Company: Pajamas Soft
Author:和泉 時彦 ( Izumi Tokihiko)
Original Release Date: 2001-11-22
Pandora no Yume is an eroge I first heard about quite some time ago from a random post on /jp/. It would continue to be recommended to me several times over the next few years and heralded as a game that would make me want to die, which is honestly probably the best possible way to sell me on any piece of media.
I am pleased to announce that I was not disappointed. We’ll talk more about this later.
Diving right into things, the game is based around a group of art club students spending the last week of summer vacation together at their school for a week-long “training camp” of sorts. It’s just the four of them and a nursing android named Su that the protagonist repaired after the group happened to stumble across her half buried and forgotten underground… yeah, just roll with it.
As the week (which ends up being mainly silly hijinx and a few spooky dreams from the MC) comes to a close, the cast finds themselves inexplicably transported back to the first day of their training camp with only vague, yet very real feelings of deja vu. As fate would have it, our group of fun loving art students are trapped in an endless loop of the same week. From this point forward, things begin to go in somewhat of a different direction.
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now – this is not exactly a new concept in the year 2017. I’m willing to bet that almost everyone reading this post has already seen some variation of this structure done elsewhere, but it’s worth mentioning that this is the earliest version of this sort of story that I’m aware of in eroge, beating out even Cross+Channel by nearly 2 full years. It also manages to establish its own identity quite well and doesn’t rely on the typical tropes (not that they existed in 2001), so please don’t let this turn you off from giving it a shot.
Looking back, I’m probably most impressed with how well the game uses a variety of elements to drag the reader into the story and forces them to experience everything alongside the cast. The use of ambient noises and a fitting soundtrack are implemented wonderfully, but I feel like the visual presentation in particular is worth going into detail on here. Similar to Bengarachou, Asairo, and several other greats, the scenario writer was deeply involved in the production process and obviously had a lot of input on how the game would ultimately look and be presented. Thankfully it paid off, as it almost always does.
To elaborate, the visible setting quickly begins to “sync up” with the story. Places that held emotional significance in previous loops are destroyed in an almost calculated manner while the physical world progressively decays around the cast. The loop wears down reality with each iteration and the destruction gets worse each time. Events start happening out of order. The background loses clarity and fades to grayscale over a certain segment. It all comes together to bring about a very distinct feeling of slow, inescapable, advancing ruin that tramples on the memories of both the protagonist and the reader. Regardless of what jokes or upbeat conversations are happening in the text, it’s impossible to look away from the scenery in many cases. It’s an interesting and effective technique, one that is criminally underused in eroge. Please give me more of this.
Not only does the world begin to crumble, but the cast’s sanity and ability to masquerade as well-adjusted people do, too. Underlying trauma rapidly floats to the surface. Depression and suicidal ruminations on whether or not life is worth living despite the end being an invariably painful and lonely death run wild. The refusal to accept reality comes to a fever pitch. Memories fade to black, and there’s nothing any of them can do but try their hardest to struggle in isolation against their own minds and a phenomenon they don’t understand or have any hope of escaping from. Considering things start off as a lighthearted if a bit eccentric summer romcom, watching these characters fall apart left me with some serious cognitive dissonance matched by only a few other eroge that I can think of. It’s worth saying that while the subject matter in this game is often incredibly heavy, it doesn’t ever feel overwhelmed or dragged out with pointless drama in this sense, which is something I was worried about.
(Also, as an aside I really appreciate eroge that have characters who are extremely fucked up. Thank you based Izumi-san.)
Moving on, the text isn’t gaudy or flashy, but it flows well and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. This author is somewhat prone to going in circles (perhaps intentionally? lol), but it has a lot of nice passages with real impact and he understands how to frame a scene, which goes a long way in a game like this. The humor also worked well enough for me, though that quickly dies out as the game progresses and it becomes harder to ignore the inconsistencies… lol.
Furthermore, it doesn’t disappoint in terms of being an engaging story either. There are a great deal of hints, plot threads and cryptic lines dropped along the way that are called back to and played off of, making connecting things and theorycrafting extremely satisfying. The story is also set up in such a way that you have all of the puzzle pieces on hand except for the one crucial piece that would make it form a coherent image, so when you finally get that missing piece everything slides into place and clicks together flawlessly… God, I love that feeling. Anyways, the overarching plot wound up surprising me quite a bit and it’s a solid example of “show, not tell” with a neat sci-fi setting going on in the background.
Overall, I enjoyed the lion’s share of the game and I think it’s worth reading for anybody who’s interested in what it has to offer. The only part of that I have a real problem with is at the very end. While it does fit perfectly with the recurring motif of decay, I just felt like it went on for entirely too long. I lost immersion past a certain point and it came off like the author was just running the point into the ground and it left somewhat of a bad aftertaste. Well I say that, but he still got me good in the end and I have to give him credit for having the balls to go for that particular sequence, even if I do think it could have been half the length and still achieved the same goal. Some aspects of the game also came across heavyhanded to the point where I couldn’t get invested in one of the character arcs at all. I believe this is primarily an issue on my end, so I doubt this particular aspect will irk others nearly as much as it did me.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that Pandora no Yume is a game that will make you feel very bad. Sure, there are moments of catharsis and humor but make no mistake, at its core it is a strong 鬱ゲー. I am admittedly still sorting out how to reconcile its almost deceptively positive message of moving forward and facing one’s demons with how certain aspects of the story ultimately end up. Hopefully I’m not bursting any bubbles here, but I won’t be talking too much more on what I got out of the game beyond that. Partly due to actual spoilers, but mainly because I can’t tell if the game was intended to be viewed as more of an Experience instead, or if I’m simply misreading or missing something. Perhaps this post will drum up some discussion and I’ll be able to come to a satisfactory understanding of the game myself. If nothing else, writing this helped me organize my thoughts on it quite a bit. For the time being, I’ll end this here by saying that I definitely recommend the game and I hope that I piqued someone’s interest.
This is another one of those games that gave me technical issues, which honestly isn’t surprising considering it was released in 2001. If you are interested in playing it and can’t get it to run, DM me on Twitter or IRC and I’ll do my best to walk you through it.