WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.02 Review

Four years later and profits are up 100%!

My review of World End Economica Episode 1 last year was easily among my more negative, as I expressed utter contempt for its protagonist, the mundane story it tried to tell, and so forth and so on.  However, the game did manage to leave enough of an impression on me to raise my curiosity enough to check out its sequel, if only because I wanted to see if the creators could possibly improve things, or if they fumbled their way into something far worse.  Thankfully, it was the former.

WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.02 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, 3DS
Developer: Spicy Tails
Publisher: Sekai Project

Set four years after the events of Episode 1, World End Economica Episode 2 continues the story of Hal after the disastrous conclusion of the first episode that I either greatly misremembered, or really was not very clear.  Specifically, after following a tip to risk everything he had on a single stock by his mentor, and going against the advice of his closest companion, resulted in absolute and abject failure, Hal was rendered broken both physically and mentally.  Physically paralyzed through stress, shock, and trauma.  It was a sorry status that was only worsened after he realized that his misactions demolished his relationship with his close companion Hagana.  In the following four years, he recovered through his full body paralysis, mostly anyways, but was left as something of an empty person whose dream had been thoroughly crushed, inspiring him to quit his “career” as a stock trader and instead settle for a more mundane existence wherein he focuses more on exactly what he failed to do in the first episode, help the downtrodden.

That is, until he is given a new lease on life by a German noblewoman by the name of Eleanor, who recruits him to her cause.  From there, Hal is sent on a quest where he must use his understanding to both develop capital for a rising firm while also pursuing a quest to realize justice by exposing and terminating the malice that lurks on the dark side of the moon.  Though, said quest mostly entails various details on the inner workings of the business world, economics, and the stock market along with the exploration of its cast of characters and their relationships.

Now is a good time to bring up the main character and while the Hal of WEE 1 was a deplorable elitist little brats who I feel nothing but contempt for, the Hal of WEE 2 is a far more mature, humble, selfless, and reserved person, even if he still has a bit of an attitude.  He wants to be a good person, to help others, and while he does still have some reserved aspirations for something greater, he puts those around him above his own ambitions.  It is almost hard to believe that they are the same character at times, except for the fact that he still dresses like a schlub. I mean, he is wearing a light blue suit and a red tie, which are fine, but he has his suit jacket slumped over his shoulders, and his tie tossed over to the side.  Even drunken salarymen don’t look that stupid.

Anyways, because of the increased likeability of the protagonist and the introduction of a more direct and focused storyline, WEE 2 fares far better than WEE 1 ever could hope too.  However, the story still has the issue of being fairly preserved throughout the game, only really centering around the pursuit of a single goal that the characters achieve before the game comes to a close, dropping a few hints about where the next one goes, and not really tying much up while it does so.  It’s about Hal and Eleanor looking into the booming energy company Avalon and trying to find out how legitimate their financial statements and status are for reasons that loosely tie into a revenge/redemption plotline for the two characters.

It is a functional story, but one without many surprises or twists throughout and a relatively standard sense of escalation peppered by various character bits and the expected soft-lecture on specific business subjects.  With the other main characters being the aforementioned Eleanor, an ambitious young woman who puts her all into everything she does, putting a genuinely unhealthy amount of effort into her work, while still remaining classy and elegant in both her appearance and demeanour.  Along with Chris, a female character from the first episode who is an awkward yet affectionate math prodigy who has been one of the only constants in Hal’s life for the past four years, and is the one who helped him mostly get over his paralysis. Both of them are well conceived, if a bit overly talented, young women who have their own strengths and weaknesses, and I genuinely enjoyed seeing their relationship with Hal grow.  At least, up until a point.

One of the obvious focuses of this series is Hal’s relationship with Hagana.  How he loves her, hates himself for rejecting her, and wants to be reunited with her so he can treat her properly and spend the rest of his days with her.  This is reinforced with the introduction and end of this episode, and throughout it, yet for some reason the writer chose to pepper in bits of romantic tension between Hal and the other two female lead characters.  I honestly find this woefully unnecessary, as it glorifies Hal in a way I find to be unjustified and it makes both Chris and Eleanor seem like desperate teenage maidens who are overly eager to enter a serious relationship, despite how incredibly busy both of them are.

