No One But You, or NOBY, is a Kickstarted visual novel from Unwonted Studies. Despite some uneven storytelling, it’s a welcome addition to the OELVN scene which brings something new and interesting to the table while still being firmly rooted in familiar visual novel tropes.
BEWARE: MAJOR spoilers for the game ahead.
Playtime: 8 hours at a fast reading pace
NOBY starts out as a typical high-school romance story, but once you get into the individual character routes it quickly becomes much darker and more serious. Unfortunately, this change in tone doesn’t always work, but each route brings something new and interesting to the table, as I will discuss in detail below.
The common route was fun, it felt like I was really choosing the path the story went down, and the banter between Hideaki and his friends is great, particularly with Ryo. There are a lot of choices which made this visual novel feel very interactive, but unfortunately this also resulted in some encounters not really making sense. For example, even after never speaking with Yui you still end up being friends with her. Another example is that in one playthrough I never discovered that Shiro was my neighbour or spoke to her through my window, yet these are referenced later on. I know that with lots of different branches and convergence points it can be difficult to make sure everything lines up, but these instances are extremely jarring and bring you out of the narrative.
Now I’ll talk about the character routes in the order I played them.
I can’t resist a pink-haired girl, so I went for Megumi’s route first, and what a rollercoaster to start with. Megumi’s route was probably the most all over the place, kind of like the character itself. I actually thought this was going to be a yandere route at first given how Megumi acts, and Hideaki frequently comments on how inappropriate her stalkerish behaviour is. But in the end it went somewhere completely different. It did explain her previous behaviour in a way, but that still didn’t make it more palatable, and by the end I didn’t find myself particularly endeared to her character.
To be honest, it felt like that tried to cram too many “issues” into one story – paedophilia, rape, murder, revenge, identity crises – the whole works. To make the conflict happen involved setting up some implausible situations, the main problem being that it just made no sense that this particular teacher would be back teaching at that school again, especially not as Megumi’s homeroom teacher. I found that hard to get my head around, and the absurdity of the situation detracted from the gravitas such a situation should have.
I’m still torn on how to feel about this route overall. On the one hand, it was the most uneven and ridiculous. On the other, it was also the most dark and dramatic. I’m a fan of dark stories, and with a bit better execution this could have been a stand-out for me.
I love, love, love that they included a Boys’ Love route. The progression felt well-paced and it brought much-needed payoff for all the little jokes about Hideaki and Ryo being a couple. It was also by far the happiest ending, even if it was vaguer than the others. Overall Ryo’s route was my favourite, and I’m so pleased that they decided to include this route in a game that clearly angles towards a male audience with its four heroines.
Probably the most “realistic” route of them all, which also made it seem a little boring in comparison, Yui’s is all about bullying, and a girl who closes off her emotions because of it. She also gets three endings – a bad one, a not quite so bad one, and a good one – and there’s a link to Hideaki’s past that reveals itself. I actually thought this was one of the best-done storylines, but it is unfortunately overshadowed by all the drama that happens in the other ones.
Shiro’s story revolves around the yakuza. This felt like the most unbelievable out of all of them, eve more so than Megumi’s, with high school kids trying to take on the Japanese mafia. The most face-palm-worthy part being that somehow the yakuza couldn’t find one family in a small town without our protagonist accidentally leading them there. However, the development of Hideaki and Shiro’s relationship was very sweet and realistic, and I wish that it had taken place against a less ridiculous background.
I saved Chinatsu’s route for last since I could already tell that this would be where the protagonist’s past was revealed. It’s obvious from the get-go where this route is going so it was frustrating waiting for the reveal, but it was still enjoyable to experience when it happened. I was a little disappointed that I had basically predicted the events behind Hideaki’s memory loss, but they might come as more of a surprise to new VN/anime fans. As it stands they are well-worn tropes, but I do think they were executed nicely.
Based on my experience my recommended play order would be: Ryo > Shiro > Megumi > Yui > Chinatsu.
In terms of my favourite routes, I would probably rate them as follows: Ryo > Megumi > Yui > Chinatsu > Shiro
While the routes are definitely uneven and have some pacing problems, every single one of them kept me engaged and reading to find out what would happen. I enjoyed the variety and appreciated that each one tried to do something different, even if it didn’t always hit the mark. That being said, despite the cheerful common route, the themes explored here are heavy ones, and suicide features prominently. If this is something that bothers you then I would avoid this game. For those that enjoy darker storylines, NOBY delivers routes with themes of loneliness and desperation that genuinely make you strive for the good endings out of a desire to help these troubled characters.
I really liked the character sprites, although I would have liked to see more movement in terms of their poses rather than just changing facial expressions. CGs are generally nice, too. I also really liked most of the backgrounds, particularly the interiors, although some of them were of a noticeably inferior quality such as the docks and the arcade. I was also a little confused about how some backgrounds featured Japanese text while others had Chinese or English. On that note, something that put me off a little is that the script is written in English that purposefully sounds like it’s been translated from Japanese. I get that this is how VN and anime sound if you read a lot of fan translations, but there’s really no need to force it if you’re a Western developer.
I don’t usually care too much about the music in visual novels, but I thought that the soundtrack here was excellent. There are 35 (!) wonderful music tracks which greatly enhanced each scene. My favourite was Ryo’s ending theme.
On a technical note, the game still needed more editing and playtesting. I came across quite a few typos, plus a couple of places where sprites or backgrounds were missing, and at one point a full on popup error. Quality control is the biggest thing I wish more OELVN devs would focus on. Having a polished product is so important to overall user enjoyment, and to making a good name for yourself.
I think NOBY is a visual novel that any fan of the genre in general could enjoy. It clearly takes inspiration from KEY’s games/anime like Kanon and Clannad, with a fun and light-hearted school life common route followed by more involved and depressing character routes. However, it gets darker than the examples above, so make sure you’re prepared for that. While the uneven pacing and story quality hold it back from being an unconditional recommendation, it’s an enjoyable VN that will pull you into its world and have you hoping along with Hideaki that you can save these characters from themselves.