Bad Apple Wars Review

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Release Date: 2015
Publisher: Idea Factory & Aksys Games
Platforms Available: PS Vita (Japanese & English)
Game Link: Bad Apple Wars – PS Vita [Physical]
Bad Apple Wars – PS Vita [Limited Edition]
Official Site: Aksys Games

It has been quite some time since my last review! If you would like an overall update on what I have been up to and my summary of the best and worst of 2017—you can read my post here which covers everything.

Bad Apple Wars was the final otome localisation from Aksys Games for 2017, as the fan disc Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~ was pushed back to a tentative March 30th 2018 release. Their other announced titles such as Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ (Review) and Collar x Malice (Review) was released earlier in the year.

Although I did enjoy the game overall, I had some major issues with the overarching storyline and character development within Bad Apple Wars.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

After a sudden car accident on her first day of school, the protagonist finds herself in the afterlife, standing before a strange school for lost souls. It is said that here, at NEVAEH Academy, any student who behaves and follows the rules will be able to graduate and start their life anew. After a man wearing a rabbit head informs her of her untimely demise, the confounded protagonist attends the school’s opening ceremony.

And then, suddenly—a loud blast tears through the auditorium. At that moment, a war breaks out between the Bad Apples, a group of delinquent students opposing the academy, and the Prefects, sworn enforcers of the school rules.

In the midst of the chaos, the protagonist comes across a red-haired young man. Without a shred of hesitation in his voice, he reaches his hand out and asks her: “Do you want to live?” (Official Website)

If you’re familiar with the anime ‘Angel Beats’, then Bad Apple Wars is essentially the more light-hearted and happier version of the original concept. NEVAEH Academy is akin to purgatory, a world that is neither heaven, hell or earth—where souls filled with regret from their past lives reside. They are unable to move onto the afterlife due to their past burdens and the students are given two options: relinquish their pain, identity and memories in order to be reincarnated, or face their regrets and have another chance to atone for their past mistakes.

However, the path to receiving another chance at life is a difficult one. It is filled with almost impossible challenges that no one at the academy has been able to overcome. Limitations are set in place to deter those daring enough to try, and the longer they stay within the world—they slowly begin to lose touch with their past and current self. Will the heroine choose to be a good apple in order to graduate and start life anew, or be a bad apple and fight in a seemingly hopeless cause to defy the hands of fate? 

The premise of the storyline is very interesting and immediately draws the reader into the bizarre universe. However, it falls terribly short of its potential and leaves so much more to be desired by the end of it all. It is a tragic romance at its core, and stirs your heartstrings upon the reveal of the bachelor’s pain, suffering and burdens prior to dying. But, there is the saying that too much of a good thing can eventually become a bad thing.

It felt like after a certain point in the storyline, the writers were pouring as many ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘tragic’ plot devices as possible for the sole purpose of inflicting despair within the readers. It overshadowed a lot of the more comedic and lighthearted moments throughout the storyline, and became noticeably stale by around the third playthrough.

This is due to the lengthy common route of the game that universally incorporates the same key events regardless of whether you choose to side with the ‘good apples’ or ‘bad apples’. It became very repetitive over several playthroughs, as the original emotional impact and shock factor fizzled away into essentially nothing by the end of the game. For such a short title, you would think that the common route wouldn’t take up so much of the playtime considering it is the same events over and over.

And yet, in my first playthrough the common route took 3-4 hrs (Ch 1-5) and the actual bachelor route (Ch6-9) took 1hr. Needless to say, this was one of the main contributions that led to the lacklustre plot and poor character/romance development. Although some events and dialogue did differ over each route, they didn’t contribute or reveal anything new or critical to the overarching storyline.

It was essentially a cycle of the same discovered information, and for such a complex setting like Bad Apple Wars—3 to 4 hrs is nowhere near the length of time needed to fully explain and flesh out the universe. As a result, it suffered from countless plot holes and confounding character timelines. This was due to the writers introducing unnecessary gimmicks to the storyline that was never further delved upon. The relationships and developments between the characters felt so rushed, as the bulk of the writing was devoted solely to the common route.

There is no proper ‘true ending’ that sheds some light on the true nature of NEVEAH Academy, despite White Mask and Alma being the main bachelors of both the Good/Bad Apples respectively. Whilst their routes were an improvement over some of the others, it still left so many open-ended questions and much to be desired in terms of romance with the heroine. For example: what exactly were the teacher’s roles at the academy? Who were they? How did the age timeline work? Is it a continuous cycle of life, death and reincarnation?

