Warning: This post assumes that you have finished all five routes of Ever17. If you have not, you will not understand this post. Spoilers are contained, continue at your own risk.
Those familiar with visual novels would no doubt agree that Ever17 is one of the most notable visual novels to date. Since its initial publication, much has been written about Ever17’s excellent design and mind blowing story. A quick search on google would result in hundreds of reviews hailing Ever17 as a masterpiece of human imagination. With some patience, Ever17 is a visual novel anyone can enjoy. However, I believe Ever17 is overrated. This post will illustrate what makes Ever17 so interesting, and in turn explain why it is not as great as it appears to be at first.
I am aware that this will be a very long post. Most people might not have the patience to read everything, especially if they disagree with my thesis. However, I urge that even if you don’t read anything else, read the conclusion.
To start things off, a quick self introduction seems in order. I am a fourth year Engineering and Film student at the University of Auckland. Apart from watching and making films, I also enjoy books, music, and video games. Until about two weeks ago, I was a stranger to the world of visual novels. That changed when I set out to prove a point and to discover why my friend ImperialX is so passionate about visual novels. Thus began my journey with Ever17. You can read my impression after playing each route here. Otherwise, here is a quick summary.
My journey through the first four routes was a journey of transformation. At first, while playing Tsugumi and Sora’s route, I was bored to death. Then, during You’s route, I realized the nature of Ever17 and began taking notes and screen shots. By the time I finished Sara’s route, I was engaged both emotionally and intellectually.
I then took 2 days off just to reorganize my notes. By the time I started Coco’s route, I thought I’ve figured out most of the mysteries. How naive I was. There was no way I could’ve predicted what awaited me. The plot twists took me completely by surprise. Many a time, I found myself gasping in disbelief. In truth, It is tempting to say that Coco’s route was better than all previous routes combined. The conclusive ending also put a solid full stop on every thread of the plot.
I began blogging immediately after the credit finished rolling. It was near midnight, but I didn’t care. I wanted to share with the world Ever17’s brilliance, I wanted to hail it as a work of art, I wanted to call it a masterpiece, all while trying to sound as objective as possible. However the excitement simply could not be contained. In the end, I decided that I’m far too close to the work to write anything of value. So instead of posting a bunch of capitalized superlatives, I decided to wait. It seemed appropriate for me to take a few days off to think things through.
Warning: If you have not, played through all 5 routes of Ever17 and decided to ignore the first warning, this is a good place for you to stop. Though I believe Ever17 is overrated, but I still think it is worth the time.
The first thing I realized after a few days is that contrary to popular belief, the story of Ever17 is really not all that great. If we consider each route individually, then every route is average at best. If we consider all five routes as one big story, then it is quite repetitive and lacks contents, especially considering the length of the visual novel. Imagine for a moment seeing the story from Sora, or Yubiseiharukana’s point of view and you’d see how plain, event wise, the whole thing really is.
Characterization was also one dimensional with limited character developments. This is unsurprising due to the plot’s necessary repetitions. Arguably, Tsugumi, and maybe Sora, were the only two characters who underwent any noticeable development. Other characters have their eventual character arcs alluded to but was never realized. Intimate conversations would occasionally result in insights into other character’s backgrounds, but more often than not, those conversations only act as unnatural segue into philosophical discussions.
Not only does Ever17 lack in both plot and character, the theme of the visual novel is also quite vague, or perhaps even nonexistent. By theme I am referring to the ideas which a piece of work embodies, this is not to be confused with subject. For example, the subject of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, is three men fighting against one another for a large sum of gold. While one of the theme is moral ambiguity. A strong theme is the essence of any good story. It is the message that the audience takes away and ponders over long after the story has ended. Unfortunately Ever17 contains no such message, or at least not a strong one. When the visual novel ends, there’s simply nothing more to think about. This is perhaps the visual novel’s biggest shortcoming. When deciding the quality of any work, the most important criteria is not how enjoyable it was, or how technically advanced it was, but rather what kind of message it was delivering and how well it was delivered.
Mozart’s Requiem for example is a work of art. It embodies the hope of a dying man in the hands of a merciful God. Pollock’s drip paintings are works of art. Even though they lacked the most basic subject matter and went against all rules of visual arts, they are the affirmations of human existence in a time when extinction seemed imminent. ARIA is a work of art. Its dreamlike serenity demonstrates that beauty can be found even in the most insignificant corners of life. Many people can proudly say that their lives has been changed by these great works of art, but few can say the same about Ever17. Because in comparison, Ever17 offers nothing.
One could argue that Ever17 actually does have a theme, and it is about the nature of seeing. How BW, who is pure perception, can influence physical events, seem to suggest passive observations are also active creation. What Sora said about herself existing only when someone sees her can then be generalized to all reality. Perhaps, because we played Ever17, then the world from the visual novel is not just some binary data or animation, but the characters were really alive and talking to us through the screen. Our passive observation created the world inside the computer. This interpretation is not baseless, but it is also one that can be applied to any visual novels, video games, and whatever other interactive mediums ever created. The whole point of interactive medium is to experience a story we, as an observer, can also participate in. Since that the suspension of belief is the most important aspect of any form of Play. Then as far as gameplay is concerned, any events that takes place in visual novel, game, or even book can be considered real; Real enough for us to be surprised, to be humored, to be excited. All Ever17 did was to point out the obvious.
