…Where do I even begin with this one?
WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, 3DS
Developer: Spicy Tails
Publisher: Sekai Project
World End Economica Episode 1 is a “sci-fi/economic thriller” in the form of a kinetic visual novel set on the moon, shortly after humanity began establishing colonies on it. This colony takes the form of Lunar City, which rapidly grew into a bastion of wealth, industry, and capitalism. The story proper centers around 16-year-old Yoshiharu Kawaura, nicknamed Hal, a young man born on the moon with dreams of grandeur that he wishes to accomplish by dropping out of school and kicking off a career of daytrading. A plan that goes surprisingly well for him as he lives in net cafes, but circumstances soon have him taking up residence with the kind church owner Lisa, and another teenage runaway, the cold, distant, and mathematically gifted Hagana.
From there, the story… just sort of unfolds for a few hours, with the characters all meandering about, developing slightly, before the story eventually settles onto a designated goal with Hal and Hagana teaming up to participate in a virtual stock market competition, and eventually the real thing, and so forth and so on. If it sounds like I don’t really know how to describe the story beyond the basic conception, it’s because I don’t.
The story of World End Economica moves very slowly following the digestible beginning, with a very slow sense of pacing, a lot of conversational and bickering based fluff, and a form of character development that seems to jitter between glacial in pace, or so sudden that I was not even sure what caused this development. For the most part, I just found the story boring, as things meandered about to a foreseeable conclusion, dragging its feet about before finally deciding to end on a cliffhanger of all things with an endings that I would compare to getting a cigarette flicked in your face. Sudden, confusing, and generally unpleasant.
Now, that is a very big problem for any visual novel, let alone one that is completely linear, but the problems neither begin nor end there, as World End Economica is unfortunately lead by one of the most worthless protagonists I have ever seen. Quite simply, Hal is a horrible person. He is childish, selfish, rude, egotistical, and rather disrespectful towards others. He is an unlikeable jerk whose borderline inexplicable success is just annoying to hear about, especially when he indirectly brags about it by comparing his income to “menial laborers” while continuing to fetishize the idea of being a successful businessman. All while ignoring how he lacks the poise, manners, level of basic respect, hygiene, general education, and fashion sense to belong to high society. I’m serious, just look at this goober with his messy hair, red scarf, oversized open blue jacket, rank white t-shirt, brown shorts, and tall brown boots. What fool think that looks even remotely presentable, let alone respectable?
From the onset, it is obvious that Hal is not meant to stay this way, and is instead meant to undergo an arc over the span of the series, one wherein he learns how to accept other people, discover the power of love and friendship, and learn how to be an all around better person. Even in this installment, the first of three, there are signs of his character advancing and he becomes less of an unlikable prick throughout. However, it is hard to ever view him in a brighter light after, within the first hour of the game, Hal remarks about how much he would love to beat a frail woman, strip her, take pictures of her naked beaten body, and post them on the internet. Oh, and the woman is underaged, which just makes things oh so much more disgusting.
There is also the matter of Hal’s goal, his dream, his ambition, that which drove him to lead this life. Early on, it can be inferred that Hal wants to accumulate all the wealth he can in order to lead humanity from the moon to the next frontier, Mars. While this is an understandable dream, Hal does not have any real reason for wanting this. He says he has this dream because he was born on the moon, and into a world where all was explored. As such, he wants to explore the unexplored. Except he does not seem to be interested in exploring the existing world, neither the moon nor Earth. He does not even seem interested in human history or even the past. He does not even want to visit Earth. I think he just wants to see a statue of him on Mars, or perhaps he desires an incredibly ambitious dream to drive himself, thereby distancing himself from the poor village he grew up in, and prove his self worth to both those who raised him and, more importantly, himself. But assuming the latter would involve giving the writer more credit than I feel they deserve.
By this point, I have already painted Hal to be the unlikable little twerp that he is, but then the story reaches the ending, a height of avarice, betrayal, and confusion that abolishes the idea of Hal being both a decent person, let alone a successful businessman. Because he not only verbally assaults and neglects Hagana, who at that point in the story had come to depend on and trust him dearly, but he loses the money of dozens of innocent people who entrusted their entire savings to Hal, in order for them to pay off debts that would rob them of their homes.
He makes one insanely risky move, going against the advice of his closest companion, blindly believing in the advice of a man who he placed on a pedestal, and ends up failing so, so many people in the process while also causing an incredibly amount of psychological and physical damage to himself in the process, effectively forcing others to take pity on him, despite how much he utterly failed them. The worst part is that I do not even know how or why this happened in the first place, because of how poorly the game explains the inner workings of the stock market.
Well, that is not entirely true. The game does a good job at explaining the basics of the stock market, and how trading works. It is not particularly deep, but it feels and sounds genuine based on what I have picked up as a business major. However, a lot of tangential information, or information about certain trading methods are very loosely defined and as such, confusing to understand. It got to the point where I gave up trying to understand what was going on in the market near the end, why prices were fluctuating and how Hal was profiting off of them. Even then, these explanations can really slow down the pace of the story, which already feels indecisive and overly long.
Plus, I kind of felt that it was not worth my effort to try and understand this game when it came to numbers, because it cannot even keep track of how much money Hal has during the first half of the game. At first, it is stated that Hal began his journey with only 1,000 Mools, the currency used on the moon. Hours later, it is said that he actually had 2,000 Mools. From that seed, however big it actually was, he mentions how he was able to grow it into 72,000 Mools, which is later referenced to as 70,000, an acceptable rounding down. However, he eventually makes an additional 7,000 Mools and still refer to his sum of money as 70,000. Then he says he has 72,610 Mools in total. Then he says he has 70,000 Mools again, and grew that into 79,000 Mools. If a story can not even keep a basic bank balance straight, why the hell should I listen to it with regards to talking about, well, anything?
