Exploring Visual Novels 1: Runaway City

Join me as I explore Visual Novels from the newest releases to the oldest things I can get my hands on. For my first post I have decided to start with one the oldest thing I could get my hands on: Runaway City, part of the Jast USA Memorial Collection.

I saw that this went up for sale on Jlist right after Otakon and picked it up. I didn’t know anything about these titles before, but being fairly new and curious about visual novels and their history I thought this might be an interesting way to explore that history a bit.

That old fashioned thing called talking might also do the trick.

That old fashioned thing called talking might also do the trick.

First Impression
First thing I noticed once I started this title up was that it looks more like an adventure game than a typical visual novel, allowing me to pick my actions despite an entirely linear plot. So I started poking around with the options, and the first one I chose was to think about the protagonists father who is lecturing him about his future, and then I read this: “Ten years ago our family decided to commit suicide together, but dad and I screwed it up.” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems like a big deal to me. I tried talking to this dad a bit, but he didn’t really have anything to say about their mom.

This setup seemed really strange to me, but I decided to roll with it. I talked to this protagonists dad a bit more and then went out walking around the city. This was cool for.. maybe a minute. It didn’t take me long to realize that the entire formula for this that I was reading boiled down to this.. walking around town aimlessly and banging chicks.

At least this thing is pretty straight forward.. or so I thought.

A far more serious affliction than it sounds...

A far more serious affliction than it sounds…

Plot
The plot for Runaway City is anything but straightforward. It tries to do more than just string together erotic scenes and falls on its face pretty hard. Frankly, it is a complete mess. The protagonist spends most of his time wandering around doing seemingly unconnected things, until nearly the very end where a tree god starts talking to you in ALL CAPS ABOUT HOW IT SAVED YOUR LIFE AND GAVE YOU MIND CONTROL POWERS.

Foreshadowing? Maybe there was a little, but it was entirely unintelligible until after the fact. When questions get answered, I found myself wishing they hadn’t been. All the answers did was make me feel stupid for ever being curious in the first place.

Sisterly love, they just don't make it like they used to.

Sisterly love, they just don’t make it like they used to.

Story
Runaway City was a bit interesting at a few points, but that never really went anywhere. The execution of the plot kills any good aspect of this story and stops it from being interesting.

The most interesting part of the story is probably the older sex friend and her troubles, but the overall plot takes a dive for the bizarre and none of the stories with any of the girls wind up having any sort of interesting or satisfying conclusion of any kind. If you are thinking of picking this up, do not expect much from this department.

Fighting games and sex, her two favorite things at once!

Fighting games and sex, her two favorite things at once!

Music
The music is pretty old school and probably 16-bit at best, but actually fairly good. There are 22 tracks in total which is a good amount even by modern standards. The music isn’t particularly special on it’s own, but all things considered does a decent job at building up a good atmosphere. It is one the stronger aspects of this visual novel.

It mostly sounds like the sort of thing you would expect of a 90s video game, but that is exactly what this is. The smooth sax music that plays during some of the ero scenes is probably the most notable piece, if only for helping define the time period this comes from.

It would be funnier if it wasn't true.

It would be funnier if it wasn’t true.

Art
I usually feel pretty bad about commenting on older art styles in anime, manga, games or what have you because I really don’t like most of it. That said, with the exception of few really awkward looking images the art work is pretty good. Characters are not very expressive during the dialog, but that is more a fault of the writing. Most of the work behind the artwork here goes into the erotic images, but the character sprites and backgrounds look pretty good as well.

There are a few aspects of the erotic images that look funny. Sometimes a neck stretches in really odd ways or the foreshortening on a limb will look incredibly bizarre. Overall the art is old school, but solid. That is more than I will say for a lot of older things.

I had no idea why they were going into that hotel, thank you!

I had no idea why they were going into that hotel, thank you!

Gameplay
There really is very little in the way of gameplay here at all. The interface is very much like an adventure game, but everything is entirely linear. Basically all the choices give the player is a sense of being in control.. even though you are really not. It doesn’t work very well at all honestly, but it is pretty old. Maybe I should give it some credit for what it tries to do? Regardless of how it was first received back when it was first released in Japan in 95,  I can say it did not age well.

The adventure style is an interesting concept, but it does not play very well with the linearity at all. Unless you stop and “think” at every opportunity you will miss the little bit of glue that ties events together. Instead of serving as an interesting mechanic, it serves as a way to allow the player to miss out on ‘important’ information. It also allows you to skip a few sex scenes, and honestly, if you picked this up with any sort of idea what it was you were getting into you probably won’t be wanting to do that.

And yet he spends his time with Yuki anyway...

And yet he spends his time with Yuki anyway…

Erotic Content
This is clearly why this thing exists. This is the one aspect of this title where the adventure mechanics become more than an annoying way to miss parts of the story. Basically you are able to drive quite a few of the scenes, deciding what to do and when. Of course, in the end it all plays out the same. By the later part of the VN you are not really driving, just clicking the single choice you are given over and over until the end of a particular scene.

Most of the erotic scenes are straightforward oldschool sex: the kind that I will forget about entirely by the time I finish writing this. There is a little bit of rape and some bondage stuff but it is all incredibly vanilla considering the content. Basically any rape that takes place is in the form of salvation for the woman. I would say it makes the women in this story look pretty bad, but hey the protagonist does have magic personality-changing luck powers!

There is one ‘gem’ here that I won’t easily forget though, and it’s not for being hot or even disturbing, but because it had me laughing the entire time. Basically in this scene you are showing this video game nerd around your father’s workplace, which happens to be a game studio with its own private arcade. After playing video games with her for a bit, they decide to get it on… while playing an arcade game. After some hilarious foreplay, the protagonist somehow manages to mount her on the joystick for the arcade game she had been playing instead of himself… deflowering her with an arcade system… I’m not entirely sure if I was laughing because this was funny, awful, or both. Either way, I won’t be forgetting that one so easily.

THE FUCK DID THAT COME FROM?

THE FUCK DID THAT COME FROM?

Localization
It gets the job done. They leave some Japanese words in that most Americans won’t know, but anyone otaku enough to be playing an old school title like this one might not even notice. There are a lot of problems with this visual novel, but it is not the job of the localization staff to fix the awful plot line and story.

AND HERE I THOUGHT THEY WERE COMING ONTO TO ME BECAUSE I AM A STUD...

AND HERE I THOUGHT THEY WERE COMING ONTO TO ME BECAUSE I AM A STUD…

Overall Value
Probably not worth your time. If you really have a thing for old school eroge and you are in it for the sex, this might be worth it just for the one scene I mentioned earlier. Otherwise, stay away. There are of course 4 other titles on this disk and it is cheap. Only 3 of them work on 64 bit systems and getting any of them to stay in windowed mode at high resolution can be a real pain. Perhaps this was the bad apple. I will still read the rest at a later point, and we shall see.

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