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SummaryHentai adventures can be good, but that doesn't mean much
The GoodYu-No is a Japanese-style adventure created by Elf, a leading eroge developer best known in the West for its funny little RPG Knights of Xentar. It is also considered the magnum opus of Hiroyuki Kanno, the designer of Eve Burst Error and other notable adult Japanese adventures. 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 very good, by far surpassing even the best examples of eroge adaptations in English.
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. Yu-No doesn't exactly rebel against this type of gameplay, but at least it enhances it in such a way that it becomes bearable. 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 mostly boils down to pixel-hunting and the same "click until stuff happens" affair as with menu-selection; and yet it feels different.
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 fit this type of game really well. In a game where story is king, having a gameplay system that complements the story and is merged with it means that the game attempts to respect the fact that players may want more than just automatically advancing and making occasional choices.
The story itself 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 that characteristically convoluted, feverish fashion peculiar to Japanese writers. I have my issues with the story, but its ambitions and attention to detail are commendable.
The BadAlas, the cool multiple-path gimmick cannot cure the curse of the genre: lack of substance and challenge in the gameplay. Yu-No is unable to shake off the 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. There are no true puzzles; the few exceptions are lost in the ocean of mindless triggering. Which means that, once again, we are confronted by a game that has some interesting ideas but doesn't really know how to tie them together. Gameplay is largely defined by the main activity it offers, and in this game - like in all other Japanese adventures - that activity is repetitive clicking.
I also have a 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 acceptable and do not 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 supports the protagonist in his desire to "get them all".