"This is the Ultramarine Academy Broadcast Club speaking. Is anyone alive out there?"
Line breaks ahoy.
Imagine if you will the high school equivalent of an insane asylum, where students are admitted based off a fictional personality score called an adaptation coefficient. The higher the number, the less chance you have of fitting in with "normal" society. Now imagine you're on a field trip with 7 other friends, each one missing a few sandwiches from their respective picnic baskets. Relationships get strained, tensions mount, and the trip is for the most part an unmitigated disaster. You pack up your things, glad to be leaving, only to come back and find the rest of humanity has suddenly disappeared.
Oh, and you're the craziest one of them all.
Cross+Channel is a visual novel from Japanese (who else) developers Flying Shine in 2003 that puts you in the shoes of a certifiably batshit insane teenager by the name of Kurosu Taichi. It follows your standard visual novel format: you're presented with choices for various situations, your choices will steer you towards the various routes of the game; again, as per visual novel tradition, each girl has a route. C+C does play around with this somewhat, for reasons which will be explained a little later on, but essentially none of your choices will have significant negative effects.
You see, you have literally all the time in the world.
Here we see Snow White-hair and the Seven Weirdos. From left to right, we have Dopey (Sakuraba), Siscon-y (Tomoki), Loli-y (Miki), Tsundere-y (Touko), Snow White-hair (Taichi), Bashful (Misato), and Angry (Kiri). Creepy (Youko) is also in this pic. She's just shy is all.
Line break joke.
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
The plot is impossible to describe without using mild spoilers, but it's nothing you won't find out early enough in the game, or figure out for yourself soon enough. Taichi & company come back from a poor excuse for a camp-out to find that the rest of humanity has completely disappeared. Even the animals and the quintessential cicada buzzing are nowhere to be found. So the situation is grim indeed: 8 mentally and socially unstable teenagers left to fend for themselves in an empty world with no electricity, supervision or law enforcement. Sounds like a recipe for either comedic sexy hijinks or paranoid suspenseful thriller, depending on the tone of the story. Cross+Channel is...both.
I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you once again that the protagonist, the character whose eyes you experience this game through, is not right in the head. He doesn't think like normal people.
This is most definitely not a dig at every generic dating sim ever, no siree. Now why would you think that?
The one time he wakes up with Touko, it...heh, just read the damn thing yourself.
But yeah. Plot. The "Broadcasting Club" quickly disintegrates into separate factions upon realizing they can't stand each other. Taichi, however, has other plans. Despite all his general craziness, he does genuinely want to spend time making memories with friends, and so he attempts to keep everyone together in time for the club's radio tower to be finished. Tempers flare, skirts are flipped, Taichi gets smacked around a fair bit, and finally on Sunday the tower is almost completed. Everyone goes up on the roof to admire it, only to find the entire thing has been sabotaged. Stretched past their breaking points, violence breaks out, Taichi sees blood and suffers one of his insanity attacks, everything goes static-y, and then fades to white.
Start over from Day One. We (and eventually Taichi) soon find out that the world is stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop that starts on Monday and ends on Sunday afternoon. Memories, events and even deaths are reset as if nothing happened. Trapped in an endlessly repeating world with no meaning or consequences of his actions, will Taichi attempt to salvage what little he can of his friendships? Or will the last shred of humanity he still holds on to be crushed under the boredom of eternity?
This entire conversation was, oddly enough, far more touching than any excuse for sexual harassment should ever be.
Kiri's not buying it, though.
HOW'S IT LOOK/HOW'S IT SOUND/HOW'S IT PLAY
Pretty standard fare in the looks department. Cross+Channel is fairly smooth and easy on the eyes, if a little skimpy with the backgrounds/CGs. There's a few cool visual effects, and occasionally they'll switch styles to a kind of chibi-esque look for comedic effect. Which works pretty well, there's a great Powerpuff Girls (of all things) reference pretty early on that had me giggling like a schoolgirl. There's a bit of a reliance on the same couple backgrounds (the school, the roof, the roads) that gets a bit old after a while, but it's nothing painful to look at.
He speaks the truth. Although it might help his argument if he didn't have his hand ever so lovingly wrapped around her shoulder...
This picture is a lot less funny the second time around.
Character sprites are again, decent at best, mediocre at worst. There's nothing remarkable about the visuals in this game, although it was made in 2003, so maybe I'm not giving the developers quite enough credit. The characters are definitely easily identified, and all have their own (mostly) unique designs. Miki's air intake vents at the top of her head look kind of silly, but apparently that's just one of those archetypal anime hairstyles...
Cross+Channel's music is quite nice, actually. There's nothing about it that really stands out, but its quiet little piano ditties do a wonderful job of setting up the mood. The soundtrack seems to know exactly when to be whimsical, when to be somber, and when to quietly reinforce the ever-present feeling of loneliness and abandonment. Voices are passable: highlights (for me) were Kiri's seething hate and Touko's rapid-fire cursing. Again, my only complaint is the lack of any real eye- or ear-openers. Everything has its place and fits in nicely, but nothing really made me o_O.
"Miss Innocence" really doesn't like you.
