Hot take: the most painful video game experience you can have is reviewing a poor visual novel. In other bad games, you can uncover the badness quickly, sift through the crap for anything that might be redeemable, and then toss it into a bin. A bad driving game? Play the courses, sigh and then delete it from your library. A bad fighting game? Laugh at the bad mechanics and ignore it forevermore. A bad visual novel? You are left tapping the A button interminably through hours and hours of thudding dialogue. There’s no escape. You are locked into it for an age, trying to keep your eyes open. Gosh, it’s painful.
We’re not anti-visual novel: far from it. We love the things, and we’d eagerly nudge you towards Arcadia Fallen which only came out in the past month. It is far superior in every way to Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel, and it will ignite any passion you might have for the medium. We’re just very much against bad visual novels, as they test our will to review them. They’re like being locked in a conversation with a very boring person for hours.
Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel stealthily hides its badness. It is a rather pretty visual novel, for a start. The artwork is beautifully done, with the characters and backgrounds feeling like they are lifted from a Jamie McKelvie-drawn comic book. Everyone is gloriously pretty in Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel – much like that famous vampire teen-series from the 2010s – and they are drawn gorgeously too.
The animations let the side down somewhat. Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel knows that it can’t leave the characters static. So, it animates the eyelids on the character, which presumably is meant to look like they are blinking naturally, but is instead like they’re having a stroke. Even more hilariously, the characters perform simple acts like bowing and turning by moving the character around like they were glued to lollipop sticks. Running? Better bob them up and down and move them offscreen, then.
The writing is clean as a whistle. There are precious few mistranslations or typos here, which commonly plague visual novels. It’s easy to tell who’s talking, and there are plenty of options for fine-tuning the reading to how you like it. The skip functions are great, too. But we’re just tidying off the good stuff before we focus on the tiresome. Because, by Vlad, is it dead inside.
Whoever wrote Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel likes a very particular kind of storytelling. Some people might even enjoy it, but it’s not our thing at all. It’s in love with its own world-building. Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel likes nothing more than detailing, in painfully long sequences, how vampires work in this world, as opposed to the vampires we know from popular culture. So, we get told whether crosses, garlic, holy water and sunshine are actually detrimental to a vampire, as if the checklisting is imaginative or interesting.
Then there are the societal structures. Vampires have their own fiefs, apprentices and houses, and that, too, is painstakingly detailed. Did you want to know how these work on a local, national and international basis? Well, you will, as long as the knowledge doesn’t sluice out of your ears.
It goes on. Family trees are elucidated. The history and bloodlines are given a once over. Then there are jobs and roles within the vampires, including the position of Enforcer, which you get to explore in several of the optional plotlines. All of this is documented as if you were reading the Dungeon Master guide for a Vampire: The Masquerade RPG. It makes sense as a reference for a tabletop roleplaying game, but a video game plot it is most definitely not.
It doesn’t help that everyone is about as stiff and wooden as a stake. Nobody laughs or cracks a joke, and everyone is deadly earnest. This is an intense game made by intense people, who likely consider emo and goth to be a rather positive lifestyle choice. We deeply wanted to put on The Lost Boys and watch a bit of that instead. Some camp to go with the eyeliner would have been welcome.
And the plot does some rather bizarre cartwheels. We’ve got a theory about this. Basically, the pace is incredibly, glacially slow in the opening two-thirds of the game. We worried that we’d never reach the end, as nothing was actually happening and we were four hours into the narrative. But then – with a whizzbang – suddenly everything happens, almost everyone dies, and the plot goes from 0 to 60 in the space of a few chatboxes. The end credits play, and you wonder what the hell just happened.
We’ve tried a few of the branching plots, and they all have this slow-slow-FAST approach to plotting. It’s like when you’re back at school, writing essays and get the vaguest whiff of approaching an ending, so you rush it, just to get the experience over with. The same happens here, and we wonder if the motivation was similar.
Our theory is that there were so many branching options in Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel that they became unsustainable. Producing a ten-hour visual novel, twenty times over, because you have just branched dramatically in twenty different directions, just isn’t tenable. So, the designers and writers panicked and wrapped things up, severing all the endings with as little fuss as possible.
There’s a backhanded compliment there: Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel is really good at branching. It offers countless options to veer the narrative in a new direction – far more than the average visual novel. We got whiplash from the faction-swapping and opinion-switching, as we tumbled from one scene to another. Of course, once we got to the next scene, we were walloped with a lecture on vampire physiology (or something), but the amount of agency handed to the player before then is rather impressive.
But hey, you can give us all the choices in the world, and they won’t mean anything if none of them are satisfying. And that’s the problem in Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel. Every path we took was padded out with insufferable world-building and detail. We felt like we were in a conversation with an energy-vampire; all the interest, all the goodwill that we had for the game, was being sucked out of us.
There’s little worse than getting locked in a room with a boring visual novel. Watching blood dry would be better.
You can buy Twice Reborn: A Vampire Visual Novel from the Xbox Store