The total playtime for the entire game is around 20-25hrs, which is appalling considering it needed at least 30-40hrs to satisfactorily fill in all the missing pieces within the routes. I wouldn’t have minded the lengthy common route if it at least differed between the good/bad apples, as the heroine Rinka plays a different role in both sides of the story.

However, she ends up being near useless as a prefect and still befriends the bad apples regardless of her position. This renders the early decision almost obsolete, as the common route eventually leads into the same chain of events.

Despite my criticisms, I still enjoyed the storyline of Bad Apple Wars even with the glaringly obvious plot holes. It still had some good moments throughout the game that were tragically moving and carried a powerful moral message that left quite the memorable impression. It touches on the concepts of what it means to live, the fragility of human life, the thin line between hope and despair, to never lose sight of what’s important and the all-too consuming regret upon realising these things a little too late.

Character Development ★★

As I mentioned earlier, just the sole fact that every character route only had 1hr worth of playtime should already be ringing alarm bells. Needless to say, all the romances were poorly developed and I could not understand as to what made them fall in love or how they even developed such a connection with Rinka (Protagonist) by the end of their storylines. Rinka herself, is a major problem I had with the game which I will elaborate further on below.

It was just too little writing and time to fully flesh out their emotions to truly be realistic and believable. The short game length wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if the writing and pacing itself was done well. However, the writing for the routes were noticeably inconsistent in terms of quality and there were significant disparities between them. To my knowledge, this is due to the game encompassing 5-7 different writers.

I recommend two different route orders, depending on what you personally feel is best suited to you. For a more connected game experience, start off with the bad apples: Higa → Shikishima → Alma→ Satoru → White Mask. To have a better understanding of both sides of the storyline, then I recommend: Satoru → Higa → Shikishima → Alma → White Mask.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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RINKA: Normally for most game protagonists no matter how bland their personality is, they will still have noticeably distinct traits that many of the characters comment on as their key strengths. For example: the most common ones are kindness, persistency, gentleness or a caring and cheerful nature. For the heroine of Bad Apple Wars, even after clearing the entire game—I found myself unable to describe her personality as a character at all.

Rinka is meant to be a ‘self-insert’ for the reader, and I usually have no issues with self-insertions for the protagonist. There is no one-dimension in how a story should be told, and some protagonist personality types work better for specific settings than others. However, my criticism of Rinka isn’t the fact that she is a ‘self-insert’ heroine—but rather it was poorly executed throughout the whole game.

She constantly laments throughout the storyline of how ’empty’ and ‘hollow’ she is as a person, without a single desire, goal or aspiration for herself. Her past life had been monotonous and lacklustre in every aspect, and she had passed on without ever finding anything she held dear.

My main issue with Rinka is how often the ’empty’ monologue occurred throughout the game, because being ’empty’ is not a description of a person or a personality trait at all. It made her un-relatable as a protagonist because it is impossible for a person to be completely empty. It’s ironic because she is meant to be a self-insert for the reader, and it’s so difficult to empathise or play as someone who has no dimensions as a character.

Rinka becomes so resigned to her situation with an ‘oh-woe-is-me’ attitude no matter which route you’re on. It’s only after she falls in love with the respective bachelor, that she finally finds something precious to her that she wishes to protect and considers worth living for. It felt like as a character, she was completely dependent on the bachelor and without anything redeeming of her own to contribute to the storyline.

She’s essentially a plot device, used only to further fuel the own bachelor’s development and route. By the end of the game, I honestly didn’t view her to be much of a protagonist at all. She develops minimally as a character and has no story or redeeming qualities of her own without the bachelor in the picture.

Considering majority of the characters all had some regret or reason from their past that rendered them unable to move on, it made no sense for Rinka to have little to no backstory whatsoever of her own. It further cast a negative light on her lack of personality, as even the secondary characters were more interesting to learn about than the protagonist herself.

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HIGA: Although initially quite gruff, rude and blunt towards Rinka—beneath Higa’s rough exterior is a kinder and softer side to him. He deeply respects Alma and views him as a brother figure due to the longstanding nature of their relationship, his abilities as a leader and as a manefestation of his past regrets in his previous life.

Out of all the bachelors, he is the most supportive and encouraging towards Rinka in her transition to NEVEAH Academy. It was quite noticeable how much Rinka had opened up and come out of her shell over the span of their blossoming friendship. On the other hand, I felt the romance was rather poorly developed and lacking in terms of believable intimacy.

