Developer: 5pb (Steins;Gate, Corpse Party)
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Vita
Price: $49.99 USD (PS4), $39.99 USD (Vita)
From the writer of such acclaimed adventure visual novels as 999, Zero Escape, and Zero Time Dilemma comes Kotaro Uchikoshi’s latest tale of… a hero that threatens the extinction of humanity every time they stare at a woman’s panties.
Based on the anime of the same name, Punch Line is a bit lewd, cute, and genuinely funny at times, but when it transitions from being a visual novel to an interactive game it’s just not all that enjoyable.
So, what is Punch Line?
It’s mostly a visual novel based on the anime series’ 12 episodes that ran back in 2015. The game itself actually released in Japan in 2016, but recently made its way to English speaking territories in September of this year.
The story centers on the residents of an out-of-the-way apartment complex (Korai House) where everyone has their part to play. You control the spirit of the recently deceased Yuta, a young adult male who ends up having an out-of-body experience after his heroic act stops a bus hijacking from a terrorist group. Also on the scene is the mysterious superhero Strange Juice and her tech-savvy partner Pumpkin Chair, who accompany their frequently drunk and horny neighbor Rabura, the video game obsessed shut-in Ito, and your new ghostly feline companion, Chiranosuke.
The goal, of course, is to get Yuta’s spirit back to his body, which occupies his old bedroom on the bottom floor. How is someone else controlling his body? What’s the reasoning behind the terrorist organization’s plot to extinct humanity with a giant meteor? All this and more takes place over the game’s 15+ hour campaign, which felt twice as long as it needed to be.
Punch Line is broken down into 21 chapters, which often play out like a standard visual novel without much in the way of player agency. There aren’t many opportunities to choose between dialogue replies, so a lot of my time was spent reading through conversations and watching anime cutscenes (which is fine, really). There are gameplay scenarios that play out, though.
Many of the chapters in the game’s first half usually present a problem for Yuta to solve using his new ghostly form. At first, his primary goal is to locate a sacred Indian book that should help him enter his old body, but it’s locked away in a neighbor’s desk. How does he unlock the desk without a key, or even touch the key as a ghost? He doesn’t. Instead, you have to enter each of Korai House’s rooms and interact with certain objects. When these objects are “used” in the correct manner, or proper order, a scene will play out in which the objects cause the female occupants to visit one another, unlock things, make phone calls, and more.
He’s guided along by Chiranosuke and awarded new abilities as the story progresses, like moving objects or appearing in reflections. And despite having access to these ghostly powers, Yuta has one huge weakness — panties. Punch Line has a lot of fanservice and moving the camera around while interacting with objects often zooms straight under the female cast’s skirts, exposing their pantsu. If you don’t look away in time, Yuta becomes a geyser of blood, loses his spirit, and the aforementioned meteor crashes into the Earth. Why? Everyone has a weakness. His is panties. Look, I don’t know, man. The game is weird.
Where does it go wrong?
Only the first half of the game has these gameplay scenarios, as the last half is just cutscene after cutscene with the occasional dialogue reply option — I’m talking literal hours of pressing X. While the trial and error gameplay segments were often illogical and exhausting, their absence from the entirety of the 2nd half made it feel incomplete. Part of me wished they dug a little deeper with these puzzles since they’re only a matter of clicking on a few objects and seeing how things play out.
There aren’t additional options to use Yuta’s powers either, so ranking up and unlocking them was wholly unrewarding. You can’t mess the puzzles up too much because Chiranosuke eventually tires of your bullshit and only highlights the proper objects, which was just fine by the 3rd or 4th puzzle. But without much in the way of logic, they’re just not fun to figure out.
With the gameplay aspect being disappointing, it was up to the story and Punch Line’s characters to keep me hooked. It’s a genuinely entertaining narrative with a fairly surprising amount of plot twists, and although it started off as a comedy it quickly took a dark turn, blending quirky dance routines and sex change comics with murder, suicide, and mad science. Both of these were entertaining in their own right, but I didn’t feel like they played well together and often wanted more of one or the other.
For a silly plot with mature subject matter sprinkled in, Punch Line was twice as long as I wanted it to be. I’m a fan of visual novels, but this one ran out of gas 7 or 8 hours into the 15+ hour runtime. By the latter half of the game where I just sat in front of my TV reading dialogue box after dialogue box, watching the same anime cutscenes play out in flashbacks, and given very little to do otherwise, I kind of wished it was over at the halfway point.
Is it worth checking out?
If you’re a fan of the anime and visual novels, sure, but not one or the other. For $40-$50 USD there are far better options out there (especially on Vita). There’s a lengthy game under that price tag, but not all of it is enjoyable. However, I’ll continue to applaud publisher PQube for taking chances on these niche experiences and I hope we’ll continue seeing them in the future.
While many visual novels excel in their replay value, offering branching narratives and multiple endings, you won’t find much of that here. There is a chapter select if you’re into collectibles and trophies, but the only collectibles are photos of panties that you obtain by ending the world instead of succeeding. The chapter select doesn’t tell you which ones you missed either, so it’s purely a guessing game if trophies are your jam. For what it’s worth, it took me ~16 hours to get all but 2 trophies on PS4 and I had no desire to go back for them.
In the end, Punch Line was short on gameplay ideas and a bit long in the tooth with its narrative. It’s not bad, really, it’s just not very noteworthy when it exists in a sea of superior visual novels.
I don’t use review scores here at Cheap Boss Attack, so hopefully you find the above text far more informative than an arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Have any questions about the game that weren’t answered in the review? Sound off down in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them without spoilers.
Full disclaimer: A copy of Punch Line was provided by the game’s publisher, PQube, for the purpose of this review.