We’ve seen countless visual novels regarding life in high school and/or life after high school with our high school friends. I can’t say I’ve ever seen one regarding a school one attends after they die, and lo, Bad Apple Wars fills that void. At its core, Bad Apple Wars is a solid novel. However, the flesh is a bit mealy and the skin unsightly. If I had only played through the story once, I would have hailed this as an incredibly intriguing and unique concept for a visual novel. Maybe most people will only play through it once and move on, like they would any book. They will most likely love it. After playing through it a few more times, each with different choices, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of variety. The developer obviously had a couple of set paths they wanted the player to walk down, because the other stories seem rather phoned in.
Everyone’s Dying to Get in to NEVAEH Academy
Rinka is your average, normal high school girl starting her first day at a new high school. She never makes it there, though, thanks to a truck colliding into her. When she wakes, she’s at the front steps of a high school, but it’s certainly not her new high school. It’s called NEVAEH Academy, a place where the teachers wear goofy masks (one simply has a bucket over his head) and the students are mindless, faceless drones. The prefects are also masked and wield rulers that they use to correct out of line students. Rinka swears she’s in a dream, but it’s very, very real. Those who have died before their prime go to NEVAEH Academy for a possible second chance at life. All you have to do is be a good little apple and graduate.
Graduating means following the school’s impossible rules at all times and eventually losing your sense of self as you just give in and let go. Of course, not everyone wants to graduate in such a manner. A group the headmaster calls the “Bad Apples” don’t wish to graduate, but to be expelled. The only way one can be expelled from the academy is to find and eat the forbidden apple. The problem is, in all their time at the school, they’ve never seen the forbidden apple once. They aren’t deterred, however, and they’re eager to break all the rules they can, including the seven supposedly unbreakable rules in hopes that they will catch a glimpse of it.
Touching at Times
Bad Apple Wars has very little gameplay and interaction. The player makes 2-3 choices in the very beginning (although it’s just one if Rinka chooses to be a good apple) and then simply watches the story play out. There’s even an option to have the dialogue roll out automatically without the need to press X to scroll through. I used this option throughout most of my playthroughs. I had it running while I was brushing my teeth, cooking dinner, and anything else I could do while watching something else.
The only other time I would have to interact with the game at all was when Rinka would touch whichever character she chose to spend this adventure with. With these moments, the player taps the screen to find where Rinka should touch the other character and see one of his memories. At NEVAEH Academy, it’s possible to see one’s thoughts and memories by merely touching them (like Rogue from X-Men). Rinka is highly susceptible to seeing others’ memories, so it doesn’t take much for her to look into her companions’ pasts. No matter who she is with, it always starts off innocently. Maybe someone will catch her from falling, maybe she’s trying to get someone’s attention, or maybe someone grabs her hand. Regardless of how it starts, she becomes rather addicted to touching them again and again to see their memories. It’s slightly creepy, but the memories are always intriguing, so who cares about a little creep factor?
It’s these memories that really form this particular version of Rinka’s story. Everything else lays out 100% the same (save for one hidden story). Even when choosing a different character to be Rinka’s bondmate, I could call on the skip function numerous times to skip scenes and dialogue I’ve already seen. It’s a great way to get through all of the endings rather quickly, don’t get me wrong, but what I would give for some variety. But none of that bothers me as much the fact that in nearly every scenario, Rinka’s chosen companion becomes her love interest. I loved her first story I played and its romantic ending. When it happened again with the second character, I was disappointed, especially since this scenario felt really forced. The third time it happened, I was annoyed. I didn’t flinch when it happened in additional playthroughs. Is that all Rinka is good for in this school—to hook up with someone? She can’t be just a friend or maybe a mentor to someone? While yes, there is an unbreakable rule about loving someone, does it have to be her every time?
It’s difficult for me to complain about the minimalist gameplay, because it honestly works for this particular story setting. But the lack of plotline variety greatly reduces the impact these stories could have had. Instead of being potentially meaningful with each individual Rinka bonds with, it becomes merely a matter of spin the bottle for her. For a game that has deep insights into the afterlife, depression, and coming to grips with the sense of self, it ends up selling itself rather shallow.
Even Apple Has Better Applications
The setting and core story for Bad Apple Wars is nigh perfect. It’s a downright shame that some of the storylines feel phoned-in. Even many of the extra characters appear to be complete afterthoughts. So many have names and spoken dialogue, but we never once see who they are. Rinka will have decent conversations with these faceless friends, and they’ll never once appear on-screen outside of their dialogue boxes. They will even have major roles in the Bad Apples’ plots to break the unbreakable rules, and there’s still no sight of them. Why have them there at all? It saddens me that such a deep and complex story is marred by not applying its full potential. That’s a rather odd coincidence though, isn’t it? The game about people dying before reaching their potential doesn’t live up to its own potential.
The story is so great, it’s difficult for me to not recommend it, but I can only, in good conscience, recommend only one playthrough. The magic is a bit lost after that.
Bad Apple Wars review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on Vita. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.