Inside Pulse 12

Review: Lux-Pain (Nintendo DS)

Lux-Pain
Genre: Adventure/Visual Novel
Developer: Killaware
Publisher: Ignition
Release Date: 03/27/09


So, a bit of backstory before we begin today. Alex came to me about a month ago and said something to the effect of, “Have you seen this Lux-Pain game? It looks like something you’d like.” Having not seen anything about the game, I checked out a trailer and some screenshots and came to the conclusion that it looked like a cross between Trauma Center and Persona 4 with some adventure game elements thrown in for good measure. As such, I became quite interested in it fairly quickly. The more information I read and saw about it, the more interested I became. The story looked complex and engaging, the concept of fighting against nightmarish psychic viruses was interesting, and hey, I’m always a sucker for a good DS adventure game. By the time the game came out, I was pretty hyped up, and I was all set to pop the game into my DS and get to it, mostly because, despite everything I’d seen and read, I wasn’t entirely certain what “it” was.

So, this is Lux-Pain: Take three cups Persona 4, add in one cup Persona 3, stir in one cup Trauma Center and mix with one cup Hotel Dusk. Bake for twenty hours, translate poorly, and garnish with a pretty presentation to serve. Feeds one, but isn’t as filling as the hype suggested. If that description was a little confusing, well, so was the game, and it’s probably better that you know this thing up front.

The story of Lux-Pain sounds interesting on paper, if nothing else. You take on the role of Atsuki Saijo, an operative for a secret organization known as FORT. Atsuki has a very interesting special power: he can see into people’s minds. Atsuki is an only child who lost his family to bad fortune and a disease known as SILENT that makes the victims go insane, and often ends with them either killing themselves or everything they can get their hands on. Atsuki himself was infected with the disease, but was cured by FORT, and developed his powers as a result of the cure. This is more or less why he works for the organization in the first place, cleaning up SILENT infections around the world. As the game begins, he’s been assigned to the city of Kisaragi because some intel has indicated that the city has a fairly notable SILENT outbreak on its hands, which may or may not have been caused by an Original carrier who’s caused a few other incidents around the world. Of course, things are never as simple as all that.The story quickly becomes a great deal more complicated than one might first think as Atsuki begins meeting with everyone in the city and learning exactly what is going on. The plot itself mostly works very well, as the characters are interesting, there are plenty of surprising twists and turns to the storyline, and the game also has plenty of threads that go off in different directions to flesh out various parts of the game world, should you choose to follow up on them. The only real complaint one can register against the story itself is that after the first two acts resolve themselves, the game really should have ended. Instead it chooses to keep going into a third act that isn’t particularly engaging. The villain of the act comes out of nowhere, commits atrocities under rather dubious and unconvincing motivations, and stops short of pushing old ladies in front of buses to make the player hate him. Further, the fate of several characters is ultimately left up in the air at the end of the game, either because the game simply stops talking about them and never comes back to them or because the game is very obtuse about explaining what became of them. The ending is also kind of bland after everything that led up to it, and it’s kind of annoying that the game feels the need to kill off a WHOLE LOT of tertiary characters just to get across the point that SILENT, and by association the people affiliated with it, are bad. One or two deaths make perfect sense and can generate the appropriate emotions, but after that the player tends to stop caring about anyone who isn’t a main or secondary character, because they begin to suspect that everyone else is cannon fodder. Still, the story is mostly pretty good, and with some tweaking could easily have been great, so kudos for that.

On the other hand… okay, look, I don’t know how the actual corporate structure of Ignition Entertainment is laid out, so I’m making the assumption that, since Wako Yokoyama and “Partnertrans” are listed under the “Localization” heading in the instruction manual, those folks were in charge of translating the game from Japanese to English. If this complaint is being made in error, I apologize for that. I also don’t normally like to highlight the names of individuals involved in making a game, largely because I think game development is a group effort and everyone involved deserves to take equal credit or blame for the final product, but in this case I have to make an exception, because wow guys, I’m speechless here.

