NOTE: Zeiva released X-Note 2.0 where about 12 aspects of the game were changed/removed/added including some of the things I mentioned in my review. I’ll release an updated version after acquiring the updated game.
X-Note is a visual novel/dating sim PC game by Zeiva Inc. If any of you follow traditional/digital art or even dating sim games on deviantART.com, you may have heard of Zeiva’s work before.
The story of this game revolves around the main character, fourteen-year old Essi. She is a psychic, left with nothing but a necklace with a flash drive containing a locked folder called “X-Note” from her deceased mother. You play as Essi, training her psychic skills and pursuing the truth of her mother’s death, as well as three possible bachelors: Yuon, Oure, and Anon.
I found out about Zeiva through deviantArt ages ago. I loved her art along with her partner Nitarou and followed them and discovered they were also making flash games. The first I played was Other Age, a free dating sim. When X-Note was in development, I was already following it, and when it came out, I practically begged my mom if I could have it, and she bought it for me for Christmas back in 2011. (Thanks mom!)
For those unfamiliar with visual novel or otome / dating sim type of games, you might find this game a bit strange at the start. It’s the type of game that you would normally replay to get all the endings, and in this game’s case, you get bonus content if you’re able to get all the endings which are nine in total.
This is the main screen. I’ll have to commend the art, it’s really well done, and the coloring jobs are good as well. The style of the characters are like anime, similar to JRPG or other Japanese dating sims, but this one has no actual animation. The opening sequence was very simple, with the transitioning giving it the desired impact, so it wasn’t just stationary images.
From the look of main screen (as well as the music playing along with it) and the plot of the game, one can probably deduce that this has a rather dark feel. The first time I played it, I was almost as scared as if I were playing a horror game, but if you follow Zeiva and her other flash games, you’ll find that she uses a lot of references to other original stories she’s made, and also sticks with using some comedy to create cute situations that help lighten up the story.
Controls + Gameplay
Here you can see the layout of the game. I like how they made it more “realistic” by animating the characters’ eyes, so they blink while you read the dialogue. This is how it looks like most of the time while you play, save for when you’re leveling up Essi’s psychic abilities. You have easy access to disabling or enabling both sound effects and background music, as well as checking your stats, and some notes that give a little more background to the story. It’s very straightforward. The “Help” button explains the game and gives instructions on how to advance without getting bad endings (the website has a guide as well). It also explains the game’s controls which aren’t at all complicated; it even has a list of keyboard shortcuts that are helpful especially when you play different routes to achieve different endings so you don’t end up having to left-click furiously to skip already seen dialogue. There is no Save/Load option because to pick up from where you left off, you have to give a specific password you obtain after finishing a chapter.
The over-all look of the game is very consistent, I notice that each character is assigned his or her own color: Essi and Yuon are both black, Anon is all green, Oure is all white, and so on. The background illustrations are not distracting or hard to view; they’re very simple which I like. The background also changes depending on the time of day and if Essi’s having a flashback, but I think they could have made more, especially for Essi’s room. They only show a framed photo of Essi and her mom when she’s at home, but then again it still works.
The CGs/illustrations are beautifully done. The story also isn’t bad, although there is a medium amount of grammatical and spelling errors, not to the point of nonsense at least, except one particular scene with Yuon. Oure and Anon’s path are my favorites since those routes both made me elicit a lot of reactions and generally ~feel~ more.
I felt there was more depth in their stories than in Yuon’s path (which I was slightly disappointed in) but then again Yuon, I think, is the most normal out of the three. Some scenarios are also weird, such as the development of friendship between Essi and a “stranger” who seems to just watch her (what a stalker! haha), but that’s just me. There are some moments where I felt that there was too much dramatization, especially around the end of Chapter 4. Not all routes really seemed to connect with what the end of that chapter said, so it felt rather forced for me, and sometimes a scene after something possibly traumatizing or a climax happens, the characters act like nothing happened. Maybe this is the case for psychics, since their lives aren’t exactly ordinary? But then again if you consider their age and the fact that they are only students, it seems a little bit weird.
Also some random dialogues that talk about Zeiva’s other work felt a little bit off and unnecessary. As a fan, it would be fine, but for those that don’t really know her work, maybe not so much. The characterization was nice as well, seeing different sides of the boys give more affection factor for those playing it which is important since sometimes one of the goals of dating sims is to get fans attached, and there they can choose which character they like best. I found it funny that almost every character has a messed up past relating to their childhood. It slightly unsettles me that the main character is only just fourteen, but then again I started playing these type of games at almost the same age if not older.
— S L I G H T S P O I L E R A L E R T —
Now on to the aspect of the game I’m most disappointed in: the music. Now don’t get me wrong here, the scoring is really good, and I enjoy the soundtrack and it definitely set the ambiance for some of the characters and some moments, but like I said, there are only some. There were a lot of parts of the story that could have had a bigger impact if the music was synced with the situation. It seems that sometimes only one type of music would be played depending on who you interact with, and I assumed this is probably the theme of the character, but sometimes when the dialogue becomes playful, it’s still the serious sounding score, or if there’s a sudden twist in the story, the music doesn’t change to fit the moment.
Here’s an example, Yuon and Essi are in the science lab and they hear a gunshot. The music remains the same, it doesn’t sound darker or more mysterious, so I don’t really end up feeling as shocked as I would have been if the music had changed.
Also, the sound effect of being hit is very cute when Essi is being playful with Anon (the one that’s all green) aka smacking him, but when it’s more seriously getting hit or even falling to the floor, it’s the same sound, so it ends up sounding out of place and slightly ruins the moment.
I still very much enjoyed the game despite what I just mentioned. It had a lot of the typical otome game content, such as filling up your stats (where a specific type is what that character likes best), making choices that affect your ending, but it did stick to its visual novel genre as it followed a minimal gameplay set-up, and interactive story. X-Note gave a lot of insightful and unsolicited advice which I appreciate despite the sometimes almost morbid dialogue.
There are some errors within the game such as some passwords not working (the only one I’ve encountered is “Kunemion” if I’m not mistaken), and since there is no save/load system, it will be difficult for anyone since there could always be a moment where you’ll have to stop playing in between chapters. One play-through certainly takes up a couple of hours in your day, but that didn’t really stop me from playing all the other routes and trying to obtain as much CG as I can.