The pretty girl in the school cafeteria flutters her lovely anime eyelashes at us. “Hey, Atsuki, you wanna grab a cake after school?” she asks. We check our mobile phone. We have three other social engagements with a trio of other beauties, but this one’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’re really, really hot. One second you’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’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’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’s harder to keep a straight face.
But while Lux-Pain can be hard work at times, it’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 – Phoenix Wright being the best example – is giving you a cast you actually want to spend time with. Nail that crucial element and we’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’t further the tale, but it’s nevertheless a nifty illusion of reality in a graphic adventure – 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’s the little things, such as the forums, that mark Lux-Pain out from the competition. It’s nowhere near as slick as Konami’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