First off, I want to say good job on translating the voice acted dialogue. It made sense, mostly, and fit the product rather well. That said, the text translation of this game is disastrous on an epic scale. I’m assuming that you folks don’t know English very well, because running the text through Babel Fish would have produced a better result than whatever it was you did here. I don’t even know where to begin. First, if you’re writing out a script, and you paste that script into Microsoft Word, let’s say, and something in the script turns red? That’s a typo, and you need to fix it. I counted about fifteen of those in the time I played the game, and I wasn’t even LOOKING for them. I don’t even mean something simple like confusing “its” and “it’s”, I mean honest-to-goodness “spelling “Ëœalive’ as “Ëœalibe’ by accident” TYPOS. One or two I get, but the game averaged about one per chapter. That is bad. Second, when a character is discussing another character, and that character is using gender identifiers, it’s generally a good thing to USE THE CORRECT GENDER IDENTIFIERS. Now, I can understand the odd gender identification typo here and there, especially considering the game is twenty hours long and all. That said, identifying Yayoi, who is quite obviously a female, as “he” through about six different conversations? This is not even remotely close to reasonable. Third, when you’re writing out spoken dialogue, “&” is NOT an acceptable way to identify “and” unless you’re writing out, say, the name of a store or something. The fact that you use “&” about one hundred times throughout the translation is hideous on more levels than I even want to attempt to explain. Fourth, proofreading is your friend. If you hand the script to someone, and they read it, and they say, “I don’t understand about half of this”, that saves you from having to release a game that causes reviewers to say, “I don’t understand about half of this.” This is probably not a good idea if you’re trying to convince people that your product is worth buying. Fifth, using correct punctuation is important when one is trying to convey the point of a statement. If someone says “Come here!” the reader can then infer that the speaker wants them to approach. If, on the other hand, someone says “Come here?” well, the reader has no idea what to make of that. Sixth, while there wasn’t a reason to change the game from being located in Japan to being located in America, I can understand this thing to a very limited extent. However, would it have killed you to make certain that the voice work AND the text dialogue BOTH documented that the game took place in America? Hearing a character refer to the location as of Kisaragi (a Japanese sounding city if ever I’ve heard one) as being located in Japan as the game explains to me that it is, in fact, in America? Confusing, to say the very least. I could keep going, but I think the point has been made.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, if by some chance, a Lux-Pain 2 is announced and someone in the company comes to you and asks you to translate that as well, please send me an E-mail and I’d be happy to buy you a couple of high school level English books to study from. So, yeah. If you can enjoy a badly translated storyline in the same way some folks can enjoy a badly acted movie, Lux-Pain will certainly amuse you with its frequent spelling and grammar errors, but if you were hoping for a story that was easy to understand, forget it, you won’t be finding it here.

Moving on, Lux-Pain‘s visuals are mostly still art, and as such, they’re very nice. The game world and the characters who inhabit it are very nicely drawn, and the art is very pretty across the board. The game menus are also well designed and pleasing enough to look at, and the special effects used during the Sigma sequences are quite nice. The SILENT battles, however, are fairly bland in appearance. You’re given a generally uninteresting 3D model of a SILENT, most of which look like goofy lizards, on the top screen, while the bottom screen is just blue and white dots on a gray background most of the time. The audio in the game is also quite pleasant overall. The game music is very nice, both because it fits the theme of the game very well and because it’s just a very well composed soundtrack in general. There’s a fair amount of voice acting in the game, and for the most part these bits of spoken dialogue are done quite well, though the audio mixing is occasionally such that one cannot hear the dialogue over the music. The sound effects are mostly good, though the effects in the SILENT battles are, unfortunately, not particularly special. Overall, the presentation of the game is mostly well done, with a few exceptions here and there that can mostly be ignored, for they take up far less time than the good parts.

