The heavily scrutinised world of reality TV and social media,is faithfully depicted in Buried Stars. A visual novel with multiple choice elements by South Korean publisher and developer LINE GAMES.
A faithful and often unsettling dipiction of society’s heavy reliance on current day technology.The drive for virtual and public adoration,included with all its benefits and pitfalls.
The game starts impressively enough. The story plunges us into the final segment of a reality tv show,just before the final results are read out and a winner declared.
The stage,complete with overhead lighting effects combined with an announcer and crowds cheering, add an immediate atmosphere of realism and tension that is felt just before the five final contestants are reintroduced.The fizz and sparkle of a big televised spectacle is certainly well simulated and delivered with a good degree of style.
It’s just a few moments later here, that we meet the five contestants that cover a large part of the main story…
Seo Hyesung …is placed fifth in the vote. An often brash and outspoken character who’s past involving a violent altercation,constantly comes back to haunt him. Did he really commit the offence? The public backlash and opinion says so,but Hyesung is not happy to be finishing last,and is prepared to do anything to change that.
Han Do-Yoon .. Bassist and founder of rock band Masquerade. Han made the sudden and controversial decision to leave his band behind and start a solo career. The former bandmates are not happy and neither is the public opinion,by nicknaming him “The Betrayer”…placed fourth.
Oh Inha .. Although very little is known about her past.Inha most certainly comes across as a very opinionated and headstrong woman with values she sticks to. Keeping her cards close to her chest is not popular with the public.Nicknamed “The Snob”,Inha doesn’t seem too bothered with the backlash ..placed third.
Min Juyoung .. leader of the girl band Beloved. Min decided to leave the group suddenly and without a reason. The public were not happy about it,and branding her as “run juyoung run”.Min most certainly comes across as a shy and timid character. Prone to panic attacks,the truth behind her decision is yet to be revealed..placed second
Lee Gyu-hyuk .. placed first. Lee is the “best”entertainer and son of legendary musician Lee Byung-hee. Most favourable after riding off his fathers success,lee cannot seem to do anything wrong in the public eye. To most who meet him,lee is well mannered and polite,intelligent and unphased.
After the announcement the story suddenly turns,when there is an almighty bang and crash and the screen goes black !?
Waking from the debris and slightly injured,Han Do Yoon spots some immediate danger and saves Lee Guy-hyuk from almost certain death. It quickly becomes apparent that the stage has collapsed,and Han and Lee are trapped inside with all exits blocked.
After gathering themselves together,the remaining three contestants Hyesung,Inha and Juyoung are found safe and well,along with floor director Chang Seil.
What immediately follows is a series of stark realisations..they are the only ones left in the building but where is the show producer Shin Seungyeon,who was clearly seen close to the stage before the crash?
And from the smart watches given to every contestant on the show..why are people still voting and the show still running?
Buried Stars starts to open up from this point,with players/readers taking on the role of Han Do Yoon in a quest for answers and ultimately a quest for survival as the contestants discover that the rescue team will take six hours to rescue them.
It’s from here that the first few chapters act like a game tutorial with the various options and actions unlocking for the player.
For starters,there’s a mood bubble in front of each contestant. This can change depending on how well you conduct each conversation,so obviously a moderate to happy person is more likely to be more responsive and talkative than an angry one. Han also a mental mood gauge on the right of the screen that needs constant monitoring. The wrong choices and questioning depletes the mood gauge and at zero it’s game over! Pick and make the right choices will improve the meter and open up extra lines of conversation and additional story/character branches.
Naturally,the conversation segments are a big part of the game. Each chapter requires you to obtain a certain number of keywords in what’s termed the “communication phase”. It’s best simplified by imagining the keyword term as “cards” . Each chapter requires a set number of these cards to progress onto the next chapter and forward the story.So through conversation,you might collect a keyword card stating “she left the group”,and then you can question the different characters by asking them all that same question and see what additional information you can uncover. The more keyword cards you collect,the more options available and wider branches of questions you can ask. Activate several keyword responses,can also unlock a special phase where the contestant continues talking and a special “black and white”hand drawn “cutscene”is activated,granting extra character/story information. Success is primarily down to the mood or expression of the character you want to question.
Certain lines of questioning will also activate a multiple choice answer screen,where Han can boost his mental gauge by selecting the right response. The wrong answer changing your questioned colleagues mood,positively or negatively,so there’s a lot of traits to consider.
As I mentioned slightly earlier in the review. Contestants are all given a smart watch as part of the show and it’s not until further in the story,that the functionality of the smart watch is brought in as an added addition to the tools you already have available.
As well as the standard options for setting ringtones,wallpapers (and trust me,you’ll need to do it!)there’s a number of useful apps that will help. Importantly is the ability to log on to “PHATER” the social media network where you can check what the public and your followers are saying. Checking regularly and scrolling down the comments can reveal certain posts with a question mark,and by clicking onto these you can gather additional clue and hints to help you. You can even reply to comments and set the style to suit you by either a style to attract or detract more followers. More followers means more popularity and from another app on your watch that charts each contestant in order of popularity. You don’t want to be the most unpopular person in the show as bad ratings lead to bad outcomes.
So whilst this might seem overly complex,there’s good news in that the game is pretty lenient with your experimentation,and trying out different options. It never overly punishes you with wrong choices with the penalty never more than one small fraction of your mental gauge depleted each time.
The downside is that your rapport with characters and the chances of getting a better overall standing and ending,gets a knockback. There’s several good and bad endings to achieve that warrant plenty of opportunity to play through again and strive to attain more keywords and story threads each time.
As a visual novel,Buried Stars ultimately shines with slick presentation and lavish styling. Get underneath and settled with the characters and system though,and you’ll find certain aspects tend to fall a bit short..
Like for a story where you’re stuck with these characters for the whole of the duration.Those characters need to be engaging and interesting enough to warrant your time and desire in finding out more about them. It just about succeeds on that aspect,but the more you build the character profiles and learn more about them,the more you feel slightly disassociated and not entirely warmed to their personalities. It’s an odd feeling.
Then there’s the smart watch options that you think extend your choices further but it doesn’t quite work. Take for example,the “phone”app that allows you to privately call any character in the game. You want to call Inha but find she’s not taking calls at the moment. Chang Seil doesn’t have a watch at all and then you find that there’s only actually one character that can take your call out of the available five.
Which ultimately leaves the story.Which by far is the most appealing and strongest part of this title. You’ll experience and witness each characters obsession,paranoia and at times neurotic behaviour with their lives so readily exposed in the public eye. The strive for popularity far greater and overshadowing the many situations they face,like isolation and desperation as the story progresses and slips down into darker and more sinister paths.
Overall,this is a great title that looks good and comes recommended to people who want a good suspense filled story with many twists and turns.
It’s a Korean voiced novel with English subtitles that might fall short on translation at times,but the conversation pieces are never overly long and drawn out. The overall length of story and replayability also warranting the overall asking price…
Thanks to LINE Games for the code.