As for the business aspect, Episode 2 does not dwell on stock information as much as its predecessor and delves into a more general and easier to parse pool of information that is actually more relevant than I would have anticipated, and manages to tie in with the story itself more than the prior entry was able to.  For example, the government established across the lunar surface is a very hands off one that also happens to be underfunded and understaffed to a baffling degree. How it got to this state is never said outright, but it is heavily implied to be the result of trying to make a truly capitalist nation, and in doing so, it created a climate where corporate greed is rampant, underhanded tactics are the norm, and anyone who does not engage in such practices is inherently lesser and is gradually closer and closer to being on the chopping block for these ever expanding corporate conglomerates.

It is a government shaped by lobbyists for the sake of the corporations they work for, where corporate regulation is an actual impossibility and the only people who truly benefit from this game are those already in control and who possess the capital and clout to be a “somebody” in this world.  All of which doesn’t even begin to touch the real estate redevelopment that is forcing people out of their homes or the influx of immigrant workers who can barely even make enough to sustain themselves, let alone the families they are desperately trying to support. These are real and relevant issues that are true to today’s world, and seeing them be featured as such prominent parts of what is supposed to be a futuristic society gives the game a cynical yet grounded quality that I really appreciated.

While the proper narrative does not do a lot interesting, it is the smaller moments, scenes, and details that actually had me happily going through the story to its ultimate conclusion.  The details of this world, tidbits of information about how closely business ties in with the daily lives of its people, and the interactions and development of its surprisingly likeable cast made for a genuinely enjoyable time, with a good amount of highlights.  Which makes it a bit unfortunate that World End Economica Episode 2 does not end so much as it stops, with Hal devising plans for his future and setting up a third act that is never properly realized, resulting in a story that comes off as if it never has a true climax.  It just cuts to credits, with just about every story beat being left to tie up in the third episode.

Moving on, one of the core reasons why it took me so long to get to this game is because of how the western release of World End Economica has been, well, a mess.  I addressed this situation in a Rundown last year, and since then publisher Sekai Project has released versions of World End Economica that ran on the Unity engine, somehow forgoing the anticipated Ren’py engine all-together as far as I can tell.  These versions contain 1440p assets, but it also did away with certain features that were found in the Ren’py version of WEE 1 that I reviewed last year.  There are no quick menu buttons for one, as everything has been relegated to a right click sub-menu, and they also removed the ability to scroll back to prior screens, replacing the feature with a text log, which really irks me.

In visual novels, there are typically only two ways to review previously seen text, either by viewing a text log that lists previously said dialog and narration, or by scrolling back to prior scenes.  The former is typically only seen in visual novels with voice acting, and often allows players to replay previously heard dialog. In visual novels without voice acting however, and just about every visual novel in the Ren’py engine, they allow the player to scroll back the text to review scenes and dialog in a more inviting way than a proper list of dialog.  WEE 2 also happens to be a game where I regularly had to do a double take of the dialog, and for two main reasons.  

Not only does the game deal with some complicated business and financial concepts that warrant a second glance, but the script itself can be a bit hard to parse at times.  Partially due to how prose-like certain lines attempt to be, but mostly due to how this translation is rough, with many awkward lines and grammatical errors popping up periodically.  I would have thought that these sorts of errors that the publisher would have been addressed before or during the engine shift, but they did not. Hell, they didn’t even playtest the game  to make sure that text did not flow over to the next screen in the middle of a sentence, or fix the common bug where the backgrounds sometimes do not load in when loading a save.

As for the presentation,  Episode 2 continues to be a very well drawn visual novel with vibrantly detailed backgrounds, mostly well designed characters, and appealing CGs that help to better establish certain things.  However, certain scenes are not given any proper backdrops, with Hal describing certain settings in detail amidst a black screen of nothingness, and the efforts to remind and inform the player of this lunar setting are downplayed throughout the majority of the story, with the visuals reflecting that.  Well, except for when the story takes place outside of the lunar city, but that’s a given.

World End Economica Episode 2 is a massive improvement over its predecessor thanks to an infinitely more appealing protagonist and a more focused storyline that benefits from a fairly colorful cast and a scattering of economic concepts that go to spice up the proceeding narrative.  However, the story itself is ultimately quite basic, and lacks much in the way of unique turns before it suddenly concludes and begins to delve into romantic subplot that felt unnecessary.  As such, I cannot say that I was left very enthused by what the game had to offer, or that it is even particularly good when taken as a whole.  But if the developers can continue this upward trend, they just might be able to conclude this trilogy on an amazing note.

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