This is all so unfortunate because despite the shoddily constructed execution, there is plenty of merit in this premise, which is rather striking, unique, and novel amongst other visual novels out there, and certainly had enough to attract my attention based on the general description alone. Throughout the game, I could see instances where the story could have shifted or been reworked into something far more compelling, interesting, and even unique. Such as, oh, I don’t know, maybe Hal could have undergone a revelation later in the game and decide to become a champion of the downtrodden, taking pleasure in helping those who had been wronged by the form of capitalism employed on the Lunar City, and become a local hero. It makes him more likeable than “the guy who took all these people’s money, and lost it because he was playing fast and loose, like a numbskull”.
Moving onto another story related topic that I want to touch, I should mention the other main characters. Hagana is a surprisingly unique and compelling character despite initially seeming like a punched up version of a tsundere mixed in with a “pure Japanese girl” design. However, she does seem to be quite more than that. Based on her behavior, it appears that she may have a more intense case of Autism, having immense difficulty in social situations and struggling to understand many social interactions, norms, concepts, general human behaviors, but excelling dramatically in mathematics, including quantitative analysis and financial engineering. Combined with her surprisingly dark past, wherein she is implied to have been sold by her parents, her lack of self worth, and way in which she begins to learn how to open up to Hal, she has a level of depth and complexity that really made me wish that she was the main character of this story instead of Hal. Her narration would have certainly been less annoying to read.
Meanwhile, Lisa is a kind and almost motherly figure who genuinely believes in the finer aspects of Christianity, along with other religions, choosing to devote her life to helping others and enriching their lives by extension. She is a genuinely likeable character who has a firm moral center, and instills a level of maturity into Hal and Hagana, while also being a particularly interesting character given the setting. She is a religious scholar of sorts, and even has a collection of books relating to the broad subject of religion. However, the books are weirdly presented as her downfall because, for a very difficult to justify reason, books are basically nonexistent on the moon, with Hal having never even seen a book until he met Lisa. However, they are also considered incredibly valuable and, due to plot points that come up, Lisa considers selling her books to pay off her debt, yet has reservations to.
While I can understand her emotional attachment to these books, the story never brings up the idea of her simply scanning her books in order to keep the part of the books she cares about above all others, the actual text. I am not kidding when I say that about every financial problem that comes up in this story could easily be solved by Lisa selling her books, but she does not because of some breed of sentimental hogwash.
I especially don’t understand why Hal does not bring this idea up considering how much he insists that the moon is a place where literature, philosophy, religion, and socialism do not belong, and where women are treated as being inherently lesser than men. No, I’m serious with that last bit. Every woman named throughout the game is impoverished to some degree, none of them run a business, and simply work for a man, and none of the names brought up as Hal runs through a list of the most wealthy on the moon are female names. This, compounded with how Hal refers to women like he would refer to a different species, really gives this game an incredibly sexist air to it, and I cannot fathom why because of how likable its female characters are.
Having said nearly 2,000 words about the story, I should move onto the more technical aspects of the game. Some time after its initial western release, World End Economica was converted to the Ren’py engine, and I think as part of the process, some things went wrong. Character sprites are not always properly aligned. Some of the visual effects result in sprite flickering for a single frame. A lot of the text carries over to a new text box awkwardly, as if the font and font size changed from what the game was originally designed around. There are errors with quotation marks, instances where the speaker was not properly mentioned, and so forth and so on. I genuinely have no idea how this version, which was likely the one that was used when the game was ported to other systems, managed to be released in this state, and remain this way for three years.
For all the weaknesses of the story of World End Economica, and they weaken the title so much that it would be crushed by Earth’s gravity, it is fairly good at describing Lunar City. Throughout Hal’s monologues, he regularly notes how the society spans from the dazzling skyscrapers of the inner city out to the cobbled together shantytowns forged out of lunar rocks and inside lunar mountains, which began to decay a mere decade after their initial construction. It describes the frantic and bustling extravagant streets of the financial districts, the tranquil fish filled waterways that span across the lower income areas, and so forth and so on.
It is a genuinely stimulating image to think of, but when it comes to the execution, many shots could simply be mistaken for something found on Earth, and make the world seem less interesting as a result. Other times, the game shows an improper rendition of what is described, with many misused or misplaced CGs or character descriptions that do not match the character, such as how Lisa supposedly has Almond shaped eyes that are brighter than her hair. When her sprite actually has round pale green eyes that are darker and duller than her pink hair. And no, I do not know why she has pink hair. Or why there is a guy with a giant green afro.
It is almost like the artist was given an early draft of the script to make these set pieces, and the writer then changed their mind without asking the artist to edit their work. Though, that would not surprise me, nor would it surprise me if the team either lacked money or if the artist lacked time based on the excess of instances where the game cuts to black and shows nothing while Hal monologues about stocks, a beautiful sounding setting, or just his own thoughts on this or that. It is just a bad way to present information, and only goes to further harm the presentation of this game.
World End Economica Episode 1, sorry, my bad, WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01 is just upsetting. Despite having a novel premise and some level of uniqueness present throughout, the game is little more than an irritating frustration fueled by a woeful protagonist, a story that is often more mundane than anything, and a myriad of other minute issues beyond those that I touched upon in this review. The simple fact that this story was released in such a state, let alone gave way to two successors, is nothing short of baffling to me, and in spite of my desire to avoid things that frustrate me, curiosity is a self-destructive and obnoxious thing that I just cannot seem to control.