I’m a big fan of dating sims and visual novels, both the serious and the satirical, but somehow I’ve managed to go my entire life without playing an otome game. I thought I would finally change that with this Norn9: Last Era review as what can be better than attractive anime boys falling desperately in love with the main character?
Norn9: Last Era is a complete fandisc for Norn9: Var Commons, which came out on the Nintendo Switch earlier this year. These games have previously only been available in Japanese on the PSP and the PS Vita, but now they’re officially available in English for fans to relive the story in their own language with an official translation. The Norn9 franchise follows a group of extraordinary young people called Espers in an alternative history as they use their special powers to stop humanity from developing weapons of war. Plus, they get to fall in love along the way.
Last Era in particular is essentially an expansion game for existing fans of the franchise. The game is split into four game modes: prelude, concerto, fugue, and fantasia. The prelude offers some insight into the lives of the nine main male protagonists before they board the Norn spaceship and join the story, from their perspective. Concerto mode lets you play as the girls once again, exploring either a happy memory with their chosen partner or a challenge that the couple must overcome to maintain their relationship.
The fugue mode flips the original story on its head, letting you play from the male characters’ perspectives and see what they really think about the three female protagonists. And finally, fantasia mode chibifies all of the characters and lets you play out ‘what if’ scenarios. I’ve alluded to this already, but this all seems like great additional content for people who’ve already played Norn9: Var Commons, or even watched the anime. I have done neither of those things.
Basically, this game isn’t a good entry point for new otome fans, despite all of its selling points. Norn9: Last Era assumes so much knowledge of the first game that it makes the story extremely convoluted and hard to follow for a newcomer. Granted, there’s a handy function that highlights important terminology in red and lets you unlock extra dialog that explains these terms, adding context that I previously didn’t have. But even that hasn’t helped me to fully understand the original game’s plot.
Luckily, I’m able to appreciate many of the game’s positives without playing the first installment. The music for starters is gorgeous and really adds depth to the scenes. Unlike a lot of visual novels which use entirely still images, the characters’ eyes blink while you’re reading a scene, adding that little extra bit of movement to make it feel more like a game than a book. Plus, the entire game is fully voiced in Japanese, including the female main characters (something that other voiced visual novels sometimes leave out) so you can set the scene to autoplay and just read along like you’re reading subtitles on an anime.
All of the characters feel unique and fleshed out, including the female protagonists, which is something that isn’t always true of dating sims. A lot of games in the genre want the player to project themselves onto the protagonist and in the process strip that character of any personality, but Koharu, Mikoto, and Nanami are as fully realized as the male love interests. This especially helps when playing the fugue game mode from the boys’ perspective.
The art is stunning too. Of course, all of the character art is beautiful because it’s meant to be attractive to the player, but the backgrounds are afforded just as much detail as the character models and it really helps with immersion. Sometimes when visual novels have really detailed characters on plain backgrounds it can make the game feel more like a puppet show than an engaging story, and Norn9: Last Era definitely doesn’t suffer from that problem.
Despite knowing nothing about the existing story going in, I can say for certain that I want to know more. Playing this game first definitely isn’t the ideal way to enter the Norn9 fandom, but I’ve been convinced from playing this fandisc to try out the original story, either by playing Norn9: Var Commons or watching the anime. It’s pretty impressive for a game that’s the polar opposite of a standalone sequel to still hook me, so Last Era deserves kudos for that.
Overall, I think existing fans of Norn9 are going to love this game. It provides so much extra detail to the main story, from the boys’ backstories, to their inner monologues, to post-game content with your favorites. If you’ve not played or watched the original story, I recommend doing that first to avoid being as confused as I was. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hunt down Norn9: Norn and Nonette and binge it for the rest of the day.
If you’re after more great games from Idea Factory, check out our Atelier Marie Remake review. We’ve also got a guide to more visual novel games if you’re craving more dramatic but static adventures.
Norn9: Last Era review
Norn9: Last Era is a fantastic prequel and sequel to Norn9: Var Commons, giving you even more insight into your favorite boy’s life and thought process, with plenty more cute and romantic moments along the way.