One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I will never be able to make my friends appreciate the incredible acting that is Tom Hanks. The complexity and depth of movies like Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and The Terminal have given me more food for thought than possibly any class or lecture I’ve ever attended. And yet, every Friday as I sit down with my friends for movie night, I realize that we’re always stuck with subpar, Michael Bay style action flicks like The Expendables, or Transformers. Not that there is anything wrong with these, but occasionally I’d like to watch something more intellectually stimulating than say, the equivalent of solving a 1x1x1 rubix cube.
Long since have I come to accept that there are many things in life that can’t be appreciated by everyone. However, being the self imposed hypocrite that I am, I have still tried hard to sample every movie, music or book thrown my way by my friends in spite of myself. Ergo, when my good pal ImperialX passionately demanded me to play a certain visual novel, claiming something along the lines of “best story ever written by mankind and I will feel very sorry if you die without ever playing this”, I felt it was at the very least my moral obligation as a friend and an appreciator of the arts to see what all the fuss was about.
Thus during a long weekend, after a tedious period of exams, I decided to set aside my plans and marathon the game. My original plan was to finish 2 arcs on Friday, 2 on Saturday and the final arc on Sunday with enough time to cram homework late into the night if need be. As it turned out, by 8 am on Monday I was red-eyed, extremely sleep-deprived, almost late for school and starting a 3rd play-through of the game. As hard as it is to imagine, it really did turn out to be just that good. So much for my brilliant plan.
Ever17 tells the tale of a series of events at the underwater theme-park LeMU. When an unexpected accident occurs, depressurization causes massive flooding, submerging escape routes and trapping several people inside the structure. You play through the perspective of either college student Kuranari Takeshi or a mysterious teenager known only as ‘Kid’ as they with others try to find a way to escape to the surface. Communications are down, rescuers show no sign of showing up, and the group faces an increasingly dire situation as LeMU’s structure begins to crumble under the strain of severe water pressure. Through this journey of communal survival, love is formed, lost connections discovered, and the dark secrets of LeMU slowly unveiled.
My very first impression was that the game was that it was old. As someone who was more accustomed to perfectly rendered hair strands and properly proportioned character models, I found that the character sprites in this game were rather…ancient looking. This impression was rather quickly remedied however, by vivid CG, detailed backgrounds, convincing voice acting and an impressive 26 song soundtrack. All too soon I found myself immersed in it’s atmosphere, sketchy sprites all forgotten. I guess the artist who did the character models went on holiday, found a loving wife, married and never came back.
I had to admit that my first impression of the game being old only made me more impressed at how well the game seemed to be put together for a 2002 title. The design team had clearly delivered a mammoth effort into polishing the game up as best they could with the limited resolution and music format they had to work with, and the game for the most part is beautiful and atmospheric. There were various bumps and hiccups along the way, but I would sooner stop reading a book because I didn’t like the font, than stop playing a visual novel because the art occasionally slipped.
Besides, we’re only an hour in, and the story just started to get interesting.
It soon became apparent Ever17 was no pushover when it came to narrative either. The story’s pacing is done extremely well, with character development so seamlessly woven into the plot that it was a while before I even realized I was becoming more and more attached to each character. Even more impressive however, was the diversity of all the different arcs. Despite essentially being a replay of the exact same event, the game manages to give enough variety to each separate storyline such that when crossovers do occur, they feel more like ‘deja vu’ moments rather than the same plot repeating over and over again. Playing from two perspectives also gives interesting additions to the plot. Many mysteries that were unsolved in one storyline become obvious when viewed from another perspective, and these little discoveries keep the game all the more fresh and interesting in subsequent play-throughs. It was no wonder why the game had like a bajillion save slots. You sorta needed that many if you were crazy enough to double check every reference the game made to past and alternative story lines.
