Imagine for a moment, that you and your friends live a relatively normal high school life.
Lucid 9 is a free mystery visual novel released relatively recently: April 14th of this year. Despite boasting rather impressive ratings for a free visual novel, averaging above 80% on Steam, it remains relatively unknown, being…well. A free visual novel, with no advertising. I’d like to do my part to change that, as, despite some obvious weak points, Lucid 9 can hold its own, presenting an intriguing story that has great stand out moments, and sets up well for the next installment in the series (because there will be another).
Oh yes: there will be no spoilers in this review, I’ll just be covering the absolute basics of what the visual novel has to offer, just so those of you who haven’t played the game, if anyone, can experience it for yourself. With that being said, let’s get into it!
A murderer runs loose among a prestigious Japanese high school (because obviously, the plot of a visual novel ain’t happening in America) and fear, tension, suspicion, are rising among the students attending. Among them is Yama Ishimoto, the stereotypical smart-ass, bishonen protagonist with a dark past, who initially doesn’t with to pay such happenings much mind. As the days go on, however, he finds himself sucked into the heart of said murders, eventually forcing him to come face to face with nightmarish circumstances that threaten to drive him mad.
As most visual novels go, you follow Yama throughout his various experiences, starting from a normal day of school, and escalating from there. Story-wise, I will tell you now, Lucid 9 starts rather slow, preferring to introduce you to the numerous characters and their relative dynamics. In this way, the story has a rather large focus on learning more about individual characters, the social circumstances surrounding them, and how they react to the mysterious happenings that are the focus of the plot. However, as any good mystery must do, it provides enough detail to keep up intrigue throughout the course of the story- providing small situations that gradually build to a huge climax, that, thanks to the character development provided, does not feel out of place.
The story of Lucid 9 is, overall, solid: it does not tread exceptionally new ground, nor does it pretend that it does. It has a standard build up, leading to climax points that are done, in my opinion, rather well: not to mention, despite not having too many big turning points in the plot, those turning points and twists can be CRAZY if you’re not prepared.
Yama Ishimoto is the protagonist of Lucid 9, and, pulls off the lazy, unmotivated, yet intelligent vibe. However,
Like other visual novels, Lucid 9 has a huge focus on its characters, as it needs to. It is not a romance, that is 100% exclusively made by character interaction, but the thing is… As mentioned before, Lucid 9 has a huge focus on building your perception of the plot, based on the reactions of individual characters, making said reactions rather important in telling the story. The question to ask next is, well, are those characters good enough to hold up? Are they people you can care about, are they unique enough to stand out?
Well. The answer to that, I feel, is yes and no. Some characters in fiction stand out for their unique personalities, and some stand out because their personal stories or narratives strike a chord with many people. However, although the second might happen for you, no such personality is so standout here. Each character has their own tropes that they fall under, and if you’re not a fan of such basic stereotypes, you might find yourself initially being skeptical towards Lucid 9’s characters. That being said, just because they fulfill certain obvious stereotype, doesn’t make them bad characters.
What must be taken into account here is the dialogue and expressiveness of each character. Throughout the game, you end up feeling like these characters are natural, likable, and honestly, just pretty fun to interact with. They appear to have their own backstories, their own rationales, and despite never truly deviating from their initial general stereotypes, they are still rather enjoyable, almost reassuring presences throughout Lucid 9.
For a free visual novel, Lucid 9 displays extremely pleasant visuals! It might not be the most crazy-detailed, super colorful, mind-blowing game, but what it has, can be summed up in one word. It has polish. Everything you see in the game feels intentional, there are no glaring errors, plenty of charming visuals, and when the game wants to set up a certain tone, you’ll FEEL it.
On that note, let’s talk about the tone and music, and how well they complement each other. There are some very playful moments in the game, where you’ll find yourself just enjoying the moment, or relaxing in interim periods between the mystery. However, that’s the thing- throughout the story, the music, the events of the game, and several visual moments, you get the vibe that something is going to happen. It’s like an air that everything is going to go to hell at one point or another, and, personally, I am a SUCKER for that kind of stuff. The music has an odd ambiance to it that only adds to this feeling, and again, although most of the soundtrack is not exceptional, it does its job very well, with no standout flaws.
Overall, as far as style, art, tone is concerned, Lucid 9 is a very confident visual novel. It has an overall dark feel, yet is never completely overbearing until it needs to be. If I have to mention one negative, if anything, it does drag on rather long. At some points, you might feel just a tad bored, with nothing to lead you on until you reach that next pivotal event which grabs your interest even more. It’s like a rollercoaster that constantly builds itself to huge climaxes: the problem with such a thing, being that up until those points, your anticipation for the next big drop might die down a bit.
4. Thematic Elements
Alright, so now we know the game is overall, pretty dark, despite the very effective, relaxing sections of the game. Such a trend leads itself to rather self-evident themes, including, of course, that trust in a friend can, for even the most hardened of souls, be something worth nurturing. There is a big focus on that throughout the story, as, beyond being a break in the darkness for you, such friendly interactions serve as a grounding place for Yama as well. As the game goes on, this becomes far more evident, especially considering how Yama’s dissociative psychological problems play a role in the way the story is told.
On that topic, a rather interesting theme that is presented blatantly in the late-game, but in hindsight, becomes rather obvious, is how Lucid 9 captures the growth of how a killer can be born. In the synopsis, it is made quite clear that the protagonist has the potential to kill, given the wrong path to follow, and throughout the game, this is the one whose shoes we fill. Yama, being the smart, yet unmotivated protagonist, is the one we follow, and by the end, the character we understand the most about, and so, tracking his progress throughout the story, we are allowed a glimpse into this process, and provided…not so much as a justification for killing, but a look at why one might wish to, and a perspective on the action of killing that is quite different from how other games look at the act, and personally, i found it quite enjoyable. Unsettling at points, but certainly enjoyable.
5. Personal Enjoyment
Lucid 9 was a cool experience. It sticks very firmly to a general story telling formula that you can notice throughout the game, but it does it well, and throws in enough twists that, even for visual novel/mystery veterans, it’ll be enjoyable. I know I liked it- I’m a sucker for stories with a dark tone, and dark assumptions, and Lucid 9 provided enough of that to placate me, and then some. There were nice relaxing moments that were enjoyable thanks to the solid cast of characters, psychological elements that, despite some part of me saying I’d seen it before, was done in a way that somehow made it feel fresh.
At this point, I’d like to make note of Lucid 9’s final stages, which hit me crazy hard. You’ve been hearing me mention that the story builds up like a rollercoaster, that it has big climax points. Well, if you go along for the ride, let yourself enjoy what Lucid 9 has to offer you, then I think you’re gonna have one hell of a time, because the last few hours…man. Even if you expect it, if you’ve grown to care for any of the characters in question, which, keep in mind, Lucid 9 makes relatively easy too, you’re going to feel that rollercoaster just…drop, and I think that makes the story worth experiencing.
With all the aforementioned stuff out of the way, I can give Lucid 9 a solid 8.25 out of 10, boasting a story that, despite being initially rather slow, is done in such a way that it feels fresh, original, and strong on its own merits. It’s a free download on their website, lucid9.weebly.com, and if you’ve got some hours to spare, I recommend you give it a go. And with that, I bid you adieu. Leave a comment if you so wish, even if you’ve played the game, I’m always up for some discussion! :)