Yu-No: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World might not be a catchy title for a Japanese visual novel, but this remake of the beloved PC-98 classic is an important watershed for the genre as a whole. Originally released in 1996, Yu-No tells the tale of Takuya, revealing the nature of his father’s disappearance through the use of a device you get early on in the game that lets you hop between different, branching timelines. This Switch remake was originally released in Japan in 2017, and features brand-new character designs, a new soundtrack and a bit of a lick of paint.
Originally set in the '90s in an idyllic Japanese seaside town, Yu-No immediately inspires an incredibly unique atmosphere. The game shifts from beautifully illustrated screen to screen, where you’re able to observe any and all of your surroundings. When interacted with, the game then launches into lengthy prose where you’re able to learn more about the place and time you’re inhabiting. While these seemingly pointless passages do end up with you reading lengthy paragraphs about the smell of the air, it goes a long way to establishing its atmosphere. You’re able to do this multiple times, further adding to the text, which can sometimes give you a tip-off to the location and intent of its characters.
You might get seven or eight of these per screen, varying between observations about your surroundings, the character you’re speaking to, or the objects on screen. The game often comes to points where you have to exhaust every bit of text in these observations, which then, in turn, unlocks a new option to proceed. Instances like this are pretty limited and go far with layering on the presented atmosphere, dialogue and internal monologue of your player character, Takuya Arima.
Takuya’s character is one of the more frustrating points of the game. You’re inhabiting his mind, seeing his thoughts, feelings and reactions to everything as you play through the game. He immediately comes across as nothing more than a perverted teenager with some pretty terrible behavioural problems, but as you trudge through the game, you do start to see flashes of deep character development. He might not be the most tolerable main character of a visual novel that we’ve ever seen, but the strength of Yu-No’s lengthy 40-hour scenario makes this less of a chore.
It goes without saying, Yu-No is from a different era of visual novel, and the original PC-98 release features some quite explicit scenes. This rerelease of Yu-No has been noticeably toned down in terms of racy content, but despite this, the game has incredibly sexual overtones – and that’s noticeable right from the start, opening with a gratuitous panty-shot less than 5 minutes in. Dialogue between characters is also laughably bad, with characters quipping to each other about sexual topics with all the maturity of a 12-year-old. You can perform actions while talking to female characters where you can observe them. Often you find some that are just named “breasts” – ahem. Unfortunately, these old-school dating-sim aspects are an important part of the scenario and story of the game.
Still, lead scenario writer and designer Hiroyuki Kanno wanted to show the world that visual novels were more than just vehicles for smut, and Yu-No was a seminal work in the genre that attempts to strive against those elements. While we’re not going to veer into spoiler territory here, Yu-No is incredibly engaging, and its ingenious branching timelines make the game incredibly fun to play through.
Having said that, while Yu-No is now looked upon as an incredibly important work in the genre, to us, it looks like the game has a bit of an identity crisis. You can’t separate the dating-sim elements of Yu-No away from the main scenario. While the game does indeed have an incredibly impressive, grandiose narrative, it seems like it’s often being weighed down by its own dating-sim elements. In addition to this, what may have originally come across as daring character writing in the mid-'90s now comes across as nothing more than a handful of female characters that just check archetypal boxes all along the way, built for nothing more than childish titillation.
This isn’t helped by the fact that while this remake does indeed have some stunning background art, its character redesigns have been adapted for modern tastes. This definitely loses elements of the atmosphere and setting of the game, which has a distinctly mid-'90s vibe. Ultimately, this comes down to personal taste, but the '90s character designs seem to fit a lot better with the game, which has unfortunately been reduced to a standard, generic low-budget anime look. Especially when looking at the effort put into the character portraits in the PC-98 version for the purposes of this review, we can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.
Yu-No: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World was clearly once an incredibly daring visual novel, but some of that sense of mystery is done a disservice when revisiting the concept via this remake. Games like Steins;Gate or the Danganronpa series have since eclipsed it. That said, there’s nothing as expansive or daring as Yu-No’s branching timeline system, which still comes across as impressive even today. Despite all of its archaic design elements, cringeworthy perverted dialogue and now-bland characters, you can’t refute the fact that the modern visual novel genre would simply not exist without Yu-No. It's just a shame that this remake feels like it has lost some of the soul of its original release, with nothing but bland character designs to refresh it for a modern audience.