STEAL YOUR MOM’S DRUGS AND WATCH HER DIE!
SAVE A LESBIAN FROM WHITE TERRORISTS!
MAKE A SUICIDE PACT WITH AN ALT CHICK!
GO HOMELESS AND EXPOSE PEDOPHILES!
SELL CRACK FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE!
GET SHOT BY A MALL COP!
Well, this is a game I wasn’t expecting to get a follow-up.
Released in June 2021, Class of ’09 was one of the more… distinct visual novels I’ve had the privilege of covering on this site. A late 2000s period piece with a crass and raw sense of humor, a brazen sense of confidence, and some downright excellent voice acting. Despite some iffy marketing malarky (it was not a rejection sim), and an iffier White Nationalism route, I liked it quite a bit and gave it a full recommendation in my review.
It was a unique, if not bold, title and it was also a reprisal of everything I have come to love about its writer/director, Max Field. A creator who has routinely impressed me with his humor, knowledge, dedication, wide variety of skills, and extensive catalog or quality work.
If you haven’t ever heard of him, I’d highly recommend checking out his Youtube channel for certified bangers like Invisible Smut Man, the Drive 2 series, and YugiCoin. Which is before getting into his Patreon exclusive hits like Operation Backpackers and Taste Closed: Heaven Ain’t Hard to Find.
Class of ’09 evidently did well enough to warrant a ‘re-up’. Which, in practice, is comparable to a standalone expansion pack. It’s another game with the same core cast, same premise, and same signature style. With the biggest differences being a lack of an introduction and a bump in story content from 3.5 hours to 5 hours. So the real question is if it hits as hard the second time around, or if the buzz just ain’t the same.
Class of ‘09: The Re-Up Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Publishers: SBN3 and Wrath Club
Class of ‘09: The Re-Up once again follows Nicole. A 17-year-old girl whose… eventful life has turned her into a cynical, jaded, and hardened bitch who wears the label of sociopath like a shirt. But rather than focus on her escaping this spiral of self-destruction that will kill her in the next decade, Nicole’s basically speedrunning that shit. She knows what she can get away with, how to use people, and has little in the way of aspirations beyond screwing around and doing drugs.
A character like her has potential to be an insufferable little brat, but Nicole avoids that by being, well, cool. She’s confident, assertive, manipulative, and does not take anyone’s crap, even though she constantly finds herself around the worst people. She’s definitely a misanthrope, and probably has a boatload of undiagnosed problems, but she thrives so much in being such a mess that I never want her to change.
What’s the story this time around? Well, much like its predecessor, The Re-Up does not really have an overarching narrative to build up to. The story is more of a vessel to deliver the dialogue and humor than anything, which, as to be expected from Field, are top-notch. The writing is angsty, snarky, abrasive, and crass in the best possible way. Jokes come fast and hit harder. And simple character archetypes are used to keep things flowing. Every line feels thought out, everything feels natural, and if I wasn’t laughing from the dialogue, I was laughing from the general absurdity of it all.
Almost everything that was good about the first game’s story and writing was carried over here, but The Re-Up is missing a certain… something. Class of ’09 is a game that went so hard that it felt like there was nowhere else to go with its protagonist. Nicole became a valedictorian, inspiration for a school shooter, accessory to terrorism, YouTube sensation, L.A. superstar, shell of a human being, and corpse. She did it all and reached the end of her loosely defined character arc in many ways.
In The Re-Up, the endings and routes still go hard, but not nearly as much as the first game. Yes, you have Nicole playing with the heart of a gay girl and locking her into an abusive lesbian relationship that involves a run-in with diet Nazis. Her finding a brick from MS-13 and using it to become the great white hope dealin’ that great white dope to the citizens of PG county. (She finds cocaine at school, makes crack, and sells it to the residents of a Black county in the DC beltway.) A route where she becomes homeless and does favors on MySpace before exposing another pedophile. And one where she ruins the life of a neoliberal White lady by plagiarizing Mein Kampf.
They all work, and would feel more than appropriate as routes in the first game. However, a lack of extreme escalation and intense conclusions prevents The Re-Up from feeling ‘bigger and better’ than its predecessor. Instead, it feels like just ‘more’.
That covers my thoughts on the story, but the way the player experiences it is a bit… strange. Basically a third of the game is contained in a starter ‘common route’ that splits off into 11 different branches. Most of which end by giving players a ‘decision nexus’ that leads them down three routes with seven different endings. Meaning that someone going through this game ‘systematically’ will wind up seeing all 7 endings before seeing a third of the game’s content. It works, and is better than the more interconnected spaghetti-like nature of the first game, but it’s still an odd way to structure a story in general.
I should also state that I’m not 100% sure if I fully saw everything this game had to offer. The unlockable bonus ending does not appear to be related to the main story. There are some strange cryptic text files located in a ‘breadcrumbs’ folder that read like they are related to an ARG of some sort. And there are some backgrounds that do not appear in the game, or in the game’s script file. A file that I examined in detail to make a flowchart that you can find at the end of this review, not that it’s necessary for a VN this straightforward.
Moving onto the presentation, I would describe Class of ’09: The Re-Up as an audio drama with a visual novel skin. Every line of dialogue is fully voiced, the game progresses from line to line automatically, and most of the audio comes from premixed MP3 and WebM files, rather than something cut in-engine. The game basically plays these audio files and, based on the timestamps, changes the visual elements to match.
It’s actually a pretty clever way to make a visual novel with such a strong audio focus, and based on the results, I certainly can’t complain. The voice actors do a spectacular job of bringing these characters to life. The direction is so strong and focused you can practically hear it. The audio balancing, editing, and overall design are filled with little touches that make everything sound real. And if not for the fact that it’s ‘sorta cheating’ I would say it is the best sounding visual novel I’ve ever played. So, yeah, full points on the audio front, no notes.
As for the ‘visual novel skin,’ I like pretty much every element present here. The character sprites are well posed, have distinct designs, and I really enjoyed the anime-inspired but clearly western aesthetic they have. The diverse collection of outfits used in the game act as extensions of character personalities, wonderfully capture the fashion of the era, and depending on the character, look pretty darn cool. As in, so cool that you should steal these looks for your own purposes.
The use of photo backgrounds give the game a more grounded and realistic tone, while the blurred effect is sufficiently illustration-like enough to make the sprites feel as if they belong in this world. I absolutely adore the fact that basically all the CGs in this game feature 17-year-old girls doing drugs, making drugs, selling drugs, or getting shot by a mall cop. And the various UI elements, ranging from the notebook paper textbox, handwritten font, and use of the G-Mobile Sidekick to initiate choices, do a lot to give the game a unique visual identity.
All of the elements for a great visual presentation are there… but what the game does with them is rather… plain. Animation is basically limited to sliding on and off stage. Characters only have eight expressions at most. And I generally get the impression that the goal here was to make things look ‘good enough’ above all else. It’s something I can’t help but notice after playing other visual novels that aimed to impress with this sort of thing, but I also can’t really blame the game for this approach. Time’s money and the ‘good enough’ is good enough.
…Is that everything? Yeah, I think so.
To answer the question posed in the introduction, Class of ‘09: The Re-Up does not hit as hard as the second time. It lacks the cohesiveness and extremities of the first title and mostly focuses on offering more. More of the same good shit that delivers on just about every one of its lead creator’s strengths. But in a way where I consider the game to be more supplemental and would recommend to people only if they played and enjoyed the original Class of ‘09. And if you haven’t played either… play them both back to back, because they’re basically parts of the same game.