The pretty girl in the school cafeteria flutters her lovely anime eyelashes at us. %26ldquo;Hey, Atsuki, you wanna grab a cake after school?%26rdquo; she asks. We check our mobile phone. We have three other social engagements with a trio of other beauties, but this one%26rsquo;s our favourite. Sure, why not? We make it a date and await some sugary sponge action. Four hours later and Eyelashes lies dead in a playground. Is a date with us really that bad a prospect?
Lux-Pain is a tonal car-crash. It starts out a brooding psychological horror then veers violently into an oncoming lane of high school romance, leaving a messy tangle of slit wrists, murdered children and girls who think you%26rsquo;re really, really hot. One second you%26rsquo;re dealing with teen hormones and whether guy X fancies girl Y, and the next, guy X and girl Y have committed group suicide and you%26rsquo;re sprinting around trying to stop a shop clerk stabbing kids in the face.
The central gameplay revolves around the scratching minigame, where you scribble with the stylus over a character, revealing evil yellow worms that must be extracted within the time limit. Also, too much scratching will kill the subject. It%26rsquo;s diverting, if a bit too easy.
Elements of it are certainly laughable. Dodgy localization is everywhere with typos galore. And there is such a thing as too much darkness. A light sprinkling of suicides is suitably unnerving, but when every man and his dog (literally) are offing themselves it%26rsquo;s harder to keep a straight face.
But while Lux-Pain can be hard work at times, it%26rsquo;s also rather brilliant. Juxtaposing darkness against fluffiness actually gives you something to root for: a group of friends who are worth saving. The secret to any good story-led adventure %26ndash; Phoenix Wright being the best example %26ndash; is giving you a cast you actually want to spend time with. Nail that crucial element and we%26rsquo;re more than happy to accompany them through whatever doom and gloom a developer chooses to mete out.
We also enjoyed spending time in a well-realised town. Juggling 30 characters enables the writers to paint a convincing picture of everyday life. Encountering teachers away from school or watching drunken cops stumble home doesn%26rsquo;t further the tale, but it%26rsquo;s nevertheless a nifty illusion of reality in a graphic adventure %26ndash; a notoriously lifeless genre. We particularly like the in-game internet forums, offering a LOL-, OMG- and STFU-filled commentary on the events of the story.
It%26rsquo;s the little things, such as the forums, that mark Lux-Pain out from the competition. It%26rsquo;s nowhere near as slick as Konami%26rsquo;s Time Hollow (the grammatical errors in the text would make Charlotte commit suicide, let alone the characters), but it has a shambolic ambition that never ceases to surprise.
Apr 1, 2009