I don’t mind that The Next World bills itself as a strategy visual novel, but has precious little strategy, or even that it makes what little strategy it has surprisingly opaque. I don’t mind that it uses the sort of simple artwork you’d find in an indie comic book or a JRPG with a meager budget. Frankly, I don’t even mind that the writing is mediocre, on par with your garden-variety young adult fiction. “Nice wheels,” exclaims one of the survivors when she sees a salvaged scout rover roll up. Just that morning, she lived through a crash that killed hundreds of her spaceship’s crew and stranded the survivors on a barren planet without a breathable atmosphere with nothing but the air in their EVA suits. Odds are she’ll be dead before the night is over. So, nice wheels. Not “sweet ride”, or “bitchin’ buggy”, or “let’s live our lives a quarter mile at a time”? Nice wheels. Like I said, no worse than your usual young adult fiction or Mass Effect game. You can romance her later if you want. Just pick the “flirt” option.
I don’t mind these things because The Next World tells a story that makes me wonder what’s going to happen next. It opens with the desperate survivors of a crash milling about on the sand of a strange land, struggling with who to put in charge, how to survive, what this place is, and how they got there. To The Next World’s credit, the answers aren’t Jack, by finding a bunker, limbo, and something something Dharma Initiative something EMP blast something. For all its similarities to a certain TV show, this story has a sense of focus, and a plot that methodically unfolds, one beat at a time, with a clear sense of direction. These are no randomly spun out episodes. This isn’t an emergent narrative. This is a game that’s far too brittle for the King of Dragon Pass comparisons I’ve seen. What happens next is something the writers have wanted to tell me all along. This is, after all, a visual novel.
After the jump, then why haven’t I found out what happens next?
I’ve only played The Next World five times. Well, I’ve played it partially five times. Each time I hit the fail state after an hour or so. At first, I thought it was just some bad calls on my part. Maybe I shouldn’t have cut rations down to half. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent resources building a recycling plant. Maybe I should have listened to the engineer instead of the doctor. So the second time I played, I made slightly different decisions. Pretty much the same things happened and everyone died off before I got to the end of the fourth chapter. Pretty punishing for a visual novel, isn’t it? Could it have been because I believed the game when it told me I should do a certain thing involving a power reactor? A certain thing that had come back to bite me in the ass twice?
Time to take the other fork in the tale. Time to not do what the game seems to be telling me to do. At which point I played The Next World to a stall three more times before realizing (i.e. looking up online because I got so frustrated) that there is no other fork in the tale. While the story and dialogue implied that I had a choice, the gameplay had other ideas. The Next World is hardcoded to only progress when you make a very specific choice in the third chapter, a choice that leads to a disaster that then leads to a ridiculous moral situation that leads me to wonder whether I’m interested in reading/watching this particular young adult sci-fi visual novel. The Next World is far too bantamweight for the hefty subject it tries to tackle.
So after that third attempt (my fifth attempt overall), I threw in the towel. Not because I don’t want to know what happens. I sort of do. It’s an intriguing story and for all its frivolity, the plot has at least a couple of exciting reveals. The simplistic characters are appealing enough and their forced conflicts are no worse than something you’d see in the average TV show. But I learned my lesson after six seasons of Lost. Sunken cost fallacy is a terrible reason to watch a TV show or play a game. I’ve learned that it’s okay to bail on a story once the storyteller has betrayed your trust. I’ve learned that uninstalling The Next World is the choice to make instead of playing it a sixth time.