The visual novel genre has always had this stigma for being plot heavy dating simulators. It’s a point that fans of the genre get rather frustrated by, myself included. Having played enough games in the genre I now know that’s not always the case, yet I’ve never had a clear example I could use to back up my argument. This is until now. Sickness is really not for the faint hearted, it’s a disturbing tale that puts you in the mind-set of a high school student turned killer, as he tries to restore normality to his world as it comes tumbling down around him. Developers Zetsubou make this novels dark narrative clear from the start presenting you with a warning screen before you even start that highlights some of the material the games plot covers.
Our opening scene throws us in at the deep end and perfectly sets up the tone for the rest of the title, as we find our protagonist Suoh standing over the bloodied corpse of his former employer. This was a scene that Suoh certainly had not original envisioned when he’d gone to work day. But after his boss refused to give him his latest pay check, the rage built up inside our protagonist till he lashed out beating his boss to death with his bare fists. A short violent outburst has now irreparably changed Suoh’s life forever. It’s a crime that would class him as a murder and see him spend the rest of his life in a prison cell. Fortunately for him though he just so happens to know a ‘friend’ with a history of questionably legal activities who might just be able to help him out.To avoid a life sentence our lead character reluctantly agrees to help out the one person who is able to get him out of his predicament, Markus, by assisting him in some not so legal activities. It’s a decision that sees Suoh’s life go from bad to worse as he is encouraged to use his violent behaviour. The story initially can be a bit slow, but after that initial hour everything starts to move along at a fair old pace, as we soon advance from simple debt collector to killer for hire. Suoh starts off quite a believable character. He has certain morals he tries to keep to, but the further his life of crime progresses the more he loses sight of them. It’s understandable that this new lifestyle would bring a lot of stress and you can see the madness slowly eat away at his mind. Eventually though our protagonist starts committing acts that are completely ridiculous, and you really start to hate the character for his decision making, of which you have no control over.
Our up and coming criminal is not particularly a bad guy though as we soon discover. After his parents perished in a car accident Suoh was forced to leave school. Looking for whatever work he could get in order to support himself and his twin sister Sara. She is the complete opposite of her brother. She’s a loving sibling and constantly worries over the welfare of her brother. It’s during these interactions with Sara that we see the softer side of our protagonist. He’s a lot more caring and slightly more likable as you start to empathise more with his situation as everything he is doing is to keep his sister safe and provide her a better life. The rest of the cast you meet along the way are the games most interesting players though. They don’t fall into the typical VN tropes, being professional killers they all bring their own unique personalities quirks which make you want to discover more about these characters.
The game requires you to make several choices along its 810 hour story. These decisions can be split into two categories social or life and death situations. Social choices are simple how you go about interacting with the games other major players. For example do you straight up lie to your sister, in regards to your new work schedule, or try to dodge the questions all together? Life and death situations are choices made in the middle of fights or while taking out hits on unsuspecting targets. A wrong move here can cost Suoh his life and end the game early on. Sickness has two major conclusions, achieved through a combination of both types of decision. After getting one ending it can be rather confusing how to try and achieve the later without the use of a walkthrough guide. It’s the social decisions that can be the most awkward to navigate as their importance to the story is not always as clear.It is advised to play through again though as the two ending scenarios are well worth watching.
The visuals aren’t perfect. There are a couple of ups and downs in in terms of quality with some elements having an unpolished feel about them. Backgrounds and character designs leave something to be desired but the CG artwork is particularly well done. The scenes depicted never get to gory or violent but there is enough there to put some people off. The music is similarly mixed with some pieces being coming across as bland while others create a great sense of tension and add to the stories drama. The writing is handled pretty well. There is the rare typo from time to time that which make it seem amateurish, but more often it’s just the way some of the lines have been worded which can be distracting.
Sickness is sinister, violent and bloody yet it’s one you’ll find hard to put down. It’s a real stand out title from the visual novel genre, with much more brutality than romance. The protagonist for the most part can be very unlikeable as he takes some repulsive actions to which you don’t have a choice over, but the rest of the narrative and characters more than make up for it. A must read for any visual novel fans looking for a bit of variation in their library.
This review is based off a review code of Sickness provided by Unwonted Studios.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.