Some games are designed around a specific gameplay element. Some games are designed around a story. Some games are designed around a cast of characters. And some games just want to scare you so badly you have to change your clothes.
But other games are created with the sole purpose of tweaking your emotions. When playing these games it becomes impossible to remain stoic in the face of overwhelming feelings. Planetarian – the reverie of a little planet is written with the sole purpose of making you cry – and it will. Guaranteed.
Well, maybe not 100%. I mean, if you’re the kind of person who thinks neither puppies nor kittens are cute, you probably won’t cry. But this is West’s first official example (thanks to Sekai Project) of Key’s (the developer) pride and joy: the nakige. The term literally translates to “crying game.” This genre in Japan has spawned numerous variations but the ultimate goal is the same: to get those waterworks going. Seemingly a spoiler, knowledge of this fact going into the game is ultimately inconsequential to its power much like knowing a good horror game is going to be scary doesn’t make it any less frightening.
Planetarian is somewhat of a rare breed even among visual novels. Classified by the publisher as a “kinetic novel” it lacks the branching narratives that somewhat define the medium. It also foregoes the hybrid gameplay features common in visual novels that get the Western treatment. No choices, no actual gameplay to speak of, just reading. Reading and beautiful visuals of a post-apocalyptic world preserved by the few humans who still inhabit it.
Some might even say calling Planetarian a video game is a bit of a stretch, but its combination of music, storytelling, and player immersion undoubtedly earn the distinction. This might not be a game you play but instead a story you experience and interact with solely through the eyes of its characters as they tell their tale.
Planetarian opens with a depiction of a seemingly average day in a nameless town as a faceless woman’s voice advertises a planetarium. Immediately after the title appears, 10,000 days pass in an instant and the player is given the perspective of the “Junker” as he is greeted by the same woman who espoused the beauty of the stars years ago. It is quickly revealed that the young woman is actually a robot created to serve as the planetarium’s guide eagerly awaiting the next customer.