff just kept dragggggggggging onnnnnnnnnn. This isn’t the game’s fault entirely, but it would cause me to notice things like “Oh yeah, Sorata is in this game. I forgot because nobody mentioned you for the last couple weeks despite the fact that you initiate this whole thing in the prologue.”
I was told which order to play the different routes in this game in a way that would hopefully make the most sense. I believe that the order I did was Senri->Akito->Sakuya->Heishi->Itsuki->Kakeru->Masamune->Ron->Natsuhiko->Sorata. One of the biggest complaints I’m going to make about the game is that the story is a complete mess, which is exacerbated by the large number of routes, most of which only contain pieces of the full story and many of which contradict other routes (since after all, your choices of which bishie you want to handhold with are all mutually exclusive.) Sometimes they feel like they need to reset the world, other times they don’t, other times they can’t, and other times the game wanders off and forgets that that decision is supposed to be the climax of the plot.
This leads to a big fault from the angle of storytelling (but not, of course, from the angle of having enough uguu husbandos in order to ensure that all you mesubutas get sufficiently horned up while playing the game), in that there’s wayyyyyyyyyy too many routes. This leads to routes feeling endless in that almost all of them cover the same quasi-common route events in very similar ways. It makes the routes feel so padded out. The Natsuhiko route was the only one that ever felt unique since it didn’t follow the common-ish route. Again, compare this to Amnesia where all 5 routes had very different tones and plots.
The game also keeps forgetting that it has this overarching story behind it involving all these esper getting picked up by the Death Star and going on a journey to decide the fate of the world. Their powers are like a Chekov’s Gun, so there’s an expectation that they’re in the story because they supposed to matter…except then sometimes they don’t. The journey aspect of the game feels cheap in this way too, in that it overall felt like it wasn’t in the game because the journey was important but simply because it would allow the game to arbitrarily say “OKAY WE’VE ARRIVED” when the story has gone on long enough and it’s time to finally end.
The journey aspect makes most of the scenes feel like they’re just killing time. We get plenty of scenes where the characters are basically just doing chores on the ship. It’s also silly because it would frequently make me forget that right before each characters’ route begins, they’re all pairing up to search the ship for intruders. I often forgot this since I’m just jumping directly to the character selection choice and the stories immediately after pairing up switch over to HAY GUYZ LETS MAKE DINNER/FARM VEGETABLES/REPAIR DOORS/etc. Similarly, I never really got the impression that there was any narrative purpose behind the dream sequence scene that’s in almost all of the routes and it was simply there for an excuse for fairy tale costumed handholding (“YES, AND?” you all oink at me simultaneously.) I did also find it ironic that the game gives you a prompt that lets you skip a big chunk of said dream sequence seeing how it’s pure fanservice.
Because the game doesn’t really care about the overarching story, it makes most of the climaxes feel similarly arbitrary. I’ve just played through hours of doing chores (with one or two handholding scenes thrown in) and then suddenly the game is like OH BTW TEXT DUMP WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE SOME ARBITRARY DIFFERENCES FROM THE SIMILAR ONE IN THE LAST ROUTE YOU PLAYED OKAY NOW HERE’S WHAT THE FATE OF THE WORLD WILL BE ANYWAY YOU CAN RESUME HANDHOLDING. There’s a little bit of an ironic twist here in that I commonly complain about anime being too “light novel-y” in that they focus wayyyyy too much on world-building at the expense of everything else, while in this case they quarter-ass the world-building to the point where the stuff that is ostensibly supposed to be the non-fluff becomes the fluff and the fluff becomes the only thing that ever had any time devoted to it.
