Let’s Get Cute
Like pretty much every genre of every medium, the gaming genre of the visual novel has a number of subgenres to help further classify the games that fall into it. Being a mostly Japanese exclusive genre until recent years, most of these subgenre titles are abbreviations or portmanteaus of Japanese words, with many being popular fan terms rather than “official” genre titles. As such, the western fandom typically uses these Japanese titles as well.
Many of my favorite visual novels fall under the “utsuge” (depressing game) or “nakige” (crying game) subgenres. Not so much that I find crying to be entertaining, but more because I feel that it takes great writing skills to invoke such strong emotion. As such, most games I’ve played under these subgenres tend to have the best storytelling.
Within that same reasoning, there’s another visual novel genre that I tend to avoid: “moege,” or “moe game.” Moe is a Japanese term without a firm definition (usually meaning something slightly different to different people), but at its most basic refers to media featuring cute girls. The moege typically features the player taking the role of young male, interacting with a series of young women, usually with stereotypical anime personalities, and has a heavy lean on romantic themes.
When I was presented the opportunity to try out a recently western-released moege, I figured it was time to stop dodging them and see if they were actually worth my time. At the other end of the game now, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by what I got to experience.
Developed by Purple Software and published in the west by Sekai Project, ChronoClock was released on February 28th, 2017, for PC via Steam.
Time Travel Pickups
The story of ChronoClock follows Rei Sawatari, a high school boy living a normal day-to-day life. That is, until he inherits a pocket watch from his grandfather, which he quickly discovers allows him to rewind time if he breaks it. Living inside of this watch is a being named Chronos, who explains the rules of the watch to Rei: Smashing the watch will rewind time by five minutes. He can use it however he wants, but only once an hour.
Rei proceeds to use his newfound power in the most obvious way a high school boy would – picking up girls. All is going well and good until one day, when a student falls off the school roof to her death. Rei uses the watch to rewind time and try to save her, discovering that she was attempting to confess her love to his best friend. Having saved her life, but ruined her confession, Rei decides to help this girl, Miu, work up the courage to confess her love again.
So begins an incredibly lighthearted, no-stakes story about a high schooler trying to find a girlfriend. Even the opening movie has the tagline (in awkward English) “Begin an Easy Time Travel.” You’re just here to pick the cutest girl, and that’s about it.
ChronoClock presents a set of four main story routes, each corresponding to a certain potential romantic interest…and each somewhat conforming to an anime cliche. You have Misaki, your underclassman and standard tsundere; Makoto, a classmate who happens to be the daughter of a Yakuza; D.D., the token foreigner who blends English and Japanese together; and Michiru…your sister.
Speaking of which, this game does contain some…uncomfortable…anime tropes, which you may want to be aware of before diving in. Yes, one of your romance options is your own sister, and the game doesn’t try to sidestep it like other stories (i.e. “She’s actually your stepsister,” or “She’s adopted.”), but rather bluntly spells out that this is a blood relative. There’s also the fact that Rei is really into catching glimpses of girls’ panties, so you get treated to a number of panty shots featuring these high school-aged girls.
On the positive side, despite not having much of a plot to speak of, ChronoClock handles its character interactions incredibly well. Much of the entertainment here is watching relationships develop, not only between Rei and whichever girl you’re interested in, but between every member of the cast. This leads to some legitimately heartwarming moments, and a number of passages that I read with a big, stupid smile on my face.
While the character relationships develop well, the personalities of the characters themselves don’t get quite the same treatment. Each of the girls has their focal personality trait, and they never really seem to grow out of it, nor develop much deeper than it. Despite great interactions, the personalities eventually started to grate on my nerves near the end of each route.
ChronoClock also leans heavily on comedy as well, and it does so quite successfully. Rei often plays the straight man to the antics of the girls around him to great effect, and the character D.D. is a walking awkward situation creator, making any scene with her on screen hilarious.
One thing I do have to question is some of the choices made in the localization to English. First off, there is a lot of cursing in this game, especially from Rei, which doesn’t appear to have been in the original text. Its occasionally used to comedic effect, but I really feel that Sekai Project went overboard with the cursing – these characters swear more often than the roughneck warehouse employees I used to work with. D.D.’s quirk of dropping English into Japanese sentences is localized in reverse – dropping Japanese into English sentences – which can make her tough to understand, especially as she uses some Japanese words that even hardcore otaku may not be immediately familiar with.
Colorful and Customizable
To put it simply, the graphical presentation of ChronoClock is beautiful. The background images are nicely varied, detailed, and colorful, with some occasional animations lending to the atmosphere. The character sprites are nicely detailed as well, and highly expressive, often changing poses and expressions in the middle of a sentence to reflect the current tone. The CG art stills are even more impressive, with heightened detail and excellent color and shadow work.
For being a game with such a simple premise and scant plot, the amount of work put into the actual presentation is simply stunning.
One thing I want to mention is the amount of customization available in this game. Within the menus, you can adjust the color, opacity, and positioning of the text boxes, which right away was very interesting. Diving in even further, you can assign different functions (saving, loading, various presentation adjustments) to a command bar at the top of the screen. If you don’t want to have that, you can even assign these same things to certain mouse motions. The level of experience customization here is astounding, allowing you to tweak just about everything to your personal specifications.
Tickle the Ivories
Continuing the theme of great presentation, ChronoClock also includes a great soundtrack with some excellent pieces. Most of the soundtrack is made up of strings, piano, and some acoustic guitars. There is a heavy lean on the piano, though, and with me being a sucker for piano-focused music, this lean definitely boosts the soundtrack overall by a few points.
Despite having a decent number of tracks, though (the in-game music player includes 31 songs), some songs still manage to get repetitive during gameplay. Each of the girls has their own theme which is played nearly every time they have the spotlight outside of major moments. This means that, despite all of the included tracks, you’ll get to listen to the same four or five over and over most of the time.
The game is also fully voice acted in Japanese, outside of the main character Rei, and each of the performers turn in some fairly good performances. For the most part, the actors and actresses avoid falling into the vocal tones that are usually matched up with the personality cliches these characters have. Particularly notable are the performances for Makoto, switching between cutesy and thuggish at the drop of a hat, and D.D., who is constantly bubbly and hilarious without becoming overbearing.
Building a Bond
Overall, ChronoClock is a vastly entertaining game with some endearing characters, although there isn’t much of a real plot to speak of. The presentation is excellent, the amount of customization is astounding, and the development of the relationships between characters is endearing.
Unfortunately, the game is dragged down a bit by relatively static character personalities and some unusual localization choices. The soundtrack manages to get repetitive despite including some excellent tracks, as well. Of course, there is the inclusion of some uncomfortable subject matter, although opinions on that are best left to the individual interesting in playing.
As the first moege visual novel I’ve played, I’ve come out the other end decently impressed with ChronoClock. Has it inspired me to seek out other moege? No, probably not. While the game was entertaining, it lacked any real depth to get truly invested in.
I can say, though, that I don’t regret giving it a shot. I’d recommend ChronoClock to gamers who are already familiar with and interested in visual novels, as I’m not sure this would be the best style of title to introduce newcomers to the genre, especially considering some of its content.
Review copy provided by Sekai Project. Screenshots taken by reviewer.