Nirvana: Pilot Yume was an idea conjured up by the creative team at Dev9k, who pondered the idea of classic racer SkyRoads being a visual novel. Henceforth, their nostalgic desires have led to a game which is set to feature high octane space races wrapped up within a gripping, and romantic, sci-fi narrative. Will you be flying high in Nirvana: Pilot Yume, or does it go off-course and become a race from hell?
Unfortunately, the experience takes a nosedive pretty swiftly and makes Nirvana: Pilot Yume a hard sell to even the most ardent visual novel – or arcade racer – enthusiast.
In Nirvana: Pilot Yume it’s the year 3080, and the world has changed an awful lot. One of the biggest changes sees a space race, the G.U.R.U. – Great Ultrathought Race of the Universe – running as a form of interplanetary conflict resolution. In order to compete, a Pilot must navigate an Ultra-Ship with the help of an ‘Eye’, whose job it is to link up telepathically with the pilot to show them the obstacle-laden circuit ahead, all from a different perspective.
You’ll take on the role of Mitur Aldaine, a former Eye looking for redemption by teaming up with an eager rookie Pilot, Yume Kichi Neleiad. The narrative explores the chemistry between the two as they train for an important exam, hoping to be selected as the planet’s representative for future races. There’s a fair amount of information to take in and process, as the entire setup will be alien. That can be difficult to follow, and the standard of the writing quality doesn’t help matters.
On top of that, a few support characters make fleeting visits, which leads to some relationships that are explained badly and explored with minimal build. Due to the narrative lasting barely an hour, there’s a rush to cram everything in and it ends up with unnatural situations occurring. This is especially pertinent where the romance is concerned, which sees things escalate from friendly to risque at the drop of a hat. Be aware, the story can get raunchy and a few screens do feature suggestive poses, but there’s been nothing much beyond that during my playthroughs.
It’s not all bad though, design-wise the characters have memorable styles and the few background screens present are nicely done to portray the futuristic theme. There’s also the opportunity to make choices throughout the story and multiple endings to achieve in the process of doing so. These decisions can affect your chemistry with Yume and your Nirvana Synchronization level, which is an important part of the racing portion. I don’t believe there’s enough variation from the decision making to encourage running through the tale more than once however. Once you’ve had a taste of the racing, it takes real character to carry on to be honest.
The racing is actually the first thing you’ll actually experience in the Story Mode. A quick flash of the controls and then you’re in control of an Ultra-Ship in third-person view. Travelling at Ultrathought speed, the idea is to stay on the space themed, very straight, tracks by jumping gaps, avoid crashing into obstacles, and reach the end. They’re set in retro styled low-poly environments, with a real psychedelic vibe to them.
These races pop up every so often during the story. Every failure lowers the Nirvana Sync, but you automatically get to retry until there’s none left, and then it simply allows you to proceed (thankfully!). It’s absolute hell when you can blink and miss the actual controller layout, meaning you might not even notice the fact that jumping is an option. Aside from a brake – which barely does anything – and the ability to steer side to side at the slowest speed known to man, jumping is your only asset in ever succeeding. The tracks come towards you at an alarming rate, possessing such convoluted obstacles and hazards, that you’ve got no chance unless you perfectly memorise them.
An Arcade Mode is present for practicing ten of the eleven tracks included and you may want to spend half of your life there. You see, actually figuring out the safe routes and what causes a failure is crucial should you want to complete any track. Even then, a lot of luck is needed as there’s no guarantee the game itself won’t just screw you over randomly. One moment the white segments are safe, the next you just fall through it and into the abyss. The jumping mechanic is unreliable too; who knows how high and far it’ll take you, with every attempt unpredictable. It’s damn hard without the glitches, so you’ll be tearing your hair out when something ridiculous happens.
That’s not the only area of concern from a technical standpoint either. Upon launching the story, the sound almost immediately cuts out and doesn’t return. No matter how many times I exit, mess with the sound settings and relaunch, the sound will always disappear again once back in the story. Having nothing to accompany the racing, nor the storytelling, is a disaster for Nirvana: Pilot Yume because all you can then hear is your own mind telling you to pack it in and switch off.
Ultimately, Nirvana: Pilot Yume is a game which fails to deliver in both of its main aspects. The racing is a chaotic mess, with failure to succeed often decided by glitchy tracks and barely responsive gameplay mechanics. As for the story, well, despite the potential for an interesting sci-fi premise, everything about it feels quite rushed; there’s no easing into the setting, and the romance is mostly forced and a bit weird. If you weren’t already dissatisfied enough, the mysterious disappearance of sound is the final straw.
I urge you to give Nirvana: Pilot Yume a miss.
Nirvana: Pilot Yume is available from the Xbox Store