Now, as noted above, Lux-Pain is essentially a combination adventure game/visual novel, which essentially means that for every hour of gameplay you’ll spend five reading or listening to plot exposition. As such, the vast majority of the game is spent moving from one place to another. Upon arriving at your various destinations, you’ll be scrolling through lots of text and occasionally making some choice or another to move things along as the situation merits. For the most part, this element of the gameplay works well enough. You can perform nearly any action needed at any given time with either the stylus or the control pad and buttons, and it’s easy enough to do everything that needs doing in these sections without much trouble. When Atsuki is required to answer a question or make an observation to advance the story, the game alternates between two methods of allowing the player to do this. The first is the expected multiple-choice answers option most games offer, which allows you to choose from a small pool of possible answers, depending on what you feel the need to say. The second method is the Emotion System, which essentially allows the player to answer a question with a FEELING more than a direct ANSWER. You’re given a number of different emotional choices, from “Cool” to “Anger” to “Happiness” and beyond. Each merits a moderately different response depending on the situation in question. For instance, when someone comes to you expressing unhappiness about a classmate being hospitalized, expressing “Sadness” generates a sympathetic (and positive) response, while expressing “Happiness” generates a horrified (and negative) response. While it’s amusing seeing someone call you “a monster”, as you’d expect, choosing the correct answer in these sorts of conversations is ideal, as it makes people like you better.

Now, if the game was ALL moving around and talking, it would pretty much be a straight-up visual novel, but Lux-Pain has a few other tricks to play around with. The first is the Sigma System, which is essentially a mind-reading/environmental scanning gimmick. When Atsuki talks to a person or enters an area that has a Shinen (a readable thought/memory) in it, the game will prompt you to scan it using Sigma. At this point, you’ll be able to erase the screen in front of you to find the Sigma, which you will then hold the stylus on until they are destroyed, leaving behind the memory they contain. When doing this in a game environment, you’re given all the time in the world to do so, but when trying to remove a Shinen from a person, you’re working under two restrictions: first, the segments are timed, and running out of time means you fail, and second, you’re only allowed to erase so much of the area before you’re unable to do so any longer. If you can’t find the Shinen before then, you also fail. Once you’ve located all of the Shinen needed, you’ll then be able to either play back the memory or imprint the memory on the person the Shinen was retrieved from, which will then show you the thoughts you’ve retrieved in the sort of scattered way you’d imagine a real person’s thought process might actually appear to a telepath, which is pretty neat. You can also occasionally imprint memories you’ve retrieved previously onto people at later points in the game to glean additional information, assuming you have the right Shinen at the right time to do so. If you’ve discovered multiple Shinen on a person, these Shinen will occasionally blend together into a THIRD memory, which will appear under a cloud of orange smoke. Dispelling said smoke adds another memory to your list of memories, and doing so often initiates SILENT battles, depending on the situation.

The SILENT battles are the other trick Lux-Pain has up its sleeve, and these generally also work well enough. You will meet various people who are infected with SLIENT, which is, as we’ve noted previously, a sort of mental disease that makes people go nuts. When you encounter someone who’s infected, the game will present you with the SILENT you’re facing on the top screen and a psychic battleground on the bottom where you will fight the SILENT in question. The various SILENT you face will fight you either by spawning blue dots in patters on the screen which you will have to tap as they turn white to dispel, spawning glass-covered blue dots that you will have to tap on to break the glass before slashing the now-exposed white dots to expel, spawning blue dots with arrows in the corner which you will have to open by dragging the arrows to the corners of the screen before slashing at the now-exposed white dots, or spawning a combination of the three. These battles can be intense affairs, especially when fighting stronger strains of SILENT that can spawn multiple attack types, but they’re thankfully easy enough to play and work with, meaning you often won’t spend large amounts of time retrying battles once you get used to the dynamics of battle. Each time you complete a Sigma event or a SILENT battle, you earn experience points, depending on the power of the SILENT beaten or the Shinen uncovered. As you earn experience points, Atsuki levels up (and earns very weird titles), which can upgrade many of his abilities, including his time available in Sigma events, his ability to erase the game world, and other things. This is a small detail that most players might only barely notice throughout the game, but it’s still a nice touch that adds an interesting dynamic to the game.

The core game is about twenty hours long, give or take, but aside from the main storyline, there are all sorts of side stories you can hunt down if you’re interested, as almost all of the characters in the game are given a surprisingly large amount of development throughout the game. Impressing many of the important secondary characters unlocks further side stories in the Archive mode, most of which are either side stories meant to fill in gaps in the narrative or, in most cases, side stories where Atsuki goes on “dates” with the secondary cast members, just to flesh out the characters a bit more. You’ll need to play the game a second time to unlock many of these Archived scenes, however, which is a pretty good motivator to play the game over again if you found the story compelling enough to do so. The game also features multiple endings and the ability to carry over some of your experience from one game to the next, which also makes further playthroughs easier on the player. It’s nice to see an adventure game make a concentrated effort to encourage the player to play the game again, as most often, said games often only care about getting the player through the game once and then never again.

