Class of ‘09 Review


…Okay, I’m going to need to give a little context for this one. 

Over the past few months, I discovered the works of comedian and filmmaker SBN3, or SoulBrothaNumbuh3, or to use his real name, Max Field. He’s a funny, knowledgeable, and skilled individual who has regularly been doing video work for the past decade and built up a rather impressive catalog for someone only in his late 20s. 

Just to highlight a few of my favorites, there’s Invisible Smut Man, the Drive 2 series, YugiCoin, the Patreon-exclusive features Operation Backpackers and Taste Closed: Heaven Ain’t Hard to Find, and his extensive rap discography. Yes, in addition to being a writer, filmmaker, editor, audio guy, voice director, and whatever it takes to make something, Field is also a rapper, and a damn good one.

Anyway, while digging through his library of work, I learned he was releasing a game that, based on the initial trailers, was effectively one of his comedic dubs, but stretched over the duration of a fully voiced branching visual novel. I’m not really sure how or why this happened, because Field regularly shits on games and insinuates that they are for rapists, racists, murderers, and pedophiles, but whatever, let’s get on with the review and see how the end product fares.

Class of ‘09 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: SBN3

Class of ‘09 follows 16-year-old Nicole, a girl who’s had a hard life being shuttled around the country, changing schools every few months, and being at the center of many messy divorces. All of which have forged her into a cynical, jaded, cold, and hard young woman with enough issues and baggage to make her an easy sell for a sociopath. But rather than using this as a jumping-off point for examining somebody shattered by abuse, Class of ‘09 is a comedy that follows Nicole as she goes through her final two years of high school. Mocking, manipulating, and coasting her way through her life until she graduates, gets expelled, or kills herself and becomes a necrophile pedophile’s dream come true.

From the initial starting point, the game does not have much of an overarching plot or objective, and instead primarily serves as a background for various scenes meant to place Nicole and a spectrum of supporting characters in certain situations for comedic effect, all before funneling the player through roughly four isolated routes and 15 distinct endings. Which, while a bit upsetting as somebody who prefers more focused narratives in VNs, is not really a problem with Class of ‘09. Mostly because it is more focused on delivering upon subplot-sized story beats and making each scene entertaining in and of itself. 

The writing is snarky, aggressive, holds nothing back, has an ample supply of teenage angst, and it’s overall funny. Jokes come fast and hit hard, simple archetypes are used to maximize the joke count per minute, and the game benefits dramatically from the decision to voice every line of dialogue. Which is something you rarely see, especially from OELVNs (Original English Language Visual Novel), and when you do, it pretty much never sounds as good as this. Though, that’s not surprising considering the person behind it.

Field has been doing voice directing since he’s been a teenager, he knows what he’s doing, there’s a reason why his highest performing (public) video is a voice acting tutorial, and Class of ‘09 is an excellent showcase of his ability to cultivate skilled actors and direct them into bringing his characters to life. I would say that the audio production here is closer to something like an audio drama than a video game, though that’s partially because, from a technical perspective, it pretty much is an audio drama. 

Instead of having the game mix in voiced lines, music, and sound effects, the vast majority of the audio comes from pre-mixed MP3s and WebMs. Both of which were heavily edited to sound the best, feature oodles of ambient noises that really bring the setting to life, and carefully mixes in music when appropriate. You might hear this and wonder how the game syncs the audio as the player progresses through the game, clicking from each line of dialogue, and the answer is that it doesn’t, as Class of ‘09 is a visual novel where the auto-read mode is the only mode. This is actually a pretty clever way to minimize the amount of work that needs to be done and make it sound better overall.

While an incredible amount of effort went into the audio front, the visual presentation is sadly more on the basic side. Character sprites prioritize outfits over expressions or poses, and much of the game is spent watching characters slide from one end of the screen to another, like pieces of paper on a popsicle-stick-conveyor-belt. This, combined with the decision to use blurred photographs over illustrated or rendered backgrounds, gives Class of ‘09 a cheap look at a glance, but it still delivers where it counts. 

Character outfits were specifically chosen to match the era and are rather stylish overall, the presentation goes above and beyond with the rooftop sequence, and the ending CGs, which are sadly only available as part of the ending video files, are all excellent. There was definitely room for the presentation to be amped up to the next level, but I’m guessing that all the budget went into the voice work rather than doing things like more detailed character animations or lip flaps. However, this is more of a pedantic criticism, one of many that I stumbled onto throughout my 5 hours with the game. Ranging from Field’s use of two dots for ellipsis instead of three, to things like the navigation. 

Years of making visual novel flowcharts have made me a paranoid person who does not trust even the most basic visual novel from hiding things. So after getting my first ending, (the Burger King one) I decompiled the surprisingly compact script.rpyc file and made a flowchart to see everything the game has to offer. It was a rather simple process to map everything out (you can find the flowchart at the end of this review) but in a game with as many choices as this, seeing everything is a touch cumbersome. In my later playthroughs, I returned to the main menu to reload my save file every few minutes to see what a different scene looked like. It was always worth the hassle, even if the scene was only about 2 minutes long, but it was not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.

Then there’s the marketing of Class of ‘09 that presents it as “the anti-visual novel” and a “rejection sim.” Neither of which are really a good description of what the game is. Instead, they sound like buzzwords made up by a person with little experience when it comes to visual novels and dating sims… which I’m 95% certain is the case here. Based on how Fields has described video games on SoBroRadio, I simply can barely imagine him enjoying a video game without being pissed about it.