Her name is Sakura Kiri. You killed her father. (not really) Prepare to die. (yes really)
THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
As usual, I'll start with the negative so I can end on a positive note. Despite what I might say, this is a fantastic game that I'd recommend to anyone who ever felt even a little bit of the so-called Hedgehog's Dilemma. So yeah. Time to tear my beloved game a new one.
Let's start with the easiest target: this game is rated 18+ for several reasons. There's mature subject matter, there's thinking about sex, there's talking about sex, and there's having sex. On top of being as loony as a few lyrics short of a Pink Floyd album, Taichi is also a massive perv. He's got more clever euphemisms for sex than Oghren from Dragon Age, and uses them more frequently than the average Family Guy episode. His favourite form of interaction with the girls is to see how close he can get to sexual harassment without legitimately upsetting them. To say sometimes he goes too far is to say that sometimes rain is wet. Again, I will remind you that the protagonist is not a normal person. Whether he is even a good person at all I leave up to your decision. Expect to do unpleasant things during your stay in Taichi's mind. While playing certain points (during Kiri's route especially), it felt like I was bolted to the seat of a rollercoaster that I knew was heading somewhere I did not want to go.
You are not a good person, you know.
I liked Kiri. Can you tell?
Taichi's thought processes are pretty hard to follow, as to be expected from someone of his caliber. He'll make up words on the fly, he'll make obscure puns that are virtually incomprehensible when translated (though they did a damn good job of trying), and the reasoning behind his actions will probably frustrate you to no end. He's a tough character to love, but...he has his reasons.
I'd like to commend the folks over at Amaterasu Translations for doing an overall pretty awesome job of translating this game; from the sheer amount of wordplay, jokes, and references I can't imagine this was an easy job.
A fair few scenes are repeated: as to be expected from a Groundhog Day time loop, but some flashbacks also show up two or three times; probably just to make sure you paid attention to some of the relevant information. Several choices are not very intuitive; sometimes getting a reaction out of someone is a better idea than playing nice. However, if you screw up, there's always next week, and that's when the skip button ends up getting taped down while you go make yourself a sandwich. There is a quicksave/quickload function that's great for difficult choices, though, and it's pretty obvious soon after which was the "right" choice.
And finally I'll deal with the elephant in the room: the sex. This is an eroge, an 18+ game with "scenes of a graphic sexual nature". There's no all-ages patch like with Tsukihime or a few others; if you really can't deal with it, the skip function is your last line of defense and your best friend. If you do choose to power through, you'll find a mixed bag as far as the scenes go. Some are good, some passable, some are awkwardly shoehorned in, and all of them are pretty long. Mostly due to Taichi's constant snarking and witty one-liners. I won't name names, but a certain someones' scene is jarringly misplaced, murders the atmosphere and relationship-building character development, and then takes a dump on its corpse. (Hint: her name starts with a "K", and ends in an "iri") But that's just my own personal opinion. As a whole, if you've seen this kind of thing before, the ero shouldn't bother you at all. Nothing terrible, nothing special. If you haven't, well...there are worse places to start. -cough- Saya -cough-
That said, the plot itself was fantastic. It's very much a character-driven exploration into loneliness, self-reliance and its pitfalls, and communication and its problems. The title itself is incredibly meaningful: not only is Taichi's family name "Kurosu" the Japanification of the word "Cross", there is a scene in which he speculates on how each student seems to be tuned in to their own self-contained channel, and the problems that occur whenever these channels...cross. The plot does stray into soft sci-fi territory towards the end, but it doesn't jar the suspension of disbelief, and very little emphasis is placed on understanding the why and how. This story is about the characters and their interactions, and it does that superbly.
Hint: He's talking about her notebook. Hint #2: Notebooks are generally pretty flat. Hint #3: She's pretty flat.
Silly Steve Jobs. Everyone knows Sakuya invented the iPad.
Speaking of character interactions, it's one of the high points of this game. Most of the other characters can at least keep up with Taichi's random acts of conversation, and the ensuing banter is always entertaining. Some of his "duels" with Miki are genuinely hilarious, and even those who can't keep up (poor Touko...) at least have great reactions. That's the kind of character Taichi is: always looking to get a reaction out of people. Granted, said reaction is usually a fist to the face, but you can't make a crazy person omelet without breaking a few cheekbones, can you?
Finally, against my better judgement, I do want to talk about the ending. I'm gonna spoiler the hell out of it, though, so only click if you have either already finished the game, or have no intention of playing it yourself.
So there you have it. Cross+Channel is an entirely unique look into the interactions between people; it gives those society cast out a second chance. For those willing and capable to follow Taichi on his uncomfortable, unpleasant and unforgiving journey, it offers a surprisingly poignant look at those that don't fit in. Despite a few jarring mood shifts, the "mature" content and some loss in translation, it's still a fantastic experience that shouldn't be missed by any fan of the visual novel medium. And if you aren't, well, give it a try!
If nothing else, it spawned this addictively fun little flash game called Nanaca+Crash which consists entirely of the cast of Cross+Channel trying to keep Taichi in the air as long as physically possible...by beating him rather savagely. It becomes much, much funnier once you've played the game.
That's all for today's review; this has been your host Deskimus Prime taking another dip into the seedy underworld of visual novels; stay tuned for next time when I take on...I'm not sure yet. Either way, see you next time, same Prime-time, same (Cross) channel!