Their relationship dynamic was more akin to an older brother-younger sister, due to Higa’s inherently protective nature. When his route began to show more promise of development between the two, he abruptly passes on and leaves their relationship completely open ended and without true closure. It was just so sudden and without any proper build up of momentum, that I was just left thinking ‘there is no way that is how it all ends?’

Due to their different timelines, their current relationship in NEVEAH Academy has no continuation as they both reincarnate again as different people. The ending just felt so tacked on and written solely for the sake of them ending up together. Because of how disjointed the writing and events of Higa’s route were, it really took away from his strengths as a character and was definitely my least favourite storyline.

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SHIKISHIMA: A mysterious, wandering artist who belongs to neither faction—Shikishima has been at NEVEAH Academy the longest out of all the bachelors, and from the oldest era of time. He immediately piques the player’s interest due to his whimsical yet relaxed approach to the events of the storyline. In comparison to the other bachelors who are filled with determination to escape from their fate—Shikishima is the complete opposite. He is almost completely void of emotions and seemingly content with remaining at the Academy forever.

Throughout his time there, he has seen many graduate and lose their sense of self. He believes that nothing good would be waiting for him, even if he returned to his previous life. As we soon learn, he has a traumatic and lonesome past which he chooses not to remember. In fact, he desires more than anyone to find his own sense of purpose.

Out of all the bachelors, Shikishima is the most complex and multi-faceted to learn about over the course of the storyline due to how reclusive and withdrawn he is as a character. He is a lost, lonesome soul where even until the end of his life—he found no one who truly understood him.

His route had so much more potential and aspects to be delved upon, but was unfortunately let down by the glaring loop holes within the overarching plot itself. Shikishima’s story suffered from the same core issues as Higa’s route. Due to the conflicting timelines, the writers created a contrived scenario written solely for the sake of Rinka and Shikishima ending up together in one form or another.

However, it’s worsened by the fact that Rinka retains her memories at NEVEAH Academy and promptly associates her feelings for the late Shikishima with his current reincarnation. It casts a negative light on their relationship in the present and Shikishima’s ending overall, as his reincarnation notices that Rinka’s feelings for him are not truly sincere.

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ALMA: A natural born leader, he is vigilant and the most determined to escape from the confines of NEVEAH Academy. Alma is the glue that keeps the group together and unified in their plans. He wholeheartedly has everyone’s trust and confidence in his abilities to succeed. Initially, Alma is stoic and difficult for Rinka to befriend due to his secretive nature.

Compared to the previous two routes, Alma’s relationship with Rinka is noticeably more romantic due to the increased amount of alone time they have together. As his route is one of the ‘canon’ storylines of the game (representing the bad apple faction), it is much better fleshed out in terms of both plot and character development.

However, it reuses the none too original angsty trope of a ‘deceased lover’ as his past and it is the reason that drives him to return to his previous life. Although it was executed better in comparison to Higa and Shikishima’s routes, if you’re not a fan of this plot device then you probably wouldn’t enjoy Alma’s storyline as much. There are no unique twist or new additions to the typical plot device, and it follows the common sequence of events to a T.

The reason as to why the dead girlfriend storyline isn’t as popular is because it always calls to question the sincerity of the bachelor’s feelings. Is he using her as a replacement, or as an outlet for his past lover? Is his initial attraction and desire to befriend her merely because of their similarities? Considering how little there is to like about Rinka, this aspect was only more prominent in Alma’s route.

Despite it being one of the canon routes of the game, the route’s main weakness was how little it contributed to the overarching storyline. It essentially didn’t reveal any new information that wasn’t already known in the previous bad apple routes, and had none of the aspects that I normally would expect from one of the main bachelors.

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SATORU: An obsessed student fixated with studying, examinations and achieving the best grades—Satoru is the only bachelor who is a newcomer to the academy that is from the same timeline as the protagonist. Initially, Rinka finds him difficult to deal with as he has absolutely zero interests outside of studying. He holds onto his books and notes like a lifeline and completely disregards anything that would not assist him with his examinations.

His storyline pacing is initially quite slow in comparison to the others, as many of Rinka’s attempts to socialise with him are completely rebuked and ignored. He also prefers isolation in comparison to the other bachelors, and does not choose a faction to side with. Many players had very divided views on Satoru’s route—people either absolutely loved it or absolutely hated it, and I can definitely see why.

