2015 really has been an interesting year for Vita, not only have we seen a massive amount of Japanese games localised for the platform but, more interestingly, a lot of these have been Otome visual novels. As we see the genre gain more popularity here in the west, it’s good to see the increase in visual novels making their way to western Vita’s as is the case with Norn9: Var Commons.
Originally released on the PSP in Japan in May 2013 as Norn9, Norn9: Var Commons, which launched in Japan in December 2014 is an enhanced edition of the game. This updated version of the game features more content and features that weren’t present in the original PSP version.
The story is told initially from the point of view of 12 year old schoolboy Sorata Suzuhara, who, whilst daydreaming on a field trip with his school, hears a mysterious song which sends him to sleep. Upon waking up he finds himself unconscious in the middle of a street in an unrecognisable location.
A mysterious girl discovers a dazed and confused Sorata and then makes him aware that he is no longer in his timeline – he is actually in the past! The mysterious girl, who cannot recall her own name, informs Sorata that she is waiting for a ship to come and pick her up, however, this isn’t a sea vessel that you would expect given the era that you have arrived in, rather it’s a spherical airship.
Upon boarding the airship Sorata and the girl learn that they are not the only ones aboard the vessel, in fact they are joined by 12 other passengers – 3 of which are female and 9 of which are male. Before you get the chance to get to know any of these characters the ship is attacked. The group on board decided that it would be best if one of the 3 girls on the ship could look after Sorata, who is the youngest of the group, while they investigate the disturbance.
This is where the view of the game shifts perspective as you get to pick between 3 candidates to look after Sorata; Koharu, the name given to the mysterious girl you meet at the beginning of the game, Mikoto Kuga, the oldest and most mature acting girl of the trio or Nanami Shiranu, a mysterious ninja girl with an even more mysterious past.
Once you choose your female companion for Sorata you’re then able to choose another male companion for the female of your choosing, and this is where the game really opens up as each male leads the female character on a different story arc – meaning that in total there are 9 different stories for you to play through.
With Norn9 it’s hard to talk about gameplay as such, as this really is a visual novel at its core, unlike titles such as Amnesia: Memories where there is some established gameplay elements to be found. Norn9 instead relies solely on players making choices to shape the game’s story – with no further intervention from the player beyond that.
The choices you do make fill up a relationship bar which can be found in the game’s pause menu. The female and male character you chose to take care of Sorata will bond and if you manage to make the correct choices, shape how the story will unfold and (eventually) how it will end.
Luckily, if you do make a bad choice in the game and aren’t happy with the events that transpire, you can use the games rewind system. Moving either of the analogue sticks to the left will open up the game’s transcript and will allow you to jump back to any part of text that you read so that you can go back and change the choices you made – which is certainly a nice feature for if you’re going for any trophies.
The main problem I found with Norn9‘s different stories is that they just weren’t interesting, they seemed to drag on yet end abruptly. the game left me unsatisfied with the outcomes that I got from the stories and really couldn’t see myself playing back through them again to go for the good endings. I found the cast unlikable, generic and just plain boring.
Fortunately, while the main story wasn’t the most enjoyable of visual novels, there is another mode within Norn9 that kept me playing for a while after I was done with the main story named Norn9 Quest, and boy oh boy is this mode fun.
You start off by picking one of the 12 characters within the game and then the game randomly selects 3 other characters from the roster. From that point the game then pits the character you chose against the three characters the game chose, and depending on how the character you picked interacted with those particular three characters in the main story you’ll either earn points or lose points.
The one thing that really took me by surprise about Norn9‘s Quest mode is that the outcome was never the same each time I played it, so sometimes I would lose points or win more than I did the last time I picked a character which made it really interesting to keep replaying the mode.
The interesting thing about the points is that the game allows you to use these points as currency to unlock images and artwork from the games gallery, which I found to be a lot more interesting than just playing through the main story to unlock them.
While I can praise both the beautiful art style of the main quest and the 8-bit art style of Norn9 Quest as well as the soundtrack (the main theme being composed by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uemetsu), the game’s main story isn’t quite up to scratch when compared with other visual novels that have released recently on the Vita – with a cast that are quite forgettable and a story that won’t particularly stick with players.
I’d certainly recommend picking up Norn9: Var Commons if you’ve experienced the recent batch of Visual Novels that have come to the Vita and want to keep the trend up, however, if you’re looking to jump on the Visual Novel bandwagon then I would highly recommend visiting other titles in the genre first before playing this one.