I will now go full on spoiler. The overarching plot is that humanity keeps blowing itself up after becoming sufficiently technologically advanced, so every time it looks like humanity is getting close to doing it again, Helios from Deus Ex gives a bunch of esper powers to a bunch of randos, then has them fly around in the Death Star for a while (actually, it just floats there in place but it makes them think that they’re flying around) to test them in some nebulous way (more on this in a sec) before asking them whether or not they want to call in the Reapers from Masu Efekuto (which as everyone who read my Amnesia review will remember is my favorite otome game) to reset the world. In this particular iteration, the Scooby Gang is traveling as usual when they get attacked by Natsuhiko and they all pair up to investigate what happens (in my headcanon, all the guys that get paired up with other guys here instead of with a heroine turn prison gay for each other). The routes often diverge there, with most of them then involving some version of them having assorted hijinks onboard the ship until they get to their destination, then after they get there they decide whether or not to reset.
So let’s breakdown how nonsensical this whole thing is:
- People build and maintain this godlike supercomputer, which can carry out the reset if told to, but doesn’t get input on it
- Instead, a bunch of total randos get picked in order to make this MONUMENTAL DECISION ABOUT THE FATE OF THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE
- For some reason, they get given powers too before making this decision despite this concept not really having any logical reason as to why this would help them make the decision
- The journey is then supposed to help them have time to mature or think or something, except for the fact that instead they basically spend the whole time doing chores because as we learn in Natsuhiko’s route, the Norn emits a hypnosis field that prevents them from thinking about stuff.
- Then once they finally get there, in order to do a reset they need to give back the powers that they were randomly granted. The game is very unclear on how exactly this works, where it appears that they need unanimity since the powers are needed to make the reset work, but at the same time there are routes where characters die (and where Ron/Natsuhiko/Shirou are trying to kill the espers) and it’s hard to tell how the reset would work there.
- The whole triggering of a possible reset journey doesn’t make any sense either. If shit did indeed just get real, then there’s at least a debate to be had but if shit isn’t about to get real, why even go through the whole pre-reset process if everyone is going to be like “Nah everything’s good, why would we ever do that?”
- Plus if the world is on the brink of catastrophe, the whole pre-reset process seems insanely prone to failure. Whoops, the espers randomly died when they landed to get supplies, guess we can’t do the reset! (Unless of course, we can still do the reset and none of the whole esper shit even mattered in the first place). This shit is like The Cold Equations (not to be confused with The Lukewarm Cold Equation) where they come up with this whole framework to tell their sci-fi story through and then never realize that no engineer would ever actually build a system with such insanely fragile failure points.
So with that, onto the routes. It seemed like the canon routes were supposed to be Bukkakeru for Koharu, Akito for Nanami, and maybe Sakuya for Mikoto if we’re going off of “character that is involved with heroine’s backstory” as the criteria. Things get a little muddy here in that you kinda need to do Senri’s route to fully grasp Akito’s, and that Natsuhiko’s route explains so much that it maybe should be the canon one for Mikoto, but honestly every other one is pretty clearly tangential.
Senri is the beta as fuck manlet of the group. Check out the official character bios of the group. He’s the same height as Nanami and shorter than Mikoto! On that note, everyone else in this game is huuuuuuge, and especially so if this is supposed to be quasi-Taisho. I looked up the average Japanese heights during that time and the average man was like 5’3” and the average woman was like 4’10”. So it is kinda funny that in this group, Senri is a manlet but he’d be above average for that time period. Anyway, Senri’s route got me to notice the plot structure of “do random minutiae until the game decides that its time to end” very quickly seeing how he’s a hikkikomori (also, lmao Taisho hikkikomoris). This means that he’s cooped up in his room constantly while Koharu derpily wonders if she should fix his door or something.
