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SummaryBelieve it or not: there is such a thing as a good hentai adventure
The GoodYu-No is a Japanese-style adventure created by Elf, a leading eroge developer that gave us interesting RPGs such as the well-known Dragon Knight series (including the English-translated Knights of Xentar), Metal Eye, Words Worth, and others. It is also considered the magnum opus of Hiroyuki Kanno, the designer of Eve Burst Error and other notable adult Japanese adventures.
I have played and even completed Yu-No several years ago on the Saturn, but could not form a conclusive opinion due to the game's very complicated story that I could absolutely not understand in Japanese. Fifteen years after its original release, Yu-No finally got translated into English by a devoted and talented team. The translation patch (you can find it in the Links section) is an absolute necessity if your Japanese is less than excellent; it also adds voice-overs from the Saturn version to the Windows release. The writing in the translated version is fantastic, by far surpassing even the best examples of eroge adaptations in English. Finally, I was able to enjoy the game properly.
Let's leave the story analysis for later and focus on what is, in my opinion, the game's most unusual and commendable aspect: the gameplay. Now this is something I thought I'd never say about a Japanese adventure, especially one that doesn't spice it with action elements, like Snatcher and Policenauts. I don't like Japanese-style adventures because I find their gameplay ridiculously unfulfilling. Scrolling through a menu and selecting all the options until an event is triggered is not my idea of fun gameplay. Yu-No doesn't exactly rebel against this type of gameplay, but it gracefully enhances it in such a way that it becomes not only bearable, but even rewarding.
First of all, Yu-No doesn't have a menu-based interface; it is point-and-click, just like Policenauts. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Clicking on graphical objects can already be considered exploration; selecting a command from a limited amount of options can not. You don't need any skill for going through menus; you do if you are required to notice something interesting on the screen and interact with it. Yes, this often boils down to pixel-hunting and the same "click until stuff happens" affair as with menu-selection; and yet it feels different. The illusion of having freedom and choosing is much stronger. The addition of a real inventory with items that must be used at specific moments brings Yu-No even closer to Western adventures and makes it stand head and shoulders above Eve Burst Error and other popular Japanese adventures that can only rely on their plots to entertain.
Second, Yu-No brings in its famous "automatic diverge mapping system", which is much more than just a fancy name for a harmless gimmick. The whole game is built in such a way that simply rushing through it will reveal little of the story, and may even not be possible, since you can get stuck fairly easily. In order to avoid reaching dead ends, you'll need to strategically use special orbs, "saving" your location on a map that shows all possible paths through the game. Yes, this gameplay system is intertwined with the story (since it's all about choosing different story paths, like in visual novels), but, paradoxically, this is precisely what makes it so exciting for this type of game. In a game where story is king, having a gameplay system that complements the story and is merged with it means that the game respects the fact that players may want more than just automatically advancing and making occasional choices. The system of Yu-No is challenging because you'll need to understand the story, study the paths, and make decisions that involve more than selecting a command out of two available ones. Yu-No doesn't insult our intelligence and invites us to think and play simultaneously. This, in my opinion, is the game's most valuable asset.
Of course, this would probably not be enough if Yu-No had a weak story. Fortunately, the story has all the coolness and complexity of Kanno's previous works, plus more. It dives into the depths of scientific theories, philosophical concepts, and all sorts of themes that are woven together in a believable way. There are many characters, and almost each one has his or her own agenda and different layers of personality, often developing in interesting and unpredictable ways. I have my issues with the story, but its ambitions and attention to detail are admirable. The way the story and the gameplay system become one in the game (since the concept of parallel universes is the explanation to the gameplay concept) is fascinating, and quite unique in the world of Japanese adventures. Yu-No transcends not only its erotic content, but also the weaknesses of the genre it belongs to.
The BadThe gameplay system could have been executed better. It's a pity Yu-No still couldn't shake off annoying and totally unnecessary "triggering" that keeps plaguing Japanese adventures. Too many times you are required to examine everything you see over and over again, until a new text appears and miraculously brings forth the next event. It is often hard to distinguish between real dead ends, which occur due to bad orb placement, and such "draughts" where you try everything and nothing seems to happen. The gameplay idea of Yu-No is intriguing, but the implementation is not always flawless.
I have a somewhat bigger problem with the game's story. The parallel universe theory is quite confusing, but at least it makes the game start off like a science fiction title. However, as the story advances, it accumulates more and more fantasy elements and eventually marches straight into the realm of typically Japanese RPG-like, larger-than-life pseudo-philosophical cosmic confrontations. I think Yu-No should have been braver in sticking to sci-fi instead of taking the easy way out of all its complications with frivolous mythology.
The erotic scenes are for the most part tasteful and don't disrupt the flow of the story. However, like nearly all hentai adventures, Yu-No features a lecherous male protagonist who lusts after - and eventually sleeps with - every woman in the game (except the school principal's old mother, I think). It is perhaps only moderately disturbing that one of these women is his own stepmother. Unfortunately, there are more disturbing things out there that I cannot reveal because they would constitute a spoiler. No, it's not rape or other type of horrifying violence, but still something I'd prefer not to see in this game. With all the depth of its story, Yu-No cannot stop catering to the average hentai player, who is together with the protagonist in his desire to "get them all".