That said, it’s still kind of hard to recommend Lux-Pain, for a number of different reasons. The most obvious reason is the previously mentioned horrid translation, but even that alone isn’t enough to drive one away kicking and screaming, as the concept is still quite solid otherwise. The other significant complaint about the game is that it’s hard to know who, exactly, the game would APPEAL to. It’s a twenty hour long adventure game where you spend most of the twenty hours reading conversations, and your reward for doing well at the game is unlocking MORE conversations to read. There are gameplay elements outside of the heavy amount of reading in the game, certainly, but not nearly enough to interest someone who ISN’T looking for tons of text. Text heavy RPG’s often feature plenty of combat to break things up, while adventure games often break things up with puzzles and such; Lux-Pain does neither, and that can be a bit hard to take if you ARE interested in the concept of a visual novel in the first place.

Beyond that, though, there’s the fact that the things in the game that are NOT talking don’t really achieve the levels of awesomeness they should. SILENT battles start out as interesting fights, but fairly quickly degenerate into repeating the same patterns over and over because there are only three types of attacks SILENT can use against you, and even with the limited amount of SILENT battles across the game, this becomes fairly obvious as the game progresses. The Emotion System seems like a neat way of answering questions, but it pops up infrequently across the game and doesn’t really feel like it DOES anything. It influences character opinions of you, certainly, but this only seems to matter if you want to fill out the Archive, because otherwise, it doesn’t seem to impact the storyline in any notable way. Earning Experience points is a neat thing to do in the game, but the actual levels and bonuses you earn don’t feel like they mean very much in practice, and you could most likely complete the entire game without them. The Sigma system is the only system that feels like it’s legitimately fleshed out, as it’s also the system that pops up the most frequently in the game, but it alone isn’t enough to keep the game interesting, and that’s kind of a shame.

Lux-Pain is really a study in what could have been more than anything else, as the game shows signs of definite promise that are unfortunately overshadowed by too many flaws and too little innovation. The storyline and concept are incredibly interesting on paper and almost carry the weight of the product on their back, but a horrid translation and a rushed third act ultimately conspire to bring this down. The presentation is very nice and the game is easy to play, but the fact that the game is mostly talking will probably put off anyone who doesn’t want to spend twenty hours reading. A lot of interesting gameplay elements are touched upon and introduced, but most are either underdeveloped or underutilized, which only serves to showcase how focused the game is on making you read. There are plenty of attempts to make the game worth a second playthrough, but since most of the extra content involves reading through EVEN MORE dialogue, only the most dedicated of readers will really be willing to dive in and experience this. With some more focus and some additional polish, a sequel could easily be worth your money, but as it is, Lux-Pain is less a must-have game and more a disappointing example of how something that sounds so cool could ultimately fall apart.

The Scores:
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
Final Score: Decent Game.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Lux-Pain is essentially a case of a promising concept not living up to expectations, and it’s a terribly sad example of such a thing at that. At its core, it seems like a winning product: the concept is intriguing, the plot starts off strong and features plenty of twists and turns, the presentation is mostly rather solid, the game is very easy to play and it features a lot of interesting gameplay ideas. On top of that, the developer took the time to add in reasons to replay the game. The game itself is around twenty hours long, which is almost unheard of for an adventure game. Once you start really playing it, however, the promising outer layers peel away, leaving a game that’s underdeveloped and uninspiring. Between the abhorrent translation, the underdeveloped gimmicks, and the rushed third act, most of the promise of the game is unfortunately unfulfilled. Anyone who MIGHT still be willing to overlook these flaws may STILL be put off by the fact that most of the twenty hours of “gameplay” is spent reading an electronic book. If you’re a fan of reading and you can overlook the translation errors and marginal gameplay, Lux-Pain might be worth a look, but everyone else can safely pass this by and hope for an improved and focused sequel instead.