Punch Line Review – More Anime than Anime
Platforms: PC, PS Vita, PS4
Release: 31st August 2018 (EU, PS4/Vita)
2015 studio MAPPA released an anime, written by the famous mind behind the Zero Escape trilogy or Infinity Kotaro Uchikoshi. Revolving all around panties it certainly seemed like one of the craziest things we´ve seen from him. However, it didn´t stop there, when a visual novel by 5pb. was released, written once again by Kotaro. In many ways, the fact this visual novel is actually an adaption of an anime is in many ways … the Punch Line of this tale.
It all began with a simple bus hijack. However, when heroine Strange Juice appears and saves the day … at least tried to. Unfortunately, the young, mini-skirted, orange girl can´t win against their boss, even accidentally exposing her panties during the fight. Yet who would have though teenager Yuta can unleash a giant power within him, when he sees panties?! What follows is a mysterious spirit taking over Yuta´s body, effectively kicking his spirit out and so he has to uncover the identity of his foe, as well as somehow save the world from its destruction on New Year´s eve without seeing panties twice in a row, while only being able to move in his house inhabited by four girls.
Yes, Punch Line is weird, very weird indeed. From the almost crazy sounding intro to the dialogues, twists and ending, it´s a story never satisfied with being crazy, it wants to be the craziest. Divided into 22 episodes, it feels like an anime in many ways, since nearly all of them follow the same structure: Visual novel sequence to introduce the general problem of this episode, a gameplay section and a closing sequence with some kind of crazy stuff. So what may seem like a mystery story set in a slice-of-life setting, actually turns out to be one in the beginning, due to the “problem of the week” pacing.
Naturally, if it would be that easy, it wouldn´t be nearly as good as it is. Mainly due to the many revelations concerning the characters early on, which are simply dumb yet so logical. Especially early on, the game introduces the four girls with their own quirks only anime girls can have, like being a genius and building all kinds of cool tech. Those seemingly random things are then taken and underlined by their slowly revealed background. Given, those are equally as “anime” as the rest but fit in such a dumb, weird way, that they result in an almost too believable character for an anime. It truly embraces anime and everything around it and transforms them into something even more anime.
As a result, you also have to accept the weirdness that is Punch Line. It hates ordinary jokes or slow pacing, constantly bombarding the reader with exaggerated madness. However, similar to Shibuya Scramble, it manages to actually find a balance between its story and humour. Instead of going overboard and losing any credibility, it relies on a handful of weird but good jokes, like the Yuta´s panty weakness. Those are explored and advanced in a meaningful manner, to evolve alongside the main plot. Nonetheless, pretty much every vital system sounds or looks like a dumb joke the first time around, forcing you to either roll with the madness or stop.
Not to say the actual story is bad, believe it or not Kotaro Uchikoshi delivered an almost perfectly fitting one for the humour. While certainly not on par with its main Zero Escape series in terms of quality, it´s a great mix of light-hearted fun and serious danger. What seemed like a disconnected Slice-of-Life adventure, becomes an interesting tale about brotherhood, friendship, death, time travel and terrorism in the second half. It´s one of those few types of writing able to entertain both with its stupidity and meaningfully deliver onto it at the same time. As crazy as everything sounds, the plot can really give all of it a believable reason, though not without drifting into weirdness.
Yet, when a visual novel can entertain and hook me for 20 hours, that has to mean it´s pretty damn good. Through well-timed atmosphere twists and a well-paced writing, there´s never a truly boring spot anywhere. In contrary, just when you thought you know what´s coming, Punch Line punches you right into the face with the complete opposite. In every regard, it celebrates its weirdness and uses it to surprise the reader with a surprisingly sad and gripping tale in its second half, turning itself upside down without sacrificing the extracted anime-ness we came to love in the first half.
The “gameplay” on the other hand couldn´t impress me in any way. Similar to the Zero Escape series, Punch Line features little puzzle sequences, this time in the style of a simple point and click adventure, where you either have to scare the inhabitants or prepare everything for a chain reaction. Scaring is the far simpler thing, where it´s just necessary to click on objects so they roll down for example and scare one of the girls. Additionally, there are objects marked with an exclamation mark, able to truly frighten them. Unfortunately, one common theme quickly crystalizes Trial and Error. Some items, for example, don´t have any effect at all, simply wasting your limited interactions without any effect. Those, as logically thinking you may be, can never be found reliably though. It just seems so random.
Same during the chain reaction parts. Practically, the same task of throwing down things or interact with them in different ways, then start the chain reaction and see if all those altered things can create a path leading to your goal. Like throwing down a banana peel, on which one of them steps, falls over and lets a glass bottle crash on the floor. Unfortunately, those chains try to be as absurd as the story, resulting in almost too random things happening, you can´t possibly predict the first time around. While it´s normally enough to just interact with pretty much everything and hope for the best, since none of them are hard in any way, failing can get annoying, due to the fact you have to watch 1 minute of repeating text. Additionally, even after failing, you don´t know anything more, due to the fact even a tiny, random thing can have the craziest of effects in this weird environment. In this case alone, is the story actually in the way of the general fun.
Visually, Punch Line is rather unique too, rocking the 3D models and environments with only some 2D backgrounds. Especially the 3D character models looked a bit off in combination with the many anime sequences scattered in the game but after you´ve seen how expressive they can actually be and how much work was put into them, they quickly grow on you more and more. Generally speaking, it´s a surprisingly great looking game on Vita and runs flawlessly without even long loading screens. To top it all off, te anime cutscenes, taken from the TV series as well as new, unique scenes, look impressively good. At least the action scenes could impress me with their quality, able to overshadow many other TV animes too (well, MAPPA is a pretty good studio after all). Combined with a hooky soundtrack, Punch Line is a well-made package of great things.
Punch Line is incredibly anime in every regard. From its weird humour, which can only be enjoyed by people prepared for it, to the crazy twists. It truly embraces the fact, it´s a japanese game and delivers on all your clichés, like the core mechanic of avoiding looking at panties. However, all of those things are why this game is so entertaining. There´s never a boring minute or moment without anything cool going on, in form of the great anime scenes, story twists or simple comedy. If you´re into weird stuff, Punch Line will definitely not disappoint.
[A Review Code was provided by PQube]