Period Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Aksys
Developer: Idea Factory
Medium: Digital/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No

Period Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ has a somewhat familiar trope at its core: you’re playing as Kazuha, a 16-year-old girl trapped inside an MMORPG called Arcadia as she tries to find her older brother. Shortly after going into world, she discovers that dying in the game means that dying in real life, and it’s not far from there to the realization that the only way to being successful in what you’re trying to do is by beating the game.

In other words, it’s not too far from the premise behind Sword Art Online (or .hack, going back a little further).

However, even if the two games start in the same place, they quickly diverge along very different paths. Where SOA used its setting to treat players to a fairly straightforward single-player action game — albeit one with all kinds of MMORPG trappings — Period Cube is an otome visual novel, which means the focus here is all about character development and relationships.

Or, more specifically, it’s all about helping Kazuha decide which of seven eligible in-game rivals/allies/suitors she wants to choose as a romantic partner.

Now, as a straight male, it’s admittedly a little difficult for me to get into the proper headspace for this game. It’s very clearly not aiming to win over someone like me. However, even if I were the target demographic, I think I’d still have some major problems with the way the whole game is presented.

For starters, you find out pretty early on that Kazuha has been programmed into the game as an “Almighty”, which means that everyone she comes across desperately wants to win her over. While the trope of “The Chosen One” is obviously pretty common across all kinds of media, games and otherwise, making Kazuha the in-game equivalent of a goddess gives her character a bit of a Mary Sue feeling.

At the same time, though, her suitors seem mostly like bland, interchangeable hunks. All of them have the same soft features and pointy chins; all of them have long, windswept hair; all of them have personalities that could best be described as “kinda jerky in any other context.” I get that bad boys are staples of romance novels, but that doesn’t make them any more enjoyable to read if you find them obnoxious to a person. Or, to put it another way, it’s hard to root for Kazuha to wind up with any of them.

And that’s without even getting into the fact that one of the game’s storylines features a not-so-thinly-veiled rape allegory.

Beyond the romance aspect, there’s nothing particularly interesting going on here, particularly if you know…well, pretty much anything about games. Period Cube spends a lot of time explaining basic gaming terminology; it assumes that you won’t know what Player IDs and NPCs are, and it doesn’t hesitate in offering helpful definitions.

Similarly, because Period Cube is a particularly passive visual novel, it spends a lot of time explaining the action, rather than allowing you to experience. To some extent, this is unavoidable, but it’s hard to not feel like a bystander to your own/Kazuha’s story when the game gives lengthy descriptions of battles happening right in front of you, and seldom gives you opportunities for input beyond “run away” or “play music.”

Like I said, I get that I’m not the target audience for Period Cube. For all I know, otome lovers will be thrilled at the prospect of passively guiding a teenage girl through a world where she doesn’t have all that much agency. Personally, though, I can state from experience that better visual novels exist, and that you’d be better off playing — or even replaying — those than you would be picking this up for the first time.

Grade: C-