Visual novel games are really almost a logical extension of the direction that certain video games have moved. Players spend just as much, if not more so, time watching cut scenes than they do actually playing the game. If a game has a good story to tell this generally wouldn't be a problem except that many of these titles have okay stories and really good gameplay. So as you're sitting there listen to people yammer on you're wondering when you can get back to playing that really awesome game you bought. With a visual novel you know what you're getting into and as such there's no real frustration brought on by the volume of words you're dealing with.
Lux-Pain is another in a slew of visual novel titles that have brought an onslaught upon the Nintendo DS. What really sets Lux-Pain apart from many of the others is just how serious and mature the topics at hand are. We aren't just dealing with a single death here; this title delves into full on animal mutilations, suicide and mass murder. Within the first twenty minutes or so of turning the game on you're under an onslaught of horrendous events that really set the mood for the rest of the title.
Unfortunately those first twenty minutes also feel like the best translated portion for the entire title so you can tell you're in for a rough time.
The story is kind of interesting in a distinctly Japanese sort of way. A strange worm-like entity known as SILENT is infesting people in Kisaragi City. SILENT forces those so infected to commit actions ranging from mildly obnoxious to full blown out mass murders. It starts off small by playing on your negative emotions before getting powerful enough to send you into a violent end. Only the people working for the group known as FORT have the capabilities to hunt down and exterminate the SILENT infestation.
Removing the infestation requires you to hunt it down on a map screen and then entering an area where a powerful emotion resonates. Once you arrive you will meet the person that is infested, listen to some dialogue and then get to removal. By activating the power in his eye, known as Signum, your hero Atsuki can see and remove the worms that represent SILENT.
In game terms this means that when you use the Signum ability the top screen will show you a black and white image of where the SILENT worms are located while you do your work on the bottom. You have to scratch away at the areas on the person where the worm is hiding to reveal it and then hold your stylus on top of the worm to make it dissipate. It's kind of like a metaphysical version of Trauma Center if you will. This section makes pretty good use of the dual-screen setup that the DS has going for it and works pretty well overall.
The main problem with Lux-Pain is also its biggest flaw and that is, you guessed it, the absolutely terrible translation. When dealing with a visual novel it's important that you can understand what you're reading. This is doubly so when you're dealing with a plot that's as confusing to get a handle on as the one in Lux-Pain. There will be many times while playing this game that you have absolutely no real clue what people are trying to say, leaving you either scratching your head or reading the archives to try and get a grasp on the story.
If that isn't bad enough there were a few times that I couldn't help but start snickering during really inconvenient time. When dealing with topics this mature it's a really bad sign for you to start laughing because a girl was referred to as "he" or general Engrish popping up. It kills the mood and destroys any immersion in the story which is all a game like this really has.
Doubly compounding this fact is the actual high quality of the English voice actors. For a handheld title you don't really expect to get much in this regard but it's actually pretty impressive. Unfortunately the quality of the voice actors and their dialogue only makes the words you will read on your screen make even less sense. It doesn't entirely make sense how an issue like this really comes up since in many cases the dialogue boxes make little sense while the voice acting is a bit clearer on what's going on. Wouldn't it have been easier to just use the same script the actors were using or is there something that went on behind the scenes making this impossible? Whatever the case it's an issue since it causes yet more disconnects from the story.
One place that the game definitely succeeds is in setting the mood for the whole game with its music. The main theme is fantastic and whenever you're out investigating the music always suits the atmosphere of the scene you are in. This really helps with immersion and it's of pretty high quality to boot. Everything about the sound design in this game really screams time and effort which is definitely appreciated.
Last but not least the art in this title is definitely worth applauding. It has a definite anime look to it but that's not in any way a bad thing. Between having some of the best box art this year as well as a crisp, clean look for both backgrounds and characters there are only good things to be said for this. Initially it was this reviewer's belief that this was the work of Atlus since the art design has many parallels to some of their work, especially in similarity to the recent Persona games. To find out that it was the work of some rather talented people who used to work with Atlus amongst others so there's some clear pedigree at play here.
However all of these facets don't change the fact that Lux-Pain is nearly impossible to recommend. While it succeeds rather surprisingly on almost every technical level it's still a hard sell due to the translation. When dealing with a medium that is almost entirely focused on the words you're reading it's important that those words make sense. If this was an RPG back in the SNES days where you spent 30+ hours fighting enemies and only about an hour on story then it wouldn't be an issue. But since this is not the case Lux-Pain is a sad case of missed potential.