A teenager dies. It is an unexpected end, but not quite as final as people are led to believe. Instead of nothingness or an afterlife, this person ends up in limbo. Which, coincidentally, is basically a boarding school. While some students follow the rules and work toward “graduation,” others join a rebel organization and fight the power. Sound familiar? No, I am not referring 2010’s Angel Beats!, the anime/light novel/manga/visual novel. It just so happens that Bad Apple Wars, Aksys and Otomate’s latest otome visual novel, is an unrelated game with an incredibly similar premise.
In Bad Apple Wars,
Otonashi Rinka is heading to school when she dies. She then finds herself outside of another school, NEVEAH Academy. (Hey, that’s heaven backwards!) She and another student, Satoru, are ushered into an opening ceremony where a bunch of teachers basically tell them this is it. You are serving your time here until you graduate, after which you move on. Stay in line, follow the rules, wear your mask and go through the monotonous routines until you lose yourself in them. Except this diatribe is interrupted by the Bad Apples! These are fellow students who do not want to fall in line! Instead, they are determined to break NEVEAH’s seven rules and hopefully be returned to their lives.
After attending your first real class, players are presented with a choice. Are you a Good Apple or a Bad Apple?
This sets the stage for Bad Apple Wars’ premise. After attending your first real class, players are presented with a choice. Are you a Good Apple or a Bad Apple? Your decision influences the bachelors you can pursue, but doesn’t have too much of an impact on the general course of events. Should you decide to make the heroine a Good Apple, she will become one of the NEVEAH’s Prefects, a person assigned to forcibly deliver punishment to anyone who falls out of line and fight Bad Apples, but will never Graduate. She can then date White Mask or Satoru. If she joins the Bad Apples, she attempts to break the school’s seven rules and eat the Forbidden Apple that will… uh… Okay, nobody actually knows what it does, since no one has ever broken a rule. But it has to be better than the endless tedium these people are experiencing, right? Oh, and she can date Alma, Higa, or Shikishima if she rebels.
Bad Apple Wars’ gameplay is a little less interactive than Otomate fans may be accustomed to, especially after playing Period: Cube and Collar x Malice. There are no dialogue choices. To get on a guy’s route, you just make sure you are the right kind of Apple and select the exclamation point tied to his signature color whenever the NEVEAH Academy map appears. (Don’t worry, their hair and uniform colors match their icons!) During these personal events, a CG may appear. This brings up a Soul Touch mechanic that gives you insight into each bachelor’s previous life, should you touch the correct parts of the screen. Touch a spot he doesn’t like and he will tell you. If you keep prodding that spot, blue lines appear and you might just find yourself on the way to a bad ending. Do what he likes, and suggestive images and a very brief story from when he was alive ensues.
Since the actual activity is rather limited, the game relies heavily on its story. Unfortunately, it falters in multiple ways, as Bad Apple Wars’ plot, character development and even routes suffer from various shortcomings. While enjoyment may vary from person to person, depending on affection for characters and subject matter, there were multiple times when I felt like the story was getting lazy, some character routes were clearly better written than others and even some members of the supporting cast proved more interesting and appealing than the major players.
Let’s start with the general story. I was very disappointed to find that Bad Apple Wars was so similar to Angel Beats!. The two have quite a bit in common in terms of premise, right down to the way a portion of their respective school festivals plays out. But even more discouraging is how little impact the choice of being a Good Apple or Bad Apple makes. I must admit, I actually hoped Rinka would become more of an authoritarian figure and antihero on the Good Apple route. But the major events tend to proceed as normal either way. She is the same bland, emotionless, empty and unremarkable person in each route, but of course magically has the ability and influence to alter things in ways they never have been before. She is the perfect example of a Mary Sue, someone who may insist she is nothing special, but is clearly a magical and special snowflake who becomes the apple of everyone’s eye.
Unfortunately, it falters in multiple ways, as Bad Apple Wars’ plot, character development and even routes suffer from various shortcomings.
Which brings me to the routes. Some of them are actually rather good. Alma and Satoru have stories that hold up well. (I actually went to the effort of getting Alma’s good and bad endings, because I enjoyed his storyline so much.) Their plotlines make sense. We see their characters develop. But others, like White Mask, Higa and Shikishima, just don’t feel like they work. A part of this is due to the nature of the game. Every student at NEVEAH is from a different period of time, but they arrived there out of order. So Shikishima is from the Taisho era and Alma is from period closer to our own, but Alma is one of the people who has been there the longest. And this leads to some major plot holes. White Mask in particular has a big one that bugs me even now. Higa’s route feels like it is filler. (I did not find it as romantic or well written as any of the other characters.) But even Higa’s doesn’t compare to Shikishima’s, which is actually one chapter shorter than everyone else’s. Bad Apple Wars is just so inconsistent.
There are times when the NPCs end up feeling like the only ones who experience real development at times. With the main bachelors, Otomate went out of its way to try and make each one incredibly depressing and tragic, which left me feeling rather ambivalent about each of them. Like, “It is a shame five horrible things happened to you in the week leading up to your death, but five equally horrible things happened to this guy too.” It ended up making me feel worse about Rinka as well, because what we know of her life prior to her demise doesn’t seem that bad, yet she is as down on herself as someone who suffered from a fatal illness. And even though some of the NPCs like Naraka and Sanzu are way more appealing, with backstories that show more growth and development, you sometimes get one that is essentially ripped directly from Angel Beats! and lessens the impact of what should have been an emotional moment.
I guess Bad Apple Wars left me with the impression that it was taking the easy way out throughout its story. Need something important to happen in the plot? The heroine is special in some unknown way and makes it so. Want to make bachelors appealing? Draw on players’ pity! Let’s force people to pick a side! But your heroine won’t develop differently and the general plot at NEVEAH will remain largely the same. What about character development? If the monotony at the academy dulls their memories, then you don’t need to worry about the details! I am sure there are some people out there who will end up enjoying Bad Apple Wars, but after playing the superior Period: Cube and Collar x Malice this year, I am not one of them.