Review: A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk

Clean It Up

Adult games are a relative rarity in the market, and it’s fairly easy to see why. After all, including explicit content and/or getting the “dreaded” AO rating from the ESRB limits your potential player base near instantly. Most general marketplaces, both physical store and digital, will refuse to carry games with this content. Some gamers will refuse to even entertain the idea of playing an adult title.

So, as a creator and publisher of adult games, whatever are you to do to solve this dilemma? Easy! Cut out all the adult content and release an “all-ages” version! Without all that pesky sex and nudity, you can now get your game on Steam and into the hands of more people!

I’ve mentioned in the past that the visual novel genre is a haven for 18+ games, and as such, it is also quite common to find all-ages cuts of those same titles. There’s a number of visual novels fans that would rather enjoy the story a game contains without having to read through depictions of anime characters gettin’ it on, and I myself tend toward the cleaner versions of these games when I have the choice.

A form of self-censorship on the part of the game’s creators, there are some that are much more graceful at handling these cuts than others. One title might write in a new transition or even a brand new scene to take the place of the adult portions of the story. For those that handle it well, the player might not even realize they’re playing a “clean” version of an adult game.
Others, though, simply go in with a hacksaw and carve out the sex scenes, with little regard for narrative flow.

Developed by Unison Shift: Blossom and published in the west by Sekai Project, A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk was released for PC via Steam on December 18th, 2017. As inferred, we played through the all-ages version of this title for review.

An Intro to Magic

Ley-Line follows Koga Michiru, a young man who has recently enrolled at an academy located in the middle of nowhere after receiving a mysterious invitation. Immediately after arriving on campus, he accidentally destroys a statue while saving another student who fell off a balcony.

Finding himself in front of the school principal shortly thereafter, Michiru receives his punishment: both him and the student he saved are ordered to work for the school’s “Bureau for the Investigation of Special Affairs.” It’s through their time working for this unusual group that Michiru learns two secrets about the school: magic exists within the academy’s walls, and a secondary world known as the “Realm of Night” appears when the school clock tower rings.

Ley-Line‘s main story is presented over the course of five chapters, with a very episodic feel to them. Each chapter (aside from the first, acting as the intro) has the cast solving a problem within the school caused by out-of-control magical items called “Mists.” Small hints to an overarching story are dropped here and there, but the game as a whole feels like a collection of shorter tales. With each chapter taking maybe two hours to read, this game is pretty easy to pick up and play in short bursts.

The game’s cast is relatively small and tight-knit, with only six or so characters that really contribute to the story. Despite the small cast, the characters themselves don’t really develop all that much; the overly-emotional kid Michiru saves from falling at the beginning of the game is still the same overly-emotional kid at the end, as is the stoic and quickly-aggravated head of the Bureau and the robotic and emotionally-detached girl who seems to live in the school library. The only real development of these characters is in the form of their relationships, and how they change and grow together throughout the course of the story.

I think this focus on relationship development over character development is because this game is the first part of a trilogy. Ley-Line is the first of three games forming an overarching story (the other two of which Sekai Project has also picked up and is working on translating), and it certainly feels more like an introduction to a series rather than a stand-alone game. The episodic nature of this entry does help alleviate the feeling that you’re just reading what’s essentially a really long prologue, and some of the various mysteries introduced in this game are intriguing enough to have me looking forward to the next release.

While the core chapters are interesting little stories, the character routes you can choose to pursue are, to put it bluntly, a waste of time. Two of the chapters have a strong focus on certain female characters, and if you make certain narrative choices, the game will branch off from the main story to a more romantic plot featuring said girl. These parts are entirely focused on Michiru building a relationship and dating the chapter’s respective character, and have absolutely no bearing on the core story presented in the game.

These side-stories are also where you’ll find the game’s adult content if you elect to play the 18+ version. As I mentioned, I played the all-ages version, and it is painfully obvious where the sex scenes were cut from the game. These scenes are the capstone of these side routes, essentially acting as…uh…”rewards?”…for branching off the main path. Really, it feels like the side routes were made entirely to justify adult content, as after Michiru and the featured girl get it on, the game just ends.

The first side chapter you can access, featuring a young girl named Neko, shows this off to a spectacular fashion, while also displaying how rushed the “censorship” for the all-ages release feels. After about an hour of cute romantic scenes with her, Neko just suddenly decides she wants Michiru intimately, with the game cutting off immediately after. Seriously, the final line of this route for the all-ages version is essentially “She removes my penis from my pants,” and the next is a splash screen saying “Thank You for Playing,” leading me to a fit of laughter from the abruptness of it all.

Adult routes aside, the writing of the core story is generally decent. There’s some formatting errors when a text box goes over three lines, where the third line will only contain a single word, with the rest of the text continuing on a fourth. I also ran across two lines near the end of the game that were completely untranslated from Japanese. Neither were particularly important to understanding the current plot, but it did make the game feel sloppy in its final moments.

A Misty View

I’d definitely have to credit Ley-Line‘s visual presentation as one of its strongest suits. The character sprites are well-designed, decently detailed, and very distinct, doing a great job at conveying each character’s personality visually. The background art stands out even more, especially in scenes that take place outside of the confines of the school building. I did notice a few issues with sprite quality during moments where the camera would zoom out, causing the characters to become weirdly pixelated.

The soundtrack, unfortunately, isn’t as impressive. Aside from a few quiet piano tracks I enjoyed, much of it felt very generic. I really have no desire to go back and listen to the tracks here again, despite enjoying one or two of them.

The voice acting here, at least, is much stronger. Ley-Line is fully voiced in its original Japanese, with most of the performers turning in solid performances that fit the characters well. This ends up meaning, though, that the characters I already found annoying just have that annoyance further enhanced. The aforementioned Neko is an infinite source of nervous energy that ended up quickly grating on my nerves during her side story, and her voice, while admittedly well-performed, just managed to increase my agony.

Bring on the Main Course

Overall, A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk is a solid introduction to a trilogy with a couple of pointless plot tumors that I wish I could cut off. The core story is entertaining, with each chapter providing an intriguing little short story while peppering in some world building and a few mysteries to keep my wanting more. The romantic side routes, though, were mostly dull and entirely pointless.

As I also mentioned, the way the developer went about hacking out the sex scenes for the all-ages release is hilariously awful. It feels as if they just highlighted a chunk of code from the 18+ release and pressed “Delete” without thinking of any potential consequences. Luckily, these moments don’t affect the core plot.

If you’re a visual novel fan looking for a quick read (around 15-20 hours depending on reading speed), Ley-Line is a mostly entertaining romp with quite a bit of potential that I could easily see developing more in the next entry. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the future. However, if you’re going to pick up the all-ages version, I’d suggest just skipping the character side-routes.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Sekai Project for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.