And if this wasn’t enough work for your fun, Ever17 also had the habit of making you think. Hard. Intertwined within the core story were philosophical elements that kept emerging and nudging at the back of the player’s mind. How do we define time? How can we prove our existence? Can there be life without death? These questions, while on the surface seem abstract and isolated, were spun into the narrative in a engaging and purposeful way which I had thought not possible. By Saturday night, I was mentally beat, but thoroughly pleased with the game’s progress, for it had already earned itself a place in my good books as an intellectually stimulating and enjoyable experience. Only a few lose plot threads were left hanging which I assumed would be tied up in the final arc.
Hah. How naive I was.
If I were to transcribed my thought process while playing through through the final arc, it would probably turn out to be a mixture of holy shits! and fucking awesomes! Unfortunately my friend wouldn’t be very pleased if I cussed excessively on his blog, so I’ll refrain from doing so. =3
I felt almost silly knowing that I was almost satisfied at the point of finishing only the first 4 arcs when they quite literally shrivel and cower in awe in comparison to the full story, like fangirls kneeling before a 6 foot golden Justin Bieber statue. To rate my experience after 4 arcs on a scale of 1 to 10, and then rerate the game after I finished it would cause the scale would explode because there wouldn’t be enough room fit all the awesome. Without spoiling too much, (thought you’d probably have guessed by now), Ever17 has an epic EPIC, plot twist. It’s the sort of plot twist that is so well crafted, so ingenious, so awesome and yet so simple that it deserves me devoting two entire paragraphs to just talking about it.
If a good plot twist is one you never saw coming, and can make a mediocre story interesting, then a great plot twist is one you totally should have saw coming, but didn’t, and can make any good story, amazing. Ever17’s plot twist is of the latter category. It has the sort of interwoven narrative that will continually hurl clues at us, the unsuspecting audience, without us ever realizing their significance until it hits us like a ton of bricks being towed by a jet plane. Think Sixth Sense (yes, I’m pulling out the age old reference). I’m willing to be that at least half the people who’ve liked it have watched it more than once. Why watch a movie again when the plot twist is already spoiled? It’s because the most exciting part isn’t actually the twist itself, but the scenes leading up to that point. Every camera angle, every line of dialogue and every character interaction is delicately planned to carefully hide, yet at the same time blatantly hint at the fact that Bruce Willis is actually *Major Spoilers* dead *Major Spoilers*. To be able to go through and pick out these scenes that make you wonder “why didn’t I see that last time?” makes the film enjoyable no matter how many times it’s watched.
Ever17 is just like that, except instead of a 2 hour movie, its a full on 30-40 hour game. The sheer amount of attention to every minuscule event, the way the story is constructed and the elaborate lengths which the game goes to in order to suggest at and yet hide the final conclusion from the player itself is a staggering achievement in itself. The game is like a beautifully built card tower, it’s brilliance lying not only in it’s finished form, but the intricate role of each individual card showing the careful attention to detail in it’s construction. Every card is important, just like how every character, every scene, even every room in Ever17 will contain something more than just what meets the eye. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed Ever17, for it has definitely lived up and exceeded to the hype of my rather overzealous friend. My only two regrets now is the countless hours I will spend replaying this game instead of doing my homework, and the fact that I have another masterpiece in my knowledge which I know will go unnoticed to so many.
I could go on and on… but I find that this is one of those rare occasions where the thoughts I wish to convey in this article are at many a times beyond the scope of my literary abilities. Ever17 is one of those rare works whose merit cannot be expressed as simplistically as finding synonyms for the word “amazing” and thinking of witty analogies or clever expressions. Hence I will close with the words of a fellow reviewer, whose conclusion I feel is far more fitting and powerful than any I could ever conceive.
“Ever 17 is an ageless masterpiece. It has already entered the realms in which its staggering brilliance cannot be fully expressed in the form of human linguistics. It is truly a work of art that only few with the utmost patience can fully come to appreciate. Will you be one of those who choose to read forth, and hear of a tale of wonderment that will surely snatch itself a place in your mind, heart and soul for the rest of your life?” - ImperialX