Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: March 24, 2009
As I sit here having just finished Lux-Pain and trying to figure out what to say about it, I'm utterly baffled. This is easily the most complete waste of 15 hours of my life, and even having finished the game, I still don't have the first clue as to what's going on. I'll simply say that only a fool would purchase this game, and you should only even consider renting it if you have some sick interest in seeing all the ways a game can completely derail.
The title starts out promisingly enough, with a backstory that sets the stage for mystery and intrigue. Players take on the role of Atsuki Saijo, a member of the secret task force known as FORT. It is Saijo and his companions' sworn mission to rid the world of Silent, a mental parasite that feeds on negative energy and then drives its hosts to acts of extreme violence or suicide. FORT's latest investigation has led them to Kisaragi City, Japan, where a Silent outbreak has already led to a mass suicide and fears that a serial killer may be on the loose. FORT sends in Saijo to infiltrate the town and pose as a high school student in order to gather info.
Saijo is mainly brought along for the investigation due to a mysterious power only he possesses. His entire family was killed by Silent and he was infected, but thanks to a risky operation, his life was spared. Now he is imbued with the telepathic power of Sigma, which allows him to peel back the outermost layers of people's minds and see the dark secrets that lie hidden within. Saijo can "scrape" out these hidden feelings (referred to in the game as Shinen) and then use them force people to reveal their true selves. Doing so also exposes the Silent hidden within those infected and allows Saijo to remove the bug once and for all.
The premise certainly sounds interesting, and if Lux-Pain had actually done anything remotely coherent with the story, then this would have been the sort of game you play simply to watch the drama unfold. Instead, the developers packed it full of pointless characters, endless side-stories that are never resolved and inane banter that makes the whole experience such a muddled mess that you can't care about the story even if you want to. By the end of the game, everything is so poorly explained and hastily thrown together that you can't even keep straight who's dead or alive or who the real bad guy is and what you are even fighting for. Games with deep and complex stories are great, but ones where the narrative meanders all over the place (why do I care about students doing Tai-chi or what's the best hairstyle for teenage girls?) do nothing more but prolong the pain. The pacing of the title is terrible, and the game should have been about half as long; it could have done with a lot more focus on the important aspects of the story and with less emphasis on the insignificant drivel.
What really doesn't help is the fact that Lux-Pain is so poorly translated that you can't even follow along with what's happening regardless of how closely you're paying attention. While small grammatical issues are expected in a title with this much text, the whole experience is ruined by some of the worst translation I've ever seen and nonsensical dialog that can only come from lazy localization. Common problems include characters being referred to as the wrong gender, as well as some folks apparently forgetting what country they're in (the game takes place in Japan, but several folks talk about what it's like being here in "America").
The voice acting is what really showcases the deficiencies of the script, as it's clear the voice cast and the folks translating the texts weren't even in the same building. The voice actors actually do a great job, delivering their lines with the proper teenage gusto and using conversational English that one would expect to find in any everyday high school conversation. Unfortunately, the text accompanying the voiced lines is almost always completely different than what's actually being said and often worded in a way that makes its intent much more difficult to divine. The voiced scenes drove the story forward in meaningful ways, but these moments are somewhat rare. For every line of dialogue read aloud, there are at least 50 that are text only, written in language so dense and obtuse that it's often impossible to decipher what on earth these poor kids are trying to say. As I said before, the translation is just abysmal, and the localization team should be ashamed of the shoddy work they allowed into a finished game.
I realize I've spent a ton of time slamming the story and the poor translation, but that's because that's really about all there is to this "game." Most of the experience is a paint-by-numbers affair, with the game holding your hand and leading you directly to the next batch of text denoting a meaningless conversation. Most times you can't leave an area or advance the game until you've examined every available location and listened to insignificant tertiary characters yammer on about their love troubles, and the one time Lux-Pain lets you control where to go next, it gives you absolutely no direction, leaving a character to inevitably die. You then have to restart from your last save simply because you didn't do things in the perfect order that the game never even bothered to hint at.
Whenever Saijo manages to stumble across a character who is housing some particularly interesting Shinen, the game shifts into one of the few times you do something requiring more than simply tapping to advance dialogue. Using the power of Sigma, you can scratch away people's outermost veneers by scratching at the DS screen with your stylus. Doing so reveals the wormlike Shinen that lie beneath the surface, which can be extracted by holding the stylus over them. Dig deep enough and you may encounter Silent, at which point you enter into a battle that will have to tapping and scratching at the touch-screen in an attempt to defeat the bug.
These moments of extraction and battle play out a bit like a combination of scratch-off lottery tickets and hide-and-seek. Since targets can lose their minds or even die if Saijo dives too deep, players must first try and pinpoint the Shinen and then scratch away at that area to uncover the worm. Also, targets won't hold still forever, so a timer forces you to search quickly in order to get in and back out before you do any permanent damage. The major drawback to these moments of gameplay is that they are fairly sparse when you consider the overall length of the game, and after you've played to about the halfway point, you've really seen all there is to see. After a while, the whole experience just becomes rote and there is little challenge and even less fun to be found in the investigation and removal of Silent.
In all my years of gaming, I don't think I've ever seen another title miss the mark quite so spectacularly as Lux-Pain. The premise of mental parasites feeding off negativity and driving people to acts of violence is incredibly intriguing, and in more capable hands might have led to an interactive novel (a much more fitting term for this title than "game") that would have people hanging on every word and fervently tapping the DS screen in order to see what happens next. Unfortunately, the title spends so much time bogging itself down in useless side-stories and suffering from awful translation that the tale never gets off the ground. Even worse, what little gameplay actually exists loses its appeal before the game even gets going.
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