Yes, “derpily”. It’s time for the complaint that you’ve all been waiting for, which is the translation. Now, I’ll have to admit up front that I usually just skipped through the spoken dialogue if I could read it before it finished, which means that I often couldn’t compare the English to the Japanese. That said, I still had plenty of times where I could notice blatantly wrong translations when they didn’t internally make sense, combined with tone issues (poor Koharu had it the worst here because she seems derpy as hell in the translation rather than simply naive and overly trusting), completely inconsistent naming patterns (I swear there were times where a character would refer to another character as multiple different ways in English within the same conversation) and my second least favorite translation choice of all, DANK MEMES. They get to combine the instant datedness of a doge joke combined with the complete inappropriateness of someone from what’s ostensibly supposed to be 1920s Japan referencing Dumb and Dumber. I’ll also toss in a complaint about the times when I did bother to listen and realized that the English text embellished more than what was being said in Japanese. This would bug me firstly because I would sit there waiting like an idiot expecting the scene to go on longer, but also because let’s face it, Japan is wordy as hell and visual novels are wordy as hell, so if anything I’d wish that they’d get ruthlessly edited down rather than puffed up even further.
(My least favorite translation choice, of course, is inserting gamergate jokes.)
Next up, I did Akito’s route. Unlike with Amnesia, this time I kept all the heroines’ names in rather than giving Nanami a derogatory name like Sexhair. This is partly because everyone actually has their names spoken, but also because I didn’t want to make fun of the heroines since they’re at least actual characters rather than blank slates or self-inserts. Akito’s route introduced me to the frequently-occurring element of Nanami’s routes of “Kyaaaaaah, this boy doesn’t like me which makes me like him, kyaaaaaaaaaah.” With Akito it isn’t as silly as it was later on with Ron since you could at least see it as a kinda tsundere thing, but still yeah. Nanami’s power is that she can erase people’s memories, which brings up another awkward point: the routes where this comes up gave off hella creepy vibes. Fortuantely, Akito’s route had the least creepy use of it (plus, you could choose not to do it at one point).
The most disappointing part of Akito’s route is during the scene when they get electroshock bracelets put on each other by Kakeru so that they can’t shirk their duty of patrolling the ship together. They agree to temporarily split up so that Nanami can go and take a bath with Koharu and Mikoto. Sadly, there was no CG with n00dz of the nekkid laydeez here. Maybe if otome games realized this they’d be able to do Nekopara numbers HINT HINT.
Next up was Sakuya. It’s good that Mikoto has the most fun personality of the three heroines here because Sakuya himself was such a drag. Blah blah blah MUH PAIN blah blah blah MUH DUTY blah blah blah MUH LOVE blah blah blah MUH FUTURE and so on. On that last note, the “MUH FUTURE” is because Sakuya’s power is that he can see glimpses of the future. This gets kinda funky though because the future also isn’t set in stone sooooooooooo it basically gives the game the opportunity to use his power however it wants. My memory is starting to fail here, but I believe that he is aware that the future doesn’t have to end up the ways that he envisions it, rather than this coming up as a kind of plot twist the first time it happens during the game. This undermines much of his route where if we know that the futures he sees don’t actually have to happen, then there’s no real weight beyond his OH NOES I’M GONNA DIE FOR MY BELOVED (BTW THAT’S MIKOTO).
Heishi’s up next, and his route was actually pointless. Senri’s route might not be canon and all, but it still gave some related backstory that played in with Akito, Koharu, and Kakeru. Not only is Heishi disconnected from the others in this way, but his route more or less ignores the whole overarching plot about The World and the Reset and all that jazz. Like, it doesn’t even come up. Once we get to his ending he just embraces the carny blood flowing through his veins and…walks off. Not even “he decides that he wants nothing to do with the Reset”, but that simply the next time the Norn lands he just lives with Nanami and has a creepy ending with guns.
Next up was Itsuki, which was one of the more fun routes since the general format was “tease the haughty ojousama until she gets ridiculously hornay” and how can you argue with that? Yeah, it’s definitely not a canonical route, but honestly I realized at this point that the non-canonical routes were usually more fun anyway. I’m going to chalk that up to how as I’ve mentioned, the game itself doesn’t really seem like it cares all that much about the overarching storyline anyway so might as well do purely the fun stuff since that seems to be all that it’s focusing on anyway.