If Ever17 lacks plot, character and theme, then what is it that made it so entertaining? The answer lies with Ever17’s biggest innovation; narrative structure. While plot refers to events which makes up the story, the narrative structure is about how a plot is shown to the audience. Traditionally, different routes in a visual novel implies playing through the same timeline again. With Ever17, by introducing BW, the developers was able to trick the player into thinking that they were playing a traditional visual novel, while the routes were intimately linked and clues regarding their relationship hidden in plain sight. It is only until Coco’s route that the player realizes that every assumption they have made were mistaken, every event they experienced was misinterpreted, and every plot hole they saw was misjudged. This moment of understanding, the instant of enlightenment is the cause for all the heart stopping, breathtaking, awe inspiring epiphany.
Unfortunately, to experience the euphoric ecstasy of Ever17, the visual novel depends on the reader to be a veteran of the visual novel culture. In this culture, most players would be happy to click through every route of a visual novel regardless of it’s quality. It is a culture where finishing a visual novel and giving it a score is a worthwhile achievement in itself. I admit, I am making a gross generalisation here, but this is a generalisation the developers of Ever17 took full advantage of. Clues regarding Coco’s route were fitted randomly into the first four routes without any form of disguise. The developers did this because the developers knew that even if players think the visual novel was bad, most would still play to the end. Truthfully, if there was some kind of disguise employed, then the first four routes must have been purposely disguised as badly written visual novel with lots of plot holes. The genius of this is that it doesn’t even matter if it seems bad. After all, the motto for veteran VN players are; when dialogues seem awkward, just click! When plot holes are jarring, just click! When the whole visual novel falls to pieces, just click! Giving out a 1/10 is as satisfying as giving out a 10/10. So why the frustration? Why the impatience? Why even think? Just click!
The downside of this is that Ever17 is very unfriendly to new comers. Given the length of the whole thing, few newbies would be interested enough to play through every route. Unless, of course, if they somehow knew something amazing awaits near the end. But then the simple fact of knowing already takes away half of the pleasure from Coco’s route. Additionally, for anyone who’s not a “veteran” with the “Just Click!” mindset, they would likely start seeing hints like I did. By noticing things before Coco’s route, it would most definitely detract from the breathtaking finale.
On a side note, it is potentially possible for Ever17 to be played like a puzzle and Coco’s route treated as the answer booklet. In that case, the happiness would come from the satisfaction of solving the puzzle, rather than the surprise at the end. A risk to this approach is that anyone who did not figure out the plot twists, but still noticed most of the clues would not be surprised at what happened, but neither do they feel a sense of accomplishment. What they would feel is a sense of failure.
At this point, some of you might suggest that Ever17 is just too deep for the newcomers. They do not have the endurance to enjoy it. They should play a few short visual novels first and be slowly eased into the medium. Others would suggest that the first four routes of Ever17 are not that bad. They might be slow compared to the Hollywood action flicks, but they can be fairly good if the reader have the patience. In one sense, both these advice about easing into the medium, and the first four routes not being dull seem like good advice. However it raises the question; If a person can be trained to endure the first four routes of Ever17 simply by playing more visual novels, and if the training might even get a person to think the first four routes of Ever17 is good, then doesn’t that say something about the quality of visual novels in general?
Additionally, even for the “veterans”, Ever17 has nearly no replay value. Since Ever17 lacks both plot and character, and is devoid of any significant theme; there are only two things that makes Ever17 worth playing. These are the unexpected plot twist, and finding the “hidden” clues. Most people would be happy with one play-through and simply trust everything fits into place. Some might choose to play through the whole thing twice. Once to experience the surprising twist, and again to be amazed by the developer’s intricate planning. A few brave souls might even struggle through a third time just to make sure they saw every clue, but less than a handful would bother venture any further. After all, unlike the writings of Shakespeare or Wordsworth, Ever17 can only endure so many read-throughs. There is only so little it can offer.
Some might be asking, why so serious? Why be so analytical? We approach entertainment purely for enjoyment, right? As long as something brings us happiness, then it is good, right? Yes, I agree. I am not denying the happiness that Ever17 could bring. I am certainly not saying that Ever17 is a bad visual novel. What I am saying is that the joy Ever17 brings is very temporary and very limited. It is but a momentary thrill. It is like a glorified crossword puzzle, or a well executed card trick. The joy comes from the challenge, and the joy comes from the unknown. It was entertaining while it lasted, and it leaves a sense of wonder when it ends, but nothing more. Once the puzzle has been solved, and the trick revealed, then it holds no more value.
Perhaps Ever17 can then be described as the intellectual equivalent of a roller coaster ride. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, but once it’s over, it’s over. You might get off the ride with your heart in your throat and stars in your eyes but none of that lasts very long. After a while, if you think about it carefully, despite the adrenaline rush, there is not much substance to the ride. Soon, a newer ride will be built. It will be bigger, it will be better, and it will be faster. The former would remain only in the mind as a fading memory.
To history, Ever17 will be remembered along side Fantasmagorie, one of the earliest animated film, Choose Your Own Adventure series, which popularised the gamebook genre, and maybe even the original Assassin’s Creed video game, which revolutionised how players interact with the game environment. They are the embodiment of innovation and the manifestation of potential. Indeed, each one of these works pushed the boundary of their respective mediums, but that doesn’t automatically turn them into art. All things considered, Ever17 really is not so much different; just a clever idea, a passing thrill, a nice piece of entertainment with momentary value.
Yet despite the lack in plot, lack in character, lack in theme and lack in replay value, Ever17 is still being hailed by many as the pinnacle of human imagination; Over the years, a cult following has grown around this rather average piece of work. Believers would cry for blood at the first sight of disagreement. Threads after threads have been posted all around the internet to proclaim Ever17′s greatness. Though I am not suggesting that Ever17 is unworthy of praise, what I am suggesting is that it is unworthy of the amount of praise it has received. And in turn, these exaggeration, and blind worship surrounding Ever17 has made this visual novel the very definition of “overrated”.