Developer – Atelier773
Translator – Culture Select
Length – 2-10 Hours
[Review copy kindly provided by Culture Select]
[Culture Select has had no input into the content of this review]
Dead End Junction is the newest visual novel (or Digital Dime Novel, according to the title screen) brought to us by the developers of Cherry Tree High Comedy Club. While I have to admit that I haven’t read their earlier work, I remember it as being one of the first VNs available on Steam, which is an accomplishment in itself. So how does Dead End Junction hold up? I don’t want to use the word “boring”, but it was difficult to convince myself to finish the novel despite its unique visuals and arguably fun characters.
Josette is a cowgirl fit for any Western you might hope to see. Quick on the draw and talented on horseback, the only thing holding her back from being a star like the heroes in her dime novels is the dead-end town she’s stuck in. However, a letter from the president to the father that abandoned her might just change all that. With one of the beast-skinned Fuuro as her guide, Jo sets off on a journey that will soon reveal that other worlds exist outside of the tiny bubble she’s been stuck in.
It’s difficult to summarize Dead End Junction without spoiling anything, so that’s all you’re going to get for now. To start with the good, Josette and her eventual companions make for an interesting cast. While deep characterization isn’t the order of the day each individual feels real enough and adds to the dynamic of the party to make for some fun interactions. The story is split up into four episodes with each featuring a new setting, new characters and new obstacles to overcome which gives some variety to the experience, and while I can’t share any more about the concept it has the potential to go interesting places in sequels (it isn’t fully explored in this instalment, though). To top things off, the novel style of the character sprites is incredibly charming and a major asset to the VN.
Unfortunately I cannot say that I enjoyed Dead End Junction overall and the story is probably the biggest reason for that. Any twists are visible from entire chapters away and I’d say about 80% of the plot focuses on travelling or waiting for something to happen, which doesn’t make for exciting reading. While each episode has its own climax to wrap things up they tend to be over quickly and, in fact, often take place off camera. There are several instances where shootouts occur but not in the vicinity of the protagonist or her companions, and even when they are present for whatever’s going on the events are almost never described.
Speaking of description, the novel’s comic-book setup hampers its ability to set scenes, outline actions taken and convey emotion. The novelty of speech bubble communication does not make up for the script being almost entirely dialogue and although I am able to appreciate why the stylistic decision to do things that way was made, I do not think it added as much as it took away. The last thing I want to mention here is that the motivation and actions of the antagonists were not particularly well explored and this made it difficult for me to either empathize with them or hate them.
Moving onto the technical aspects I haven’t yet mentioned, I found the backgrounds to be relatively bland compared to the more vibrant character design and on several occasions CGs were of noticeably lower quality than their sprite counterparts. The otherwise family-friendly novel also felt the need to work in a fan service scene which I thought was unnecessary in this case – especially because I believe a younger audience would enjoy the story more than I did. Some of the music does a good job of complementing the scenes it accompanies, the later more exciting tracks in particular, but many of them remind me of much older video games that haven’t aged well, being obviously synthesized remixes of “Western” tunes. Additionally, the vast majority of the sound effects used are of extremely poor quality and the novel would have been better off without them. I also had problems with the skipping system as, while dialogue is skipped quickly, regularly occurring scene or portrait transitions played at normal speed.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Culture Select has done a good job with their translation of the title. With very few exceptions the dialogue felt genuine and the occasional lean towards “Western” dialogue added to the atmosphere rather than being heavy-handed.
Summary – While I was initially interested and drawn in by its charming artwork, it was a struggle to finish Dead End Junction. Its low intensity climaxes are too few and far between to make up for lengthy waiting or travel sequences, and though the concept itself has potential it isn’t truly explored until the final episode of the four-part series. If it sounds like your thing then by all means give it a go; the conclusion hints at a sequel in the works that promises to pick up in the middle of the “good stuff”. Overall, however, I would say that the novel would better appeal to a younger audience.
Score: 6/10 – Average