By the time I got to Kakeru, I had definitely started feeling the burden of the endless repetition. I’ve had to review the summary for his route because in my head I keep thinking that large chunks of this route (even his own backstory!) had shown up in the previous routes, namely Senri’s. The one ironic part of Kakeru’s storyline is that in most of the other routes, and especially in Senri’s, the most frequently portrayal of Kakeru is that he continually torments Senri and tries to drag him out of his room. Meanwhile, that’s a really minor aspect of Kakeru’s own route. I only remember one or two quick instances of this compared to how I expected to see him continue to try to bully Senri 24/7.
As is typical for any situations where anyone/anything is named “Masamune”, I frequently referred to him as “Masatitty”. Masamune’s route is the “fun” route for Koharu (comparable with Itsuki for Mikoto and uhhhhhhhhhhh I guess Heishi for Nanami although that was probably the worst route yeah). Rather than caring about Koharu’s powers or her connection to Kakeru’s father or any of that boring stuff, we get a route of Masamune getting drunk on sugar (don’t ask) and Koharu derping around. Masamune had a “bad” (moar liek good) end which may have been an original addition for this version of the game where Koharu derps yet again and gets Heishi and Nanami to help her bake cookies for Masamune, except that these are overloaded with sugar which makes him go out of control. This results in him claiming all three heroines for his harem. This also said, despite being the “fun” end for Koharu it also had one of the creepy memory wipe ends where Masamune has Nanami wipe many of Koharu’s memories before embarking on the good end. The good end!
Which one am I up to now? My eyes are glazing over. Oh right, Ron Mooboroshi. Masatitty might have the force of habit behind his breastular nickname, but Ron is the king of heavage on the Norn. Ron might have the worst route in the game as it’s full of all the Nanami platinum hits such as a lack of any kind of credible buildup for her liking him, violent/controlling yandere ends, and memory wiping. Nanami at least has some backstory with Akito so it can sorta begin in media res with her liking him for “no reason”, but Ron is just this random log that shows up on the ship. He barely ever even does anything! He’ll stand there doing nothing, or fall asleep, or ignore whatever is going on around him yet for some reason this makes lil’ Nanamin’s heart go a-flutter. Meanwhile, since he’s really a killer that comes aboard and not one of the espers needed for the reset, that’s got all of the violent yandere stuff right there. And because of that, we’re left with a good end which is predicated on Nanami wiping just about every single thing out of his brain other than “Ron and Nanami sitting in a tree…” and making him into like some kind of love doll.
Is it time for Natsuhiko’s route yet? ::checks notes:: oh thank god it is. As I briefly mentioned above, Natsuhiko’s route is the best one since it’s the only one that ever tries to do something different beyond “do chores on the ship until we get bored and decide to end the story”. In this case, you get a lot of unique backstory, some action, some scenes of Setsu acting like a pitiful pathetic idiot (dude is like a reject from KLAP. I kept expecting there to be a side ending which basically just consists of Mikoto slapping the shit out of him over and over while he goes “HIME-SAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA GAMAN DEKINAI ~splurt~”). The closest things to negatives in this route an almost self-awaredly half-assed amnesia scene to get rid of any lingering antagonism from Natsuhiko so that the story can progress to romance time, and that rather than an implied hand-holding scene we get a scene of Natsuhiko…..doing more than just implied handholding (￣▽￣).
Finally, fuck Norn Quest. It’s funny for like 5 minutes until you realize that you’re going to need to sit there jamming the X button over and over for the next couple hours if you want to get that platinum trophy.
Final Verdict: I will allow you, dear reader to choose the conclusion that you like best:
- “Women can die in this game 0/10”
- “This game passes the Bechdel Test 11/10 GOTYAY”
I have also been told that I need to provide rankings. In that case:
- Setsu is the best husbando
- The best route out of the actual husbandos is Natsuhiko, followed by Itsuki
- The best ending is the harem end, and honestly I don’t know which is the best “real” ending because the game half-asses the overarching story so much I have no idea whether or not they should do a reset
- Mikoto is the best heroine. Koharu is okay I guess when de-derpified while Nanami is too boring for me.