Once Satoru eventually opens up to Rinka, their interactions are honestly so adorable and very fluffy in nature. As a couple, they have some of the best moments together in the game that really showcases how much they have both developed as characters and the progression of their romantic feelings for one another. As he belongs to neither faction, some of the events that occur are unique to him and different from the canon storylines of the game.

I felt that out of all the routes, his good and bad endings were definitely much better written in terms of logical flow and emotional impact. It also avoided the major timeline discrepancies. However, at the same time the first half of his storyline can ruin his character for a lot of players. It is very slow paced, and essentially a repetition of the same events over and over—Rinka approaches Satoru, he rebukes her, his only form of dialogue involves studying and he constantly becomes emotional the moment his book is taken away from him.

There’s very little substance to his character outside of that, and his tantrums become old and stale real quick. As a result, Rinka’s relationship to him is more akin to an older sister with her younger brother for the bulk of his route. It is this initial tone to their relationship that makes it difficult for some to perceive their relationship as truly of a ‘romantic’ nature. If you’re a fan of quiet and shyer guys who very gradually come out of their shell, then you would enjoy Satoru’s route much more than someone who prefers a more confident character who is self-assured and assertive.

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WHITE MASK: The enigmatic member of the disciplinary committee, he appears in all the routes as the main enemy of the bad apples. He is extremely serious and committed to his duties, as he truly believes it is his purpose to maintain order and that the correct method for people to graduate is to become a good apple. As a result, he detests the bad apples for their constant refusals to cooperate and does not hesitate to enact punishment on them for their deeds.

His actions inflict self-doubt within Rinka, as she finds herself unable to fully understand his methods and becomes disillusioned as a disciplinary committee member. However, due to the amount of time they spend together she finds herself becoming increasingly curious as to why he is so devoted to his cause, his true identity and what has twisted him beyond recognition.

As the unofficial ‘true route’ of the game, I was extremely excited to play his storyline. Out of all the characters, he was the most interesting by far and I honestly thought his route would answer all the underlying questions of Bad Apple Wars. To my disappointment, all the questions and plot holes were left completely open ended and the events of his route only served to further fuel my confusion with the game universe.

As the true ending, it was lacking in so many critical aspects such as plot coherency and writing flow. It fell very short of its potential to even marginally redeem the writing and overarching storyline of Bad Apple Wars. However, as a standalone route in terms of romance and character development—the chemistry and interactions between White Mask and Rinka were a major improvement from all the other bachelors.

The romance was better paced and palpable between the two during the critical moments within the game. It is clear why he falls in love with Rinka in comparison to the other bachelors, as she is persistent in her efforts to get to know him and the reasons as to why he has forgotten the past that has shaped his current identity. White Mask’s emotional burdens are much more traumatic in comparison to the other routes, and it is Rinka that encourages him to hope again and face the demons of his past.

Although I was by no means impressed with White Mask’s route due to how much more I expected from it, it was still my personal favourite from the game in comparison to the other storylines.

Design ★★★★

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The artwork in Bad Apple Wars definitely isn’t for everyone and it’s quite eye-catching at first glance. I personally really liked it despite the anatomical inconsistencies at times, since it suited the quirky and ‘distorted’ world of NEVAEH Academy. The artwork is bold, unique and with an inherently signature style that is both memorable and striking. I enjoyed all of the character designs, especially White Mask’s. There’s a lot of religious themes and motifs throughout the game regarding heaven and the after life within the artwork, which added a nice touch of atmosphere to the ominous universe.

I also liked how the protagonist had two different looks depending on which side she chose to be with. I was definitely more of a fan of the ‘good apple’ outfit and hairstyle. My only criticisms design-wise was the background artwork for Bad Apple Wars. They all felt very bland, two-dimensional and quite standard for the average high school setting. For an ‘undead school’ it was a little disappointing how ordinary it was, and it wasn’t as whacky and bizarre in comparison to the teacher designs.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

I loved the soundtrack in Bad Apple Wars, and it was without a doubt the highlight of the game. It suited the theme and tones of the game perfectly, and you can definitely tell that the composers were greatly influenced by both the Danganronpa and Persona series. It was just so refreshing to listen to, and with an assortment of very different and unique tracks. I particularly enjoyed Sanzu’s song/the Ending track, as it was just so powerful and well used during a pivotal scene from the game. It set the mood perfectly, and reflected the inevitable foreshadowing and emotional turmoil of the characters.

Like most other Idea Factory titles, Bad Apple Wars encompassed a prolific voice acting line up. Whilst all of the voice actors emulated their characters well, I didn’t feel like there were any standout performances in this title in particular. Due to the character type limitations, all the characters had similar voices that were quite soft and in the same vocal range. Because of this, I felt it wasn’t a true representation of the voice actor’s talents in comparison to their more notable roles.