Since their primordial days, visual novels have always covered a variety of different narrative genres and protagonists, so there’s nothing about this ‘slice of life’ school days story or its adorable sociopath protagonist that stands in defiance of the genre. Besides, there are WAY too many pedophiles and rapists in this game for it to be an “anti-visual novel.”

Meanwhile, as a “rejection sim,” Class of ‘09 is incredibly limited. Nicole is a set character and all the player does is determine how she messes with them or if you want her to ruin her life by attempting to be a friendly person. Hell, there aren’t even character specific variables to keep track of. How can you call yourself a sim without having variables? It’s preposterous! I would chide Field for making use of buzzwords like this… but it’s all just marketing and a way to get his game in as many hands as possible.

As for the content of the game, most of it passes by without much of a fuss, barring a slight overreliance on pedophilia jokes, but I want to take a moment to talk about its routes. Beyond the general ‘common routes,’ there are roughly four unique routes in Class of ‘09, which I’m going to give my own names to because I can. The Killed by Kindness route, Vixen of Suicide route, Let’s Go White Nationalism route, and the… Other Stuff route that I cannot cleanly ascribe a name to. 

The first two are emblematic of Field’s views on female power and how attractive women can control others if they give up the whole ‘being a nice person’ shtick. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but they do shine a light on societal issues, power dichotomies, and are used to great effect in setting up certain scenes and character moments. But the Let’s Go White Nationalism route is a bit… troubling.

In short, the route in question follows a white nationalist teacher who stirs the school population into a white nationalist party. 95% of the people in the school quickly join up with this party, start preaching about white pride, practicing cultish tendencies, and establishing the sentiment that most white people will jump aboard the diet nazi bandwagon if given the opportunity. Except for Nicole who, depending on one decision, can either call the cops on the school and get the place shut down, or hit up the Nation of Islam to kill her peers with the power of arson.

It is also worth noting that of the 25-ish characters in the game, all of them are white, and there is not a speck of color among the bunch. I was complaining about this whitebread cast in my notes before I encountered this route, and after I did… it just made the entire thing weirder. Because not only does Class of ‘09 tell a story about racism exclusively from a white perspective, but it frames a black nationalist group as a bunch of child-killing terrorists. Which I guess makes them worse than the pedophiles, because raping a dozen kids is (probably) worse than burning a couple hundred alive.

If I were to do a bad faith reading of this text, I could reach the conclusion that Field is actually a racist who mocks extremists while not actually giving a shit about non-whites, but I know that would be a load of bullcrap. Based on his body of work and what he said about racism, using the concept as a punching bag in general, and even using it as a major plot point, I find it difficult to believe that Field had any harmful intentions with Class of ‘09 and racial representation.

…But making a VN with like a dozen characters and making them all white still isn’t a good look no matter what your justification is, especially if your story is in any way about racism. I would question if this is some sort of greater statement on race and the world of things anime dorks like, but that would be subtext. And I’d sooner believe that Max Field is a closet racist than I’d believe he’d lower himself to that coward crap.

In conclusion, Class of ‘09 is definitely not perfect. The visual presentation is basic in some respects, the overall story could have benefited from being less gamey, and the Let’s Go White Nationalism route is… iffy. However, Class of ‘09 is still a title that delivers on just about every one of Field’s strengths and offers a unique visual novel experience, the sort of which you really need to go digging to find. On that basis alone, I would give this title a full recommendation, as it’s definitely one of the better and most distinct OELVNs I’ve had the privilege of playing.

Here’s my obligatory flowchart. Let me know if you find any errors and I’ll whip up an updated version.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. AK

    Man, this Max Field sounds like an interesting guy to say the least. I can’t say anything about his work because I didn’t know who he was before reading your review, but it sounds like he’s trying to address some important issues — I know there are still some sex and race-related problems in gaming communities, not to mention in the industry itself; just see the lawsuit filed against Activision-Blizzard recently.

    But then it also pisses me off when people talk out their asses. As you say, the visual novel medium is a lot bigger than just male fantasy wish-fulfillment dating sims. Even some of the dating sims don’t fall into that category. Saying you made the “anti-visual novel” is like saying you made an “anti-anime” or even an “anti-novel” period — it’s meaningless. From what you say about him, it sounds like I wouldn’t care much for his views on games in general anyway.

    But I also don’t want to judge anything before I’ve played it. I don’t know if I’d play this game, but it sounds like something different anyway. And man, that flowchart is something.

    1. Natalie Neumann

      Max Field is indeed an interesting fellow, but based on my time with the game, I did not get the impression that he was making a greater point towards the games industry, as he really does now follow it as far as I can tell. He was into games as a kid and teenager, but grew disinterested and started talking crap about them later in life. …Which makes him sound older than he is, but he’s only 26 or 27.

      Field was indeed talking out of his ass, but I view that as marketing lingo. He made a product, wants to make money off it, and wants to sell a few tens of thousands of units. Is it a bit manipulative? Sure, but I also completely understand why somebody in his position would use terms like this.

      He really does not go into video games too much in Class of ’09. Aside from Gamer Brother (that’s the character’s actual game) who appears in less than ten minutes of the game’s runtime. I guess you could say its focus is less on the medium of video games and more general.

      It definitely is interesting, but I would recommend checking out some of his work on YouTube to see if you like his style of humor or not, because Class of ’09 is basically a gameified version of one of his numerous dub series.

      The flowchart really was not very difficult for me to make, thanks to the straightforward nature of the file names and story file as a whole. It took time to assemble and format, sure, but it’s nothing compared to what I’ve done with Student Transfer in the past.