  • Alma | VA: Sakurai Takahiro | 櫻井 孝宏
    Danganronpa series as Kuwata Leon, Black wolves Saga series as Mejojo von Garibaldi, Grisaia series as Kazama Yuuji, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Astrum, Naruto Shipuuden as Sasori, Final Fantasy series as Cloud Strife, Anohana as Atsumu Matsuyuki, and Psycho-pass as Shogo Makushima.
  • Higa | VA: Suwabe Jun’ichi | 諏訪部 順一
    Fate/Stay Night as Archer, YURII!!! On Ice as Victor, Black Butler as Undertaker and Code:Realize series as Abraham Van Helsing
  • Satoru | VA: Hanae Natsuki | 花江 夏樹
    Taisho x Alice series as Ookami, Collar x Malice as Sera Akito, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Libera, Your Lie in April as Kosei Arima, Tokyo Ghoul series as Ken Kaneki, and Aldnoah Zero as Inaho Kaizuka
  • Shikishima | VA: Ishida Akira | 石田 彰
    Naruto series as Gaara, Danganronpa series as Byakuya Togami, Amnesia series as Kent, Ayakashi Gohan as Kimura Asagi and  Black Wolves Saga series as Zara Skeens

System ★★★★

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Bad Apple Wars has quite the interesting system interface for an Otome Visual Novel. Rather than implementing systematic decision options at varying points in the game, as you advance in each route and become closer to the bachelor—it unlocks a touch interface after the still-CG flashes several times. You must then ‘touch’ the bachelor on different parts of his body to continue with the storyline.

At a critical point in the route where you’re finally able to understand the bachelor’s true self—you literally see him stripped bare and you are able to truly ‘connect’ with him via touching the correct areas. If you touch the wrong areas, lightning appears on the screen and it will lead to the bad ending. The nudity in this aspect is negligible and completely blurred out for the most part, although I do understand that it can make some players uncomfortable.

I personally quite enjoyed the simple but effective system, as it essentially enables you to play the game without a walkthrough. The game is designed so that you cannot fail or miss any checkpoints, except for the ending route branches into the good and bad end respectively. It is also quite a symbolic representation of the character’s progression and relationship with the bachelor.

My main complaint about the system is that during the ‘critical moments’ the dialogue is not translated due to the original port not including coded text boxes in the scenes. Although this is not an issue if you understand Japanese, it definitely took away a lot of the emotional impact in the meaningful moment. This is quite disappointing, considering it’s such crucial turning point within the plot. I felt Aksys definitely should have at least provided text-based translations that players could read on the website, to supplement the scenes.

Other than that, then I did enjoy the other features of the system such as the basic animations, transitions and map movement. This was colour-coordinated to each respective bachelor’s theme, which made it extremely easy without trial and error to find where each person was located. At first glance, the choice of text font is a little difficult to read but your eyes do quickly adjust over time. Overall, it wasn’t too big of an issue and wouldn’t impede your enjoyment of the game.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, despite its inherent flaws—Bad Apple Wars isn’t a bad game. But is it a title that I would recommend to everyone? Probably not. After playing through the entire game myself, I can definitely see why it generated such mixed and divided reception amongst players. Whilst it did encompass some good moments throughout the storyline, an interesting line up of bachelors and fun side characters—the major flaws prevalent within the plot, poor character development and romance really hindered the potential of the game.

As I touched upon earlier, the glaring plot holes, open-ended questions and lack of explanations regarding the NEAVEH universe was far too great to overlook. The common route was quite lengthy and repetitive, which led to too little time and resources devoted to fully fleshing out the characters and their relationships to one another. Considering it is such a short game overall (20-25hrs total), it didn’t make much sense for the common route to take up majority of the playtime.

However, if you enjoy bittersweet, angsty and tragic romances you’ll probably still enjoy the game like I did. Despite my criticisms, I still had fun with the game and completed it fairly quickly. I do recommend picking it up on sale, if you’re a fan of the genre and artwork. The music and artwork within Bad Apple Wars were definitely the highlights of the game, and somewhat compensated for the faults in the writing and character development.

At full price considering the amount and quality of playtime you’re receiving, there are definitely better otome titles on PSN to choose from such as Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (Review) and Collar x Malice (Review).

Overall Rating: 3.5